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Former Norfolk police officer heads to Brazil to help the poor

PUBLISHED: 12:18 03 October 2011

Former policeman Neil Wilson who is leaving for 2 months in Brazil to work as a missionary. Picture: Denise Bradley

Former policeman Neil Wilson who is leaving for 2 months in Brazil to work as a missionary. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant copyright 2011

He has been helping to apprehend and arrest crooks and villains on the streets of Norwich, Norfolk and beyond for the past 26 years.

But last month, Detective Constable Neil Wilson turned his back on the boys in blue to become a former bobby in Brazil, where he will help build houses for slum dwellers.

Mr Wilson, 53, who lives north of Norwich, headed out to South America over the weekend for the start of a two-month trip as a mission tourist with the Christian charity, Mission Direct, to help improve the lives of slum dwellers.

It is a far cry from Mr Wilson’s previous life as a police officer. Mr Wilson, a “career detective” spent time with Norfolk and Suffolk’s Major Investigation Team (MIT) as well as the South Eastern Regional Crime Squad.

He worked on a number of high profile cases over the years, including a grisly murder investigation which was triggered after the discovery of a dismembered torso in Pentney Lakes near King’s Lynn in 2005.

It belonged to Alexander Brown, who had been reported missing in October 2004 after a night’s drinking in Swaffham with his friend Eddie Simmons.

Simmons, who claimed he killed Mr Brown in self defence after waking in the early hours of the next morning to discover he had been raped by his friend and finding him holding a bloody knife, was found guilty of murder following a trial at Norwich Crown Court in November 2005.

But despite choosing to turn his back on a life of crime fighting, Mr Wilson, a father of three, has embarked on the trip to Brazil with the best wishes of his family and many of the former Norfolk police colleagues he said goodbye to when he retired from the force last month.

He said: “It’s been a little bit strange, but I went to Zambia with Mission Direct in 2009 and from then on I knew that, having seen abject poverty up close and personal, I had to help the poor.

“I’m not trying to set myself up as a saint or anything, but I realised that was where my life was destined to be really.

“Since then, it’s been a bit of a struggle in my own head about working and staying as a police officer, or going out and doing something a bit more worthwhile. It became obvious to me that the police had nothing more to offer me and I had nothing more to offer them, so it was time for me to go.”

Some eyebrows might have been raised by Mr Wilson’s decision to quit the force just a few years before he reached the 30 years service needed to be entitled to a final salary pension.

But, for Mr Wilson, the personal rewards he is to experience as part of his new charity adventure far outweigh the financial benefits he could have received through seeing out those final few years.

He said: “If I’d wanted to do it I could have, but it became insignificant at the end of the day. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I’ve got children, but all my children are grown up and I’m not married now, so I’ve got nothing much to worry about.”

Mr Wilson will be in Brazil until the end of next month and will return to the UK to spend Christmas at home with his family. He said: “I’ve done work with schools, this time it will be houses for slum dwellers.”

Mr Wilson then hopes to embark on a further charity trip in January to Cambodia, where he hopes to spend four months helping others.

Luton-based Mission Direct supports locally led projects among the world’s poorest people in various parts of the world, including South America, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Mr Wilson has to raise a minimum of £1,500 for each trip, but will need to raise at least £2,900 for his visit to Cambodia in January.

Mr Wilson, who grew up and was educated in Essex, is looking for people to help fund some of the cost of travel and accommodation while he helps people in other parts of the world. He said: “It’s not an inexpensive opportunity. Anything I can get to help me out would be a big help. What’s good about Mission Direct is that all the money goes towards the project you’re working on.”

The former bricklayer, who once worked for Carter and helped build Wayland Prison, came to Norfolk in 1982, having spent time laying bricks in Germany. He will put his bricklaying skills to good use in Brazil, but hopes to eventually help people in other ways.

He said: “I don’t think my back is going to hold out for many more years, so I’m thinking of doing something like teaching English as a foreign language. I don’t know. I just want to get out there and start doing what I can, giving something back.”

To sponsor Mr Wilson go to uk.virginmoneygiving.com/NeilWilson128 or to follow his blog log onto Weelz1958.livejournal.com

To find out more about Mission Direct log onto www.missiondirect.org/

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