“I became a policewoman as I wanted to protect the weak and vulnerable in our society”
SARA THORNTON, 54, is the head of the national police chief’s council, and the former chief constable of thames valley police. she was awarded the queen’s police medal (qpm) in 2006 for distinguished service, and a cbe in 2011. she is divorced with two grown-up sons and lives in london.
Even after more than 30 years with
the police, there are still moments that shock me. as a mother, i find issues involving the abuse of children and young people very upsetting. during my time at thames valley, the oxford paedophile ring – where an estimated 370 girls were abused over 16 years – was one of the most challenging things i have ever worked on. our job was to keep them safe, and i still reflect on that – how could we have missed it for so long? the depravity of some people is shocking.
Following the terrorist attacks in manchester and london, we’ve had a huge amount of feedback from the public showing their appreciation. i’ve always known how fantastic police officers are, and the kind of compassion and warmth they need on a daily basis, but the attacks have revealed that side to the wider public.
Crime has changed enormously in the past 10 years. the most recent crime survey of england and wales found there’s as much online crime now as offline crime.
More than ever, the police needs to work together. the police in the uk is very local – we are made up of 43 forces. the role of the national police chief’s council, which i’ve headed up
for the past two years, is for the different forces to coordinate teams. for instance, after the bombing in manchester, we helped organise more firearms police and family liaison officers.
I became a policewoman as i had a strong sense of wanting to protect weak and vulnerable members of society. i encountered obstacles as a woman when i was a more junior officer rising through the ranks – sexist remarks, for instance. when i was pregnant with my first child, i remember telling another sergeant that i was taking six months maternity leave. he asked me what on earth i was thinking coming back, that a woman’s place is in the home. it’s fantastic that we now have women in the very top roles.
Men still dominate the armed units. but if you ask any police officer if they want to carry a gun, only the minority (about a quarter) do. the old arguments about women not having the necessary brute force to deal with crime simply aren’t true, as being a police officer requires so many different skills, such as dealing with vulnerable people or tackling online issues.
Has being a mother ever made me think i should be doing a different job? no – i can honestly say it has never crossed my mind. my sons have never had any physical concerns for my safety, either; it’s more that being a policewoman requires a lot of you. but they are hugely proud. i always say that my two biggest achievements are my two fantastic sons and my career. when i received my
cbe from the queen, they were there.
To unwind, i go running, i cycle and spend quite a bit of time on the dorset coast walking. i’m going to do this job for two more years, and it will be my
last job in policing. thinking about my next chapter is hugely exciting. w&h
SARA PROUDLY DISPLAYS HER CBE