East Lancashire police officer reflects on changes in the service

First published in News Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Crime reporter

Detective Inspector Claire Holbrook is one of East Lancashire’s most respected police officers – an accolade she has earned across 23 years of service.

As well as managing a large number of sex offenders living in Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley, DI Holbrook leads all investigations into domestic violence, child abuse, child sexual exploitation, child death and suicide in adults.

Here she reflects on her challenging job and how times have changed for women police officers. Vanessa Cornall reports...

"It's much easier to be a female police officer now than it was when I joined," says DI Claire Holbrook.

"I remember my very first sergeant saying to me when I joined, I don't like female police officers and I won't be making an exception for you. That attitude is completely unheard of today.

“Out of the five detective inspectors in Eastern division there are two female officers, including myself and DI Jill Johnson."

DI Holbrook, ‘Bobbie’ to her friends because of her middle name Roberta, heads of the public protection unit in Eastern Division.

The job is one of the most difficult in the force, dealing every day with sex offenders, child death, child abuse, domestic violence and suicides.

Crossing the canteen at Greenbank police station in Blackburn, it was clear to see Bobbie is well respected and a much loved character.

Dressed in pin stripped trousers and matching waist coat, the commended officer, who is trained in kidnap negotiation, has a great way of putting people at ease.

And she admits she has come a long way since her days as a department store sales assistant.

Bobbie said: “I had a uncle in the police and my family were really keen for me to follow in his footsteps. I was working in Debenhams in Manchester selling cosmetics with a dream of becoming a professional hair dresser, but I soon realised there was not enough money in that.

“I joined the force in 1989 when I was 21. I spent 10 weeks at the Bruche training centre in Warrington, including my 21st birthday, where I sat down to frozen kiev nuggets as a birthday treat.”

After graduating from police training college, Bobbie, began working in Accrington as a uniformed response officer.

She spent three and a half years patrolling the town centre before moving on to Accrington’s CID unit.

She said: “I worked really hard to get to CID as it had become my focus from joining the police. I worked alongside 12 other detectives as well as working on the crime support unit and the murder team.”

One of the big cases Bobbie worked on was the investigation into the murder of Janet Murgatroyd in Preston in 1996.

The 20-year-old UCLan student was killed following a night out with friends in the pubs around Preston and her death sparked one of the most high-profile cases in Lancashire.

During her time in CID, Bobbie also worked on the proactive target team managing a series of informants, collecting drug intelligence and executing a number of warrants.

Then in 1999, the keen horse rider decided on a change and moved to the force’s mounted branch based in Hutton.

Alongside patrolling football matches, Bobbie and eight other mounted officers formed a major part of the operation to diffuse the Burnley riots.

Two years later, the decorated police officer from the Ribble Valley, joined the intelligence unit at Blackburn and ran a number of informants.

The prospect of promotion then saw Bobbie return to uniform as a sergeant in Great Harwood before coming the forces problem oriented policing co-ordinator.

Bobbie said: “During my time as the POPS co-ordinator I worked as the deputy to the Inspector in Accrington and I was given the opportunity to go to Washington DC in America and represent the scheme which finds community solutions to long term problems, such restorative justice for anti-social behaviour where the offender meets the victim to make amends.”

After a brief spell in CID at Darwen, Bobbie was promoted to the rank of uniform Inspector in December 2007, with control over neighbourhood officers, performance and response officers.

From there she went on to work as staff officer to the deputy chief constable before returning to CID at Blackburn.

Three years later Bobbie took over at the helm of the public protection unit where she has been for the past 18 months.

She has a 36 member team, including five sergeants, 25 constables and six support staff as well as working closely with a number of domestic violence charities.

Bobbie said: “In the last 12 months the nature of my role has changed. A lot of our jobs involve social media outlets like Facebook.

“I deal with the day to day pressures of my job going for a run most morning with my dog Jess. I try never to be blasé, as we often meet victims on the worst day of their lives.

"Dealing with the death of a child, or abuse of children or adults on a daily basis is hard but you have to come to a point where you recognise and sympathise with the parents’ grief but acknowledge it is not your own grief.”

The 44-year-old, who said she has an extremely supportive partner and relaxes by riding her horse Otis in dressage competitions, has received many commendation throughout her career including being presented with a bravery award.

In 2009, she tackled a knife wielding man in Blackburn suffering mental health issues.

Asked what she considers to be the key her success, Bobbie said: “It's not my job to decide if someone is guilty, that’s for the courts. It’s my team’s job to gather the evidence and not judge them.

“I have always said I had a very privileged upbringing and I never stole a bag of sweets or a car because I always had someone to buy them for me.

“If I had been brought up in a different situation and had to provide for myself then maybe things would have been different.

“I couldn’t do this job without my inspirational and dedicated staff, they are tireless in their determination to protect children and vulnerable adults.

“It amazes me how they can carry such high workloads yet keep their enthusiasm.

“It’s a tough job for them, after all who wants to review horrific child porn videos, or deal with vile abuse crimes that a criminal has committed. But they constantly surprise me with their resilience and pride in what they achieve.

“They are a seriously dedicated, highly trained bunch of individuals.”

Bobbie said working with such a committed team really helped her to do her job well.

And as for the future, she said was determined to continue to work her hardest to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society, while gaining justice for victims as they rebuilt their lives.

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