SPIR­I­TUAL COM­FORT: How po­lice force chap­lain of­fers help

Thames Val­ley Po­lice force canon David Wil­bra­ham sup­ports peo­ple who carry out one of the tough­est jobs in so­ci­ety. Lor­can Lovett finds out about his work

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

MOST of us would flee if con­fronted with life-and-death dan­ger.

Po­lice of­fi­cers run to­wards it and close be­hind them are the of­ten-un­seen po­lice chap­lains, ready to pick up the pieces.

Canon David Wil­bra­ham, a for­mer po­lice mo­tor­cy­clist, leads the charge.

As force chap­lain for Thames Val­ley Po­lice (TVP), the 50-year-old helps emotionally-weary of­fi­cers and des­per­ate com­mu­ni­ties claw them­selves back from trau­matic sit­u­a­tions.

“What we don’t do is proph­e­sise or evan­ge­lise,” says David, whose ap­proach to coun­selling of­fi­cers is al­ways to fo­cus on the spir­i­tual, rather than re­li­gious.

He has led a 40-strong multi-faith team of vol­un­teer chap­lains in Buck­ing­hamshire and neigh­bour­ing coun­ties since 2007 and six years ago, was ap­pointed head of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Chap­lains to the Po­lice (NACP), lead­ing 650 chap­lains.

The na­tional role has pulled him out of the Home Coun­ties into the mael­strom of the coun­try’s most trau­matic events.

He helped heal the scars felt by of­fi­cers when Dale Cre­gan mur­dered two un­armed fe­male of­fi­cers dur­ing his at­tempted ar­rest in Tame­side, Greater Manch­ester, in 2012. David co-or­di­nated chap­lains work­ing with the Greater Manch­ester Po­lice, as he does with the other 42 forces in the coun­try.

He said: “There is a strong sense of po­lice fam­ily which is why, when a tragedy like that hap­pens, it af­fects the whole fam­ily. Although it hap­pened in Manch­ester, it af­fected the whole coun­try. And be­cause it was two women of­fi­cers, it was more emo­tive.

“Thank­fully we have not had that in TVP but we have lost of­fi­cers and staff through road col­li­sions.”

The dis­ap­pear­ance of five-year-old April Jones around the same time Cre­gan mur­dered the two of­fi­cers, sparked one of the big­gest searches in UK his­tory.

David headed to Machyn­l­leth, the pic­turesque mar­ket town amid the moun­tains of West Wales, to boost the morale of of­fi­cers wad­ing through rivers while pro­vid­ing support for a shocked tight-knit com­mu­nity.

Mark Bridger, 46, from the area, was even­tu­ally charged with April’s ab­duc­tion and mur­der, which David says had a ‘huge com­mu­nity im­pact’.

Back in his parochial job of TVP canon, David helps of­fi­cers and po­lice staff deal with the stress of work­ing in the force.

He says: “It can be the stresses peo­ple have faced in the job be­cause of a par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent that has been disturbing or it could be about a per­sonal is­sue, some­thing in the fam­ily or re­la­tion­ship break­down.

“Thames Val­ley is very di­verse, it has all the di­ver­sity of some­where like Slough and then you have mid­dle Eng­land in the other parts.

“Bucks is a mix­ture of Wy­combe and lit­tle vil­lages, but with po­lice work, you never know where things are go­ing to hap­pen. You might get th­ese big in­ci­dents from time to time – in the Chalfonts, say – but they do not tend to be iso­lated in­ci­dents. It would be big news.”

David jok­ingly re­called a col­league re­port­ing another ‘drive-by shout­ing’ in the area, but he em­pha­sised that per­sonal is­sues tend to be the same ev­ery­where and the chap­laincy will al­ways of­fer help.

And in th­ese times of cuts, will the force chap­laincy be­come a thing of the past?

“There is no in­di­ca­tion cuts will af­fect my role but times are tight,” he added. “Any area can be un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

There is a strong sense of po­lice fam­ily which is why, when a tragedy hap­pens, [refer­ing to the shoot­ing of two po­lice of­fi­cers in Manch­ester] it

af­fects the whole fam­ily”

Photo by Mark Chappell

SPE­CIAL FORCES: David Wil­bra­ham, force chap­lain for Thames Val­ley Po­lice

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