After 30 years on the beat, Insp Paul Anderson is hanging up his uniform. Chief Reporter Katie Davies chats to him on his retirement.
When Paul Anderson started his career in the 1980s, policing was very different.
And during his career of 30 years, he says, he has seen a lot of changes.
Insp Anderson joined Durham Constabulary on January 2, 1985 after training at Dishforth, North Yorkshire.
Following a short spell in Chester-le-Street, he was transferred to Sherburn, in County Durham, at a time when there was riots and heightened anti-social behaviour.
In 1997 the 53-year-old was promoted to sergeant before he was made Inspector, where he headed up a response team in Derwentside, was a Neighbourhood Inspector at Chester-le-Street and was later transferred to Durham City.
Looking back over his time in Durham, he says: “It is difficult to pick out any highlights, as a police officer you deal with the good bad and the ugly.
“The worst job I ever had to do was inform a parent that their seven-year-old child had been killed in road accident.
“In early 1990s there were riots across country. In Durham, we had problems on the Sherburn Road Estate. Cars were being set on fire and officers on patrol had bricks thrown at them.
“A team of officers were selected to police the area, robust enough to deal with problems but at same time look at long term solutions. We couldn’t park on the estate as the cars would be damaged.
“On my very first day, I took over from the early shift and was driving up to section office in a Panda with my civvy coat on and call for a burglary came in. Three people were caught climbing out of a window and I hadn’t even got to the office.
“Back then I was dealing with 24 crimes in one shift and now if I have more than 14 in a day across the entire district I’m disappointed, however as a PC that was my favourite time.”
In 2006 Insp Anderson was the senior officer on duty when the Dreamspace disaster claimed the lives of Elizabeth Anne Collings, 68, and Claire Furmedge, 38.
The pair were killed when the giant inflatable art structure left the ground, taking off in severe winds at Riverside Park, in Chester-le-Street, in County Durham.
“I actually visited the park during the day, it was a typical nice sunny day with slight breeze, with well over thousand people and families enjoying the weekend,” he says.
“Dreamspace was quiet. I was hoping to get a flyer and was packing up my desk, when I heard a radio message saying something had gone wrong.
“Most incidents never turn out to be what they seem or how they are reported, but with this one I sensed something was wrong.
“I went straight to the CCTV room and saw the devastation. I quickly jumped into the car and got down to the park. People were trapped underneath the structure, the public were clawing to get people out.
“Everyone, did a marvellous job, and I do believe more lives would have been lost if those people did not help, however, I needed to get people away from scene, so emergency services could get on with their job.
“Police officers were doing CPR on someone, ambulance crews were treating injured, fire service were trying to cut away structure.
“All of a sudden there are reports that a child is missing and is possibly under the structure but it was a huge relief when she is found.
“We had to try and identify more than 1,000 potential witnesses.
“All emergency personnel worked tremendously well in difficult situation, well into early hours. I eventually got home about 4am and was back in work at 7am the same day, when the story made news headlines around the world.
“Over the next few days I had press interview after press interview, including some from TV crews would couldn’t speak English, which was a little difficult.
“I wrote over 300 letters to people thanking for assistance and offering them support. I was still being asked a year later by press to write article on my experiences on that day.”
Under Insp Anderson’s watch, Durham City was named the safest University City in the country. He and his team developed a strategy to get the residents, businesses and organisations working together.
He explains: “We sold the idea to everyone, residents, business, organisations because to succeed, it would need everyone working in partnership as one team, with one vision.
“We developed best practice and new ideas like Safe City bear, shop watch and pub watch and other crime prevention initiatives to deter people coming to City.
“Colleagues would come from around the country, to see what we were doing in Durham, as word spread. In 2012 Durham City became the safest University City in country.”
Insp Anderson says there has been a significant change in the police force as a whole.
He added: “The one constant factor in the police is – change. When I first started the police were very regimented, almost military, in parading on duty, marching, saluting.
“However, I think you could have more of a laugh then. One freezing cold, snowy night, I was on foot patrol with an old timer.
“We were so cold and he suggested we go to the bus depot, where we could get a cup of tea and warmed through.
“In those days, you would be disciplined if you ventured off your allocated beat. As we sat down the experienced cop said ‘we had better hang our coats outside the window, so when we return to the station it will look as though we have been outside, covered in snow.’
“Just after 5am, we returned to the station and the snow was about an inch thick on our coats. As we walked through the door, the Insp, shouted, ‘You two, my office, now’.
“He asked where we had been and the other cop told him we had been on foot patrol and pointed to the snow on our coats.
“He replied saying, ‘Are you sure?’. He then stood up from his desk, shouting, ‘Don’t lie to me, the pair of you are idiots,’ and he swiped my hat off my head. ‘You forgot about your hats,’ he said.
“Our hats were bone dry, we had forgotten to put them out in the snow.”
The role of social media and the internet has also played a big part in the changing role of a police officer, Insp Anderson said.
He added: “When I first started, there was no real contact with the media, apart from serious incidents but today it is every day.
“Around 10 to 15 years ago we became more transparent, which I totally agreed with. We had nothing to hide and it is important to let people know what is happening.
“It is important that the public have confidence in the police and we have to engage with our communities, this can be done through the media.
“Over recent years, it has changed through social media and police teams are embracing this with Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“It is important the police change with society because it is essential the public have confidence in the police.”
Insp Anderson hung up his uniform on Friday, passing over the reigns to Sgt Dave Coxon.
He is hoping to do some voluntary work as well as spend time with friends and family, including his two daughters and is looking forward to his new challenges.
He said: “Being a police officer has given me opportunities many other people would not get the opportunity to do. I have met a variety of people, including PMs, film stars, TV stars and sports stars.
“One of the most memorable was meeting Bobby Robson. I’m a Newcastle United fan and he showed me around his house and showed me all his sporting memorabilia.
“Above that, however, I have enjoyed working with and helping the local community as they are the ones that make the difference.
“I joined the police service wanting to make a difference and I would like to think I have done that, however slight.
“I started thinking I had the best job in the world and 30 years later, I am walking away thinking it was still the best job in the world.”