“My real aim was to become the winner of the Tour de France, or win the Olympic Games cycling sprint gold medal!”
While Norman Mellors was sitting behind his desk in a London branch of a major High Street bank, it dawned on him that his work was not the type of challenge he was looking for in life.
So at the age of 25 Mr Mellors embarked on the first steps of a journey that was to ultimately lead him to his position of Superintendant Norman Mellors, Hampshire Constabulary’s Commanding Officer on the Isle of Wight.
Supt. Mellors took up his post on the Island two years ago, and openly admits: “This is probably the best job I have ever done. This has always been one of Hampshire Constabulary’s best kept secrets.”
In this first interview since accepting the post, Supt. Mellors reveals his impressive climb through the policing ranks, and talks about how he still enjoys the buzz of going out on patrol with his fellow officers.
He was born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, 52 years ago, one of two sons of a father who worked in a textile factory and a mother who worked for Birds Eye Foods. With such strong fishing connections in that area, he fondly recalls: “My great uncle Jack was one of the old fashioned trawler skippers; my granddad was in the merchant navy, and was on trawlers, and my dad’s brother was also on a trawler.”
But trawling was not for him – and indeed as a youngster neither was the prospect of banking nor police work. He says: “My real aim was to become the winner of the Tour de France, or win the Olympic Games cycling sprint gold medal!
“My passion was cycling and I joined a club aged 13. I competed in every type of cycling apart from BMX. I like cycling as a sport because it is technical and tactical. It is not a case of just the fittest winning – sometimes even the fittest riders can be outwitted by the more tactically aware.”
After a winning a bronze medal in the national championships as a 15 year old and Lincolnshire County titles on road and track as a 19 year old Mr Mellors has recently returned to racing in the ranks of veterans. Because of 24 per cent unemployment in Grimsby when he was 16, further education seemed the natural option. He attended school and sixth form in Grimsby, and then to the City of London Polytechnic to study economics before getting a job with the Midland Bank.
Despite being on the accelerated promotion scheme to become senior bank manager, Mr Mellors decided he wanted a different challenge. He said: “The routine nature of banking did not appeal to me; I wanted something where I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I also wanted to help people. The only thing on the horizon was police work, so at the age of 25 I applied to the Hampshire Constabulary, because my wife’s parents lived in Hampshire.”
In 1982 he gained direct entry as a constable, and decided to work as hard as he could and seek promotion when opportunities arose. He continued: “I was sent to Ashford Police training school in Kent for a residential course, and my first posting as a probationary officer was Bitterne in Southampton. Bitterne was the busiest policing area in the county. On average we were suffering 10 burglaries per day – a real hot spot! Compare that to the present situation on the Island where we typically average five burglaries a week.
“Around that time the Hampshire force was providing support to Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire during the miners’ strike. We were really short-staffed and on one occasion there were just two of us looking after an area with a 100,000 population. Five years at Bitterne were worth 10 to 15 in a less busy environment.”
After those five years as a constable Mr Mellors applied for promotion to sergeant and passed first time. He was one of the youngest serving officers in Hampshire to be promoted to sergeant, and was soon posted to Winchester.
“It was very different to Bitterne,” he smiled. “In my first week we had a 48-hour period when not a single crime was reported. So there was a different skill to learn – how to be proactive rather than reactive. Poaching was an issue there, and you didn’t get much of that in Bitterne, so it was a different type of challenge.”
After two years at Winchester, he applied for a training sergeant’s job, and went to the force training school at Bishops Waltham and then to Netley. “I spent five years doing every course as a police trainer. That was in 1990, and even then we were very serious about the professional development of officers, and it was the forerunner of all advanced training that we now encourage.”
The next step up the ladder, just 10 years into his police career, saw him pass the Inspector’s promotion board. He stayed in the training school for a while before moving to Portsmouth Central police station as an Inspector. “It was good to get back to operational policing and I really enjoyed my time there. In a way it took me back to my roots in Grimsby, with people being very down to earth. If you treated them fairly they were fair with you,” he said.
“However, there were still challenges, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights around the nightclubs at Southsea. When the clubs closed there were thousands of people milling around, with no night buses and very few taxis. You had up to 25,000 people spilling out of the clubs looking for transport, so that was quite a challenge being in charge as the duty inspector. It was also a fantastic learning experience.
“I was at Portsmouth the first time the initial six CCTV cameras were switched on, and we calculated that in the first week they were operating there were 48 extra arrests. There have been significant advances since those days to try to cut crime. Cars don’t have radios that are easy to steal and people don’t have electricity meters full of 50p pieces. So crime has been designed out, and police tactics have improved to try to reduce crime from the 1990s levels.”
During his time at Portsmouth he routinely became the duty senior officer for the eastern side of the Force. He recalls: “That was as fantastic responsibility, and where police work differed so much from being in a bank. I would sometimes park overlooking the city as dawn was breaking, and think my sergeants and constables were out there making people as safe as they could be. I loved the responsibility of that and working in a bank totally paled into insignificance!”
A family man with two girls and a boy, Mr Mellors went into the force control room at Winchester as an Inspector responsible for the oversight of all critical incidents, with 2,000 999 calls a day, including such matters as firearms incidents and serious assaults – a high profile and highly stressful position.
The force migrated to the new facility at Netley, and he remained in the control room for five years. Living nearby he resumed cycling by riding to work on his bike each day. Two years as a staff officer provided Mr Mellors with further invaluable experience, and he was then posted to the New Forest and was promoted to Chief Inspector.
After three years and two more postings, Mr Mellors was promoted to Superintendent, a promotion that ultimately saw him move to the Island. He arrived as second in command, but following restructuring of the force, he took charge as Superintendent. “This is probably the best job I have ever done,” he reaffirmed. “It ought to be straightforward because crime statistics had been reduced for a number of years before I came here. We have managed to keep that until very recently.
“The Island is 140 square miles with about 130,000 people, and the community works in support of community safety professionals, council staff, social workers, health and probation services, volunteers, street pastors and neighbourhood watch. They all pull together, so the support you get on the Island is second to none. In trying to make the place safer, the challenges have become more difficult because the crime rates on a quiet day in January can be down to one crime an hour in 140 square miles. To get a patrol strategy to try to defeat that when you know at least 50 per cent of burglaries will happen in premises that are left insecure is really difficult – quite a challenge. But I have really enjoyed it.”
In his 28 years in the force, Mr Mellors has seen major changes – from the ‘grass’ with a snippet of information to the age of computers and 21st century technology. He explained: “These days problem solving and community safety is the responsibility not only of the police, but the local council, health service education youth services, probation people and whole raft of supporters in the community. We work much more in a collaborative and co-operative way in the community. We consult and ask the community what we should be prioritizing – what do tax payers want us to focus on?
“So the difference is light years in many respects. Professionalism has also increased, but that hasn’t made life easier because if you make a mistake or overlook something, the issues are questioned in a court and quite rightly so. It is a different way of policing.”
Mr Mellors is responsible for over 300 staff, but his experience is such that he is able to enjoy that type of responsibility. Although his position now entails numerous meetings and sitting at a desk reading reports, interpreting statistics and managing budgets, he admits: “At times like Christmas and New Year’s Eve, or at the Festival and Bestival, it is nice to put body armour on, pick up a radio and go on patrol just to experience again the sort of work that I joined the force for.”
He added: “There is evidence to suggest we are under pressure with regard to crime levels, and it is increasing, which we have not seen for several years. It is only one and two per cent, but for me one crime is one too many and it is professionally my ambition to continue to reduce crime as much as I can for as long as I can.”