Detective who trained generation of officers retires after 45 years
- Credit: United Nations Development Programme
In more than 40 years of policing, Colin Bridge has seen just about everything.
Following his recent retirement, the 61-year-old reflected on a career which led from the heart of the capital to the middle of rural Suffolk, where he earned the nickname 'Heartbeat', inspired by the fish-out-of-water television series.
The years included investigating serious and complex crimes, occupying intelligence roles, and training a generation of new officers and detectives.
"The police service has been like a second family to me," said the father-of-three.
"I owe it everything. It's the most fantastic journey I could have been on."
Mr Bridge, who lives near Bury St Edmunds with his wife of 34 years, Sharon, left home at 16 to join the Metropolitan Police in 1976.
Following two years at Hendon Police College, he was posted as a constable at Holloway, Kings Cross Road and Islington police stations, and was among 279 police officers injured in the Brixton Riots in 1981.
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A decade after leaving Hendon, in the summer of 1988, he successfully applied to return as a police constable trainer.
"I soon realised that, as an organisation, things had been done the same for generation after generation," he said.
"But I had been there for things like the inception of the PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence) Act [passed following the Brixton Riots to regulate police powers under one code of practice and protect the rights of the public].
"I had first hand experience of how things had changed, for example, around stop-and-search powers.
"Before that, it was just taken that the police had random powers. Eventually, communities stood up and said enough was enough."
Towards the end of 1990, Mr Bridge's late parents bought a plot of land and retired to Redgrave, near Diss.
While visiting with their daughter for the weekend and shopping in Bury St Edmunds, Mr Bridge's wife encountered a beat officer, who revealed that the constabulary had recently appointed a new chief constable, Tony Coe, and was open to applications for transfers from other forces.
On June 3, 1991, Mr Bridge finished his shift at Hendon and clocked on for the late turn at 2pm the following day in Brandon.
He would also be posted to Mildenhall and spend part of his time fulfilling custody officer duties.
"I'd been thinking I'd be transferred to one of the bigger centres," he said.
"Having moved lock, stock and barrel, I found it a really steep learning curve.
"In London, we did shifts with five sergeants and a duty inspector with you 24/7. I arrived in Brandon and had to start making decisions for myself.
"In London, you'd get lost among the masses. In Brandon, people were able to see that we were human; we ate, we shopped, we had children.
"I try to say to all I've taught, you prejudge someone at your peril. You point a finger and, I suspect, you'll end up getting one pointed back.
"People need to be able to see the humanity in you. It may not put you on their Christmas card list, but they need to know that if you're cut, you bleed too."
In the mid-90s, Mr Bridge was invited to aid the criminal investigation unit.
"It taught me, as a budding detective, those important rules, those building blocks of investigation that are pivotal; things like the golden hour, the eight-point investigation plan and working with the media," he said.
In 2012, Mr Bridge had a spell away from policing, working in front of house for Milsoms Hotels at Hengrave Hall, and in training and development with Thomson Airways.
In early 2014, he returned to conduct student officer and criminal investigation training in Norfolk and Suffolk.
For six weeks between October and November 2017, Mr Bridge assisted the delivery of video recorded investigative interview training to the Fijian police and worked with the United Nations Development Programme to address corruption in public service throughout Oceania and Polynesia.
In January and March 2020, he visited to St Helier to deliver investigative principles, interviewing structure and techniques, and statement writing training to officers of the States of Jersey Police.
Mr Bridge leaves a police service rarely so under scrutiny, at a time when the Met has called in an independent reviewer to look at the force’s culture and standards in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard.
Meanwhile, all forces in England and Wales will review allegations of violence against women and girls involving serving officers and staff.
"I speak at a difficult time for the service, following the abhorrent events in South London," he said.
"There are things that have filled my stomach with nausea over the last few weeks.
"It's going to take time to heal and rebuild trust.
"I think we still have a lot of work to do, but what stands out for me is the remarkable changes we've made.
"I know how easily backs can go against walls and people say 'blimey, no one likes us'.
"This is where the young officers are so important. Most of those we have coming in adapt to change very quickly.
"I would never stand to defend the indefensible, but I could be accused, if you cut me, of bleeding blue
"I truly believe that, just like 99% of our community are law-abiding, there's a small percentage that let the side down.
"We have a criminal justice system which, I believe, is very fit for purpose."