Uk News I was the first black Met officer, and was spat on by my colleagues and sent death threats United Kingdom news
PremierLeague-News.Com - I’d never thought being London’s first black police officer was going to be easy, but nothing had prepared me for the difficulties that lay ahead
PremierLeague-News.Com - Breaking Sport Transfer News ! It was the morning of 10 July 1967, a bright and sunny day, and I arrived at Bow Street Police Station in the West End of London, a smartly dressed 22-year-old police officer with butterflies in my stomach. A few months earlier, I’d become the first black recruit to the then Metropolitan Police Force, the culmination of a long-held ambition, and a sixteen-week training course. I’d never felt so proud – I was so excited about my new career. But as soon as I’d been introduced to my reporting sergeant, the air in his office seemed to sour and he greeted me with a snarl. “Look, you n****r, I’ll see to it that you won’t finish your probation,” he said.No one stood up for me – the officers who were in the room looked the other way, and I thought I could see a few of them smirking behind their hands. I’d never thought being London’s first black police officer was going to be easy, but nothing had prepared me for the difficulties that lay ahead.Norwell beginning his training with colleagues at Hendon Police College, north London, 5 April 1967 (Photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho/Getty)I was 19-years-old and working at Westfield College in Hampstead, when I saw an advert that the Metropolitan Police had placed in the Daily Mirror inviting people to sign up and join the police force. I decided to apply, although I wasn’t hopeful that it would go anywhere; sure enough, I was soon informed by letter that my application had been unsuccessful. As I would later find out, there had at this point been a lot of resistance to the idea of recruiting a black policeman; I can’t say for sure whether that had been the reason for my rejection, but they would have been aware that I was black – I’d had to write my place of birth on the form.My original application, it seemed, had been turned down due to my “temperament”, a catch-all excuse that was used for the applications of everyone who was regarded as “unsuitable”. Related Stories‘Education can’t be blind to race': Jeffrey Boakye addresses a ‘default white’ school system09 June, 2022Stopped on the way to school, searched while buying milk: How policing impacts black children14 June, 2022Black ex-Met officer says colleagues 'painted his face white' as he attacks 'canteen culture'12 February, 2022Undeterred – and unaware of this systemic reluctance I reapplied in 1966 and was given a preliminary interview.My fellow students at Paddington Technical College, where I attended my day-release course, knew that I’d applied to join the police. One day, one of them, a posh lad, had a copy of The Daily Telegraph with him and read out a headline: “London to Have First Coloured Policeman Soon”.He told me that this must mean that my application had been successful, but I said there was no way it could be me – after all, I was still waiting for a reply after my interview. It would later turn out that the idea had been leaked to the press, in order to gauge public opinion. I didn’t dare admit the fact to anyone, but I couldn’t stop myself hoping that I was the successful applicant – I just didn’t want to get overexcited, in case I ended up being rejected for a second time. I need not have worried.While I was at Hendon [Police College], I remember being called into the office of the commandant.
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.The abuse I received was nothing personal – the first black policeman would have received the same treatment whoever they were, and I’m glad that I had the resilience to overcome itNorwell RobertsIn fact, they were downright racist, with the ugly words ‘n****r’ and ‘black bastard’ appearing in many of them, and the correspondents making threats to my life if they ever encountered me on the beat. I think the commandant showed me these disgusting letters to gauge my reaction.I have no doubt that some of those letters came from within the Met; some of the anonymous writers threatened to resign if I was posted to their station. It was obvious which ones were by policemen – they were on the same teleprinter paper used in all police stations. ‘Although none of my colleagues really spoke to me, the bullies did their best to make sure I was aware of their presence’ (Photo: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty)Although none of my colleagues really spoke to me, the bullies did their best to make sure I was aware of their presence. I was proud to wear my uniform, but at times that became rather difficult – I’d get to the locker room to find that someone had ripped the buttons from my jacket, or I’d find it stuffed behind a cupboard, filthy from being scuffed around on the floor. In the first three years of my police career, my appointments book, instruction book, truncheon, whistle and helmet would all disappear on a regular basis; they would turn up a day or two later or be handed back to me by my sergeant, who was no doubt in on the ‘joke’. I also endured many cups of tea being ‘spilled’ on me by colleagues. I would be spat at by my fellow officers, snide remarks were the norm and I had to get used to being called ‘n****r’ with some regularity. One night, I arrested an old lag for stealing a sack of potatoes from Covent Garden market. When he attended court the next morning, he was in an aggressive mood. “Us criminals have no chance,” he complained from the dock. “I couldn’t see the black officer in the dark.” There were roars of laughter from the gallery and the magistrate had to quieten the court. Before sentencing him to three months, he smiled at me and remarked: “I should think that is quite an advantage, would you say, PC Roberts?”Let me say at this point that I’ve often heard it suggested that every new recruit was mistreated and that what I experienced was normal.The way I can explain it is that if you were Scottish, Irish or Welsh, you might be made fun of every now and then, but you would not be hated before you even opened your mouth, like I was – if you were white, you were at least given a chance. It is some comfort to think that in some ways, the abuse I received was nothing personal – the first black policeman would have received the same treatment whoever they were, and I’m glad that I had the resilience to overcome it.This is an edited extract from I Am Norwell Roberts: The story of the Met’s first Black police officer. The book is out now
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