Call the cathe­dral cop­pers

It might sound like the most peace­ful place to be, but cathe­dral con­stab­u­lar­ies face their own chal­lenges. An­drew Martin goes on the beat with the bob­bies from ‘the min­istry of wel­come’

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Jonathan Pow

An­drew Martin goes on the ec­cle­si­atic beat

IT’S a win­ter’s af­ter­noon in Can­ter­bury and I’m strolling through the cathe­dral close, the beauty of the clois­ters height­ened by a fine sheet of misty rain. At my side is Jim Mor­ley, head of the cathe­dral con­stab­u­lary, and we’re walk­ing part of the beat of his 18 of­fi­cers. This is one of four cathe­drals in Bri­tain with its own force and I sug­gest that the po­lice­man’s lot here in Can­ter­bury must be rather an idyl­lic one. ‘It’s a lovely place to work,’ con­firms Mr Mor­ley. ‘There’s a peace­ful­ness about it that gets into your blood. Al­though we’re po­lice, we’re part of the min­istry of wel­come.’

It feels as if the most fright­en­ing event likely to oc­cur here in Kent is a sight­ing of the ghost of Nell Cook, a ser­vant re­put­edly buried alive as pun­ish­ment for mur­der­ing her em­ployer, a cathe­dral canon. How­ever, five years ago, one of the Can­ter­bury of­fi­cers was com­mended af­ter sav­ing the life of a man found in the clois­ters stab­bing him­self with a va­ri­ety of knives. ‘This place nat­u­rally at­tracts peo­ple with men­tal is­sues,’ Mr Mor­ley ex­plains. ‘They’re wel­come, be­cause they’re seek­ing help.’

There are about 50 cathe­dral con­sta­bles in the UK and, be­sides Can­ter­bury, they are at York, Liver­pool Angli­can Cathe­dral and Ch­ester. These are the heirs of a ven­er­a­ble tra­di­tion—at one time, all po­lice were an­swer­able to church war­dens as par­ish con­sta­bles. The most his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant con­stab­u­lary is at York Min­ster, which, un­til 1839, had the sta­tus of a Lib­erty with its own coroner, Jus­tice of the Peace and a prison.

The Cathe­dral Con­sta­bles’ As­so­ci­a­tion (CCA) states that it is ‘the old­est con­tin­u­ing po­lice ser­vice in the coun­try and pos­si­bly the world’ and, when Robert Peel was con­ceiv­ing the idea for the Metropoli­tan Po­lice, founded in 1829, he drew on the ex­am­ple of the Min­ster force—his sis­ter was mar­ried to the Dean of York, the Very Rev Wil­liam Cock­burn.

Since April 2016, the Min­ster Po­lice has been lead by Mark Sut­cliffe, who, so far, has dealt with only a hand­ful of def­i­nite crimes: ‘Two bur­glar­ies, a theft and drug mis­use in the Dean’s Yard.’ What’s more of­ten re­quired is a word in a tourist’s ear. ‘We have a huge num­ber of vis­i­tors and some of them think the Min­ster’s a sort of grand mu­seum,’ Mr Sut­cliffe pon­ders. ‘They might ask “why are there chairs here?”, look­ing at their ipads and drink­ing Coca-cola, but they’re al­ways very po­lite and hor­ror-struck at the idea they might have given of­fence.’

I won­der aloud whether he’s much trou­bled with ha­rassed char­ac­ters turn­ing up and claim­ing sanc­tu­ary. ‘I looked up the law of sanc­tu­ary when I came here,’ re­sponds Mr Sut­cliffe. ‘You must be pur­sued by an “un­law­ful el­e­ment” to claim it—and the reg­u­lar po­lice hardly count as that.’ The ‘reg­u­lar po­lice’ only en­ter the Min­ster ‘if they are in hot pur­suit of a crim­i­nal or at the in­vi­ta­tion of the Dean and Chap­ter. That’s the pro­to­col and

Pre­ced­ing pages: Jessica Cooke, one of about 50 cathe­dral con­sta­bles, checks York Min­ster’s nave at the end of the day. Above: Head of York Min­ster Po­lice Mark Sut­cliffe

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