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Norfolk chief constable - on meeting the Queen, patrolling Canaries matches and being Morse.

PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 July 2011

Norfolk Chief Constable Phil Gormley.
Photo: Andy Darnell

Norfolk Chief Constable Phil Gormley. Photo: Andy Darnell

Archant © 2011

Norfolk's top policeman tells ROWAN MANTELL about a job which ranges from meeting royalty to being on-call village cop - and reveals Morse has moved east.

He was once the real Morse, and meets the royals as part of his job, but the Chief Constable of Norfolk was surprised to find himself something of a local celebrity too.

Phil Gormley has been in the job for just over a year, but is still getting used to invitations as diverse as church with the Queen, cricket with a general, or late night knock on his front door to ask him to look into rumours of a village crime.

“The post of the chief constable is one that has a much higher profile in Norfolk than it has in other places I have worked,” he said.

But if the chief constable was taken aback by his status in the county when he arrived in Norfolk, he was delighted by the status of the police.

“I think the jewel in the crown of Norfolk is the people of Norfolk,” said Mr Gormley. “They want the police to succeed. I have worked in other parts of the country where that is not universally felt.”

He said one reason for this is that Norfolk police live in, and are part of, the community they serve. And that includes the chief constable himself. “In Norfolk you are never really off-duty,” he said.

On this occasion he delegated rather than throwing on his uniform over pyjamas and slippers, but look carefully at the officers policing a Norwich City match and, if one is particularly tall, it could be Chief Constable Gormley.

A life-long football fan, he has attended several Norwich City matches since moving to the county – and not all of them as a spectator.

“I’ve been out and policed a couple of matches, and I go out on patrol,” he said. “I like meeting the public. It’s what I joined the police to do. And I think it’s quite important that I do get a sense of what’s happening. If you are crewed up with an officer for a couple of hours, they will tell you what’s going on.”

He originally aimed to become a police sergeant – inspired by his grandfather.

He died before Chief Constable Gormley was born, but Mr Gormley said: “He was my mum’s hero. She kept his truncheon, his buttons, his medals.”

His great grandfather was also a policeman, killed on duty while working for Great Western Railways.

If his mum was proud of the son who had followed her father and grandfather into the police force, she was thrilled with one promotion.

“I was the real Inspector Morse at one stage!” he said. “A detective chief inspector in Oxford.”

His mum, a big Morse fan, used to go along to Colin Dexter’s book signings to tell the Morse author about her son, the real Inspector Morse.

Now the Chief Constable of Norfolk owns several Morse book dedicated to the “real Inspector Morse” and admitted: “I do enjoy watching and reading Morse – although it bears no relation to real policing!”

Sadly his mum did not live long enough to see him become a chief constable as she would have been incredulous to see her boy hobnobbing with royalty. “You would have been pulling her off the ceiling!” said Mr Gormley.

Far from sticking at sergeant, he raced through the ranks. He led a firearms and aviation security unit for the London’s Metropolitan Police before taking command of its Special Branch and overseeing a merger with the Anti Terrorist Branch to form the new Counter Terrorist Command.

Then he served as deputy chief constable of the West Midlands police for four years, before moving to Norfolk.

In his leaving speech, before heading to Norfolk, he joked that he was “moving from a place where shooting on an estate was a critical incident to one where it’s an invitation!”

But he was well aware that Norfolk was no sleepy backwater.

“Norfolk has always had a bit of a profile and punched above its weight. In policing terms it’s had a profile above most forces of its size,” he said.

His view of the role of Norfolk police is simple – and exacting.

“We’re here to serve and protect the people of Norfolk,” he said.

“It’s the best job in the world. Without wanting to sound corny, it’s about public service and the opportunity to make a difference to peoples’ lives, at points when they most need you.”

But surely a job which daily deals with crime, accident, duplicity, dishonesty and even disaster, must get him down sometimes?

He genuinely believes that policing is all about helping people in need and said: “I never find it depressing. I do find it surprising. Human nature never ceases to surprise me, but I never get depressed.”

He has form when it comes to pulling something positive out of an apparently grim situation – having met his wife during a post mortem.

He and his wife, Claire, who is also a police officer, are settling into life in Saxlingham Nethergate. He also has a teenage daughter. Friends and family have quickly wised up to the wonder of Norfolk.

“We’ve been running a bed and breakfast ever since!” he said.

He was also quick to praise the Evening News and Eastern Daily Press. “A local paper as well read, and well respected, is a real force for good in Norfolk,” he said.

And he is well aware of the affection people have for the bobby on the beat.

“It important practically and symbolically,” he said. “British police officers, patrolling either on foot, bike or in the car, are cherished. They are accessible and available.”

However, misty-eyed nostalgia is not his style.

He points out that other sections of policing are just as important, and he is having to implement budget cuts.

For several years a money-saving merger between Norfolk and Suffolk police was discussed.

No official merger is planned for now, but by 2013 many policing specialities will be shared.

“It’s not predicated upon, neither does it preclude a merger,” said the chief constable, carefully.

“At some point in the future, can I see Norfolk and Suffolk being run as one unit? Yes I can.”

But for now he is proud to be Chief Constable of Norfolk.

And he paid tribute to the way his staff were continuing to serve and protect the people of Norfolk, through a very difficult process.

As the life-long Chelsea supporter transfers just a little bit of allegiance to Norwich City he has already been won over by Norfolk.

Coming to terms with invitations to play in celebrity cricket matches might take time but he was genuinely touched to be asked to try out for a local village veterans team.

And he is determined to justify the high regard the police are held in - whether on Norfolk’s royal estates or its housing estates.

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Television cops: Which do you most enjoy watching, Chief Wiggum of the Simpsons or Inspector Morse? “I’ve never seen the Simpsons in my life but I was the real Inspector Morse, so it would have to be Morse!”

On duty snack of choice, doughnuts or Norfolk dumplings? “Um, Norfolk dumplings? I haven’t come across them yet, so neither.”

Music: Police or Prokofiev? “Police. I’m a child of the 80s!”

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