Police chief bows out

COLCHESTER police chief Dave Murthwaite has become a familiar figure in the borough, with his emphasis on community relations and hands-on policing. After he announced his retirement this week, he spoke to the EADT's Essex Chief Reporter Roddy Ashworth.

COLCHESTER police chief Dave Murthwaite has become a familiar figure in the borough, with his emphasis on community relations and hands-on policing. After he announced his retirement this week, he spoke to the EADT's Essex Chief Reporter Roddy Ashworth.

His time at the helm has been, Chief Superintendent Dave Murthwaite says, a privilege.

The well-known boss of Colchester Police has announced that on September 30 he will be standing down as the town's Divisional Commander, a position he has held since 2001.

The move, which will mark the end of a 33-year long and distinguished career with Essex Police, comes after the Colchester division was recognised as the best in the county and the second best nationally for reduction and detection of crime.

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But it also comes at a time of change for the force, with a new Chief Constable in office at its Chelmsford-based headquarters and a subsequent shift of emphasis in the way the county is policed.

Mr Murthwaite, 54, has used his time at Colchester not only tackling crime head on but also raising the profile of police officers in the community.

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As a founding member and former chairman of the borough's local strategic partnership, Colchester 2020, he has promoted the idea of “multi-agency” approaches to problems in the town amongst key stakeholders, including the borough council, the university, the Army and local football club.

Colchester is also currently recognised as the country's “pathfinder” division for neighbourhood policing.

“There are a number of things that contributed to my decision to go,” Mr Murthwaite said yesterday. “My philosophy and advice to anybody is that when deciding whether to move from one thing to another in life, you have to look at your current environment and what else is available. It's a balancing act.

“I feel that in a number of ways I feel as though I have achieved much of what I wanted to achieve locally.

“This will also give me the opportunity to work a few less days a week in London doing something really quite exciting, still connected with the police service but in a private capacity.”

Mr Murthwaite, who lives in a small village near Colchester, said he was proud of his achievements in the borough, although he recognised some people were still concerned about the level of high-visibility policing in rural areas.

“I have some sympathy with them. There's a high expectation of a police presence which I acknowledge.

“Rural areas feel they should see police out and about but the reality is the amount of crime in those areas does not justify the level of police presence expected.”

But he said that the increasing use of police community support officers – uniformed employees with fewer powers than constables – should help address some of the fears.

“I agree with the extended police family. At one point there is a constable with extensive powers, and at the other there are uniformed officers who can give reassurance and authority to areas.

“It is a co-operative family of people with a range of appropriate skills and powers.

“I believe in establishing a relationship between the police and the communities in an area – officers should not be purely law enforcers.

“That involves meeting with local councillors, residents' associations, neighbourhood watch and finding out what particular neighbourhoods need.

“That might be meeting places for young people, such as in Monkwick or Greenstead.

“Or it might be the signs of community in St Anne's, where a dispersal order was developed not by the police, but by the people of St Anne's.”

He added that he feared, however, that Colchester could lose its sense of identity if its growth and development was not planned thoroughly.

“I think the level of growth in Colchester is the biggest threat to us as a public service, because traditionally police forces wait until a problem happens before we try and deal with it.

“But it's not just about the police. It's about road networks, transport issues, schools, and other forms of infrastructure.

“I think we mustn't let it develop willy-nilly. I'd like to see Colchester recognised as a prestigious regional centre, that has its differences - such as the University, the Garrison, the past and the future - at its heart. It's important to develop culture as well as growth.

“With the amount of growth planned, it could just become a big sprawling development with a heart that is not easy to identify.”

Mr Murthwaite, however, has confirmed he will not continue on Colchester2020 once he leaves the police.

He also denied he was leaving because of the tribunal at which his partner, Judy Soanes, claimed she was forced out of her police job. It was recently confirmed that she had lost her case.

At a hearing, Mr Murthwaite criticised the way Essex Police had handled the situation leading up to her leaving, claiming his partner had been “isolated and vilified” and the case had not been handled in the normal way because of his position.

“I made my decision before the result was known,” he said. “It was a tough time. I chose to be honest, and I was. I didn't enjoy that time at all, it's fair to say. But was it instrumental in my reasoning? No.

“But there are many things that impact on how you feel and they build up.”

He also said that the style of policing of Roger Baker, the new chief constable – which he admitted was different to his own – was not the reason he was leaving, either.

“He has got a real focus on giving public reassurance and improving the quality of the service, which I wholly endorse.

“However, I am conscious the success that Colchester has enjoyed in the last few years has been down to our community liaison teams, which we must protect at all costs.

“These teams have been allowed to get close to their communities by keeping them, to some extent, protected from traditional, reactive policing.

“I believe this approach, investment and, to some extent, risk will be worth it in the long run.”

But looking back on the past four years, he said he has had no major disappointments.

“To be honest, it has been great. It's been a blast – I feel privileged and proud to have represented the people of Colchester on Essex Police,” he said.

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