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Life as a woman police officer in Romford in the late 1960s revealed in new book

PUBLISHED: 10:00 02 April 2019

Lois Willoughby-Easter outside Romford police station in 1968. Picture: Mango Books

Lois Willoughby-Easter outside Romford police station in 1968. Picture: Mango Books

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When Lois Willoughby-Easter joined the police aged 19 she was one of the few female recruits. Sexism was rife, the beat meant being on your own without a radio, the job took you undercover in Soho strip clubs and police men and women had different roles.

Lois Willoughby-Easter,, who has written a book about her experiences as a Met police woman in the 1960s and 70s. Picture: Simon ParkinLois Willoughby-Easter,, who has written a book about her experiences as a Met police woman in the 1960s and 70s. Picture: Simon Parkin

This very different time on the thin blue line is now recalled in a new book, A Girl in Blue: Memoirs of a Metropolitan Woman Police Officer 1967-73, written by the former policewoman.

The memoir, published by Mango Books, which specialises in non-fiction about crime and the police, details how she emerged from a dysfunctional early life in Bermondsey and was inspired to join the Met when her sister married a policeman.

“I was only 19 when I went straight from school into the police,” she said. “Women were very much a minority. In my class in training school there were only five of us with 15 men.”

After training school, she was posted to Romford.

“In those days you had no choice about where you had to go,” she recalled. “In my passing out parade the superintendent said to me ‘you’re going to Romford’. My reaction was where’s Romford? But that was the way it was. I ended up on what they called K-Division.

“After being seconded to the Met I later came back to K-Division in Romford again and also Hornchurch, another station on K.”

Lois Willoughby-Easter, far right, in 1967. Picture: Mango BooksLois Willoughby-Easter, far right, in 1967. Picture: Mango Books

Life on the beat in Romford was done with no radios or body armour just a whistle and a truncheon.

“There wasn’t the violence there is today but at the time when I was on the beat I just had a small truncheon.

“There was no radio and also in Romford there were no police boxes either. Because in 1965 the Metropolitan Police had taken over Romford, which prior to that was Essex, the only police box that linked you to the station was in Dagenham. There is a story in the book about when I was stuck in the middle of Dagenham lost and I had to use the police box.”

Being a female officer also meant being in the minority in a macho dominated culture.

Mrs Willoughby-Easter, 71, said: “There was a lot of sexism and bullying but you had to learn to deal with it.”

The roles of male and female officers were also very different as she discovered when she was assigned to Soho. “I did six months going into clubs undercover to do observations to see what was going on that was illegal.

Lois Willoughby-Easter manning the phones in 1968. Picture: Mango BooksLois Willoughby-Easter manning the phones in 1968. Picture: Mango Books

“Then the strip clubs or brothels would be raided,” she said. “Only one woman at a time was ever seconded to what they called the ‘clubs office’, everyone else was a man.”

However the role of female officers serving with the Met Police changed forever in 1973 when the Sex Discrimination Act was passed leading to integration with male counterparts; Wpcs became Pcs, equal in every way except gender.

Though this was meant to be a breakthrough for equality it was not universally welcomed by women officers who saw it was losing their specialist roles.

“In 1973 when I left it was really the end of an era,” said Mrs Willoughby-Easter.

“During my service we had continual training about how to deal with children and young people and the men couldn’t do it because they hadn’t had the training.

“If someone came into the station and said they had been raped it was women officers that took the statements.

“We arranged for women to be examined or if there was a child in need of care and protection it was women officers that did it. The men didn’t have any idea how to do it.”

Mrs Willoughby-Easter, who subsequently became a teacher, moved to Norfolk with her husband James after she retired. She took three years to write her book having attended creative writing classes.

“I was fortunate that during my career in the police I had kept diaries so I was able to call upon them,” she explains. “That was a great help because it all happened a very long time ago.”

A Girl in Blue: Memoirs of a Metropolitan Woman Police officer 1967-1973 is published by Mango Books.

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