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