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From skirts to firearms: The challenges and triumphs of women in the Metropolitan Police force in East London

PUBLISHED: 10:00 02 April 2018

Retired Borough Commander of Kensington and Chelsea, Ellie O'Connor being given an award by David Beckham. Picture: Met Police

Retired Borough Commander of Kensington and Chelsea, Ellie O'Connor being given an award by David Beckham. Picture: Met Police

Archant

From wearing skirts and carrying lipstick cases to leading an elite firearm squad, the role of women in the police force has dramatically evolved over the last 100 years.

A photo of women in the police force a hundred years ago. Picture: Met PoliceA photo of women in the police force a hundred years ago. Picture: Met Police

As the world celebrates the centenary of the vote and women’s rights, in general, the Recorder looks at what female officers have achieved so far, and what more work can be done.

Inspector Louise Venables

With 25 years in the service, including nine years in specialist firearms command and stints in vice, drug and robbery squads, Inspector Louise Venables’ CV pulls no punches.

Louise was born in Redbridge and worked in Newham and Stoke NewingtonLouise was born in Redbridge and worked in Newham and Stoke Newington

She is also the lead on female diversity and helps with the Met’s Cancer Support Network after her experience of battling the disease.

“The best thing about being a woman in the Metropolitan police service today is that you can do, try and go for whatever role you want too,” she said.

“You can create the career that you want, in any direction you want, the doors are always open and there is support out there for you, you only have to ask for it.”

She said women hoping to forge a career with the police today will be encouraged every step of the way and you might even be surprised about the route you end up taking take.

Female firearms officers today. Picture: Met PoliceFemale firearms officers today. Picture: Met Police

However, it wasn’t always like this and inspector Venables said “back in the day”, men didn’t always like being led by a woman and weren’t used to it

“I felt that as a woman, who was happy to get promoted young and lead men, and barge into the testosterone-fuelled world of firearms/armed policing, I was being watched and assessed to a level beyond that of my male counterparts.

“They thought ‘who the is this goby Essex bird, who does she think she is? Can she cut it, can she do the job, is she out of her depth?

“I did what I had to do and I did it well, but I had to be just that one bit better than the boys.”

The officer, who was born in Goodmayes and served in units all around east London including Newham said women today in whatever field they are in should go for it and follow their dreams.

“Don’t hold yourself back,” she added.

“If you see obstacles in your way, ask yourself, are these ‘obstacles’ real or perceived?

“If they’re real/tangible seek help/advice/mentors to work a way around them -but if they are perceived, take a leap of faith and go for it, you might surprise yourself.”

Detective superintendent Jane Scotchbrook

She was instrumental in forming one of the Met’s first units to tackle sexual offences,she investigated the effects of bad witchcraft and looked into the conspiracy to murder Diana Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed.

To say detective superintendent Jane Scotchbrook’s roles have been diverse would not be an understatement.

“Policing is a very wonderful vocation and I have had opportunities to learn skills I would never have learned otherwise – investigative skills, driving skills, self-defence etc,” she said.

“The Met is very forward thinking and the work I have done with the NHS to improve the service for victims of serious sexual offences has been pretty pioneering.

“I also love to see the surprise on people’s faces when they hear what I do for a living - It dispels their stereotype of a female police officer.”

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing and from attitudes to uniform, she has encountered challenges along the way.

“When I first joined we only had skirts issued to us,” she said.

“Try running after a suspect in that whilst carrying a handbag.

“Another was the attitude. In the past, there has been a feeling by male colleagues that a woman wasn’t as good or as resilient.

“I remember hearing disparaging remarks about my ability as a young uniformed officer and when I wanted to move into a specialist department as a detective sergeant, being blocked by my boss who said I would not be able to govern those males who didn’t want to be governed.

“Luckily I persevered.”

Detective superintendent Scotchbrook said it is important for women to seize the opportunities they have with both hands and if you are considering a career in the force there are so many “fascinating aspects to it,”.

She added: “Don’t feel alone in any situation. Being a police officer can be very tough, adapting to a lifestyle that you can’t really imagine before you join, but there are lots of women who have now been through it at just about every rank - although I’m not sure we’ve had a female Deputy Commissioner.

“Many will have been in a similar situation whatever yours is.”

Chief superintendent Ellie O’Connor

When thinking of an inspiring female officer it is easy to see why Ellie O’Connor’s name might be mentioned.

Not only was she the first-ever female police chief in Kensington and Chelsea but she led an investigation in response to the 2011 London riots.

More recently, the chief superintendent was heavily involved in the response to the Grenfell catastrophy and played a large part in ensuring the welfare of officers undertaking the recovery and identification process, which was a very difficult task for those involved.

She is credited by colleagues as being dedicated to supporting the community and encouraged residents to talk to officers who would listen to their concerns and help in any way they could.

Having grown up in Redbridge she spent most of her career in east London before working in the west.

And after became a detective she created the Sex Offences Registration Unit and managed several high profile paedophile cases.

“Women are great in the police force because they can use emotional intelligence to get results rather than just brute strength,” she said.

“There are still challenges and women have to work harder to get promotions – it is changing but there is still a way to go.

“(Women who want to work in the police) should believe in themselves and go for their dreams as it is a great career.”

Inspiring a whole new generation

Inspector Louise Venables, detective superintendent Jane Scotchbrook and chief superintendent Ellie O’Connor, were just a few of the inspiring officers who spoke at an International Women’s Day event, at Chigwell Police Club, on the High Road.

The event was sponsored by the Katie Piper Foundation and females from across the borough gathered to hear the challenges, triumphs and at times funny experiences of walking the thin blue line.

PC Meg Knight organised the event and said she was incredibly grateful for all those who participated and it was an empowering and entertaining day.

“The Katie Piper Foundation not only highlighted the inspirational work they are doing in relation to burns and scars survivors but they also sent a personalised thank you message, to all our officers who are first responders to incidents involving burns victims.

“Chigwell Sports Club was an amazing venue for the event, I look forward to working with them and hosting more events in the future.”

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