Norfolk’s top policeman steps down – and up to new challenge
- Credit: Steve Adams
From beat bobby to chief constable, Simon Bailey’s passion for policing, social justice and the people of Norfolk shines through a remarkable career.
Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey retires at the end of the month as the only person in policing history to go through every rank in the same force.
Throughout it all, from 21-year-old police constable to chief, he carried with him the same motivation. “I always knew that I wanted to do something that involved helping people and making a difference,” he said.
As every amateur sleuth knows, the police need means and opportunity as well as motive, and Simon deduced a career in policing would give him both the opportunity, and the means, to make a positive difference.
At 21 he was a beat bobby in King’s Lynn.
You may also want to watch:
PC437 was not aiming for the top but Simon said: “I very quickly realised I wanted to become a detective. I was not so interested in rank.” However, when leadership roles beckoned he found he was interested – and eventually interested enough to leave his beloved Norfolk.
In 1998 he was seconded to the National Crime Squad and as detective inspector led covert operations targeting serious and organised crime gangs. Asked to pick one of the highlights of his career, this was one. Two years later he went to Northern Ireland to work on a complex and controversial murder investigation, returning to Norfolk to be promoted again to manage Norfolk’s specialist crime and operations resources until becoming first deputy and then chief constable.
- 1 'Vindicated at last' - Pension compensation on the horizon for WASPI women
- 2 New landlords relaunch pub with three-course dog menu
- 3 Sneak peek inside first £2.7m luxury mansion for sale
- 4 Plot of gold? Land up for sale for £750,000
- 5 Tributes to popular entertainer after death following tragic accident
- 6 Body of man in 20s found at nature reserve near Norwich
- 7 'It was as if Covid didn't exist' - Latitude-goers report positive tests
- 8 Neighbours' shock as man's body found in flat weeks after he died
- 9 Shocked couple told statue used as doorstop could be worth £1m
- 10 Fly-tippers dumped dead relative's rubbish – just half a mile from recycling centre
The young PC437 would have been astonished at the trajectory. “I have always thought of myself as quite humble,” said Simon who grew up near Norwich with his mum, a nurse and dad, an electrical engineer, studying at Wymondham College and Norwich City College. Later he went on to get a masters degree in criminology from Cambridge University.
“I am walking out of the door a very proud man, a very happy man,” said Simon. He is proud of the Norfolk Constabulary, his colleagues, and the people of Norfolk he has been working with, and for, throughout his career. “I am absolutely committed to this county. I love the people, I love the honesty, the friendliness.”
And he and his wife, a teacher, will be staying in the county. They have two grown-up children and three grandchildren and family is obviously hugely important to Simon. Asked whether he had any regrets about his career his immediate answer was spending too much time away from his family for work commitments.
But the biggest regret, which moves him to anger, frustration and disbelief, and what he will continue pursuing and trying to change after he leaves the police, is that he has not been able to find a way to halt the exploitation and abuse of children.
He is the national police lead for child protection, including the investigation of current and historic child abuse. Part of that national role has involved trying to get big tech companies to act to protect children – and also trying to alert us all to the shocking scale of the problem.
“Over the last eight years I have done my best to shine a light on the failings of the technology industry to protect children. I have done countless rounds of interviews on all forms of media. What I haven’t done, and this is by far my biggest regret, what I haven’t done is leave the message with the public that this is what social media is doing. And I have had to come to the conclusion that it's so embedded in so many people’s lives that people are not prepared to change what they are doing.”
He cares so deeply that he has not been able to change this, or even alert people to the dangers, that he is determined to build on what he has discovered and continue his life-long mission to help people and make a difference. After a short break he plans to return to child protection, working with the Home Office and in academia to find ways of protecting children and combatting child abuse.
“It’s been a very, very challenging eight years but the greatest credit has to go to all the officers and staff working with, having to deal with abuse cases,” he said.
Tellingly he does not use social media himself. Right from his days leading teams infiltrating and disrupting organised crime gangs he has worked at the cutting edge of detection, using new technology to keep up with and counter the new tools being used by criminals. But he has seen too much of the harm big tech can enable to want to be any part of what he sees as the problem.
“There are 20 million images on the Home Office child abuse image data base. Those numbers are growing by half a million every two months and still these companies are not addressing the problem,” he said.
After spending all his adult life seeing some of the worst of what people can do to each other it would be easy to emerge jaded and disappointed, but Simon focuses on the enormous amount of good he has seen, not least in his own constabulary and county.
And after 35 years working to combat crime, he is clear about its causes. “I see so many people that unfortunately come into contact with us have incredibly complex background stories. In lots of cases they didn’t stand much of a chance in the first place. So most of what we see is both predictable and preventable and that’s my biggest frustration.
“The answer is to recognise that there are some people that are less fortunate in society and they need help right from the earliest stage.
“We need to invest to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and if we do that then everybody has a fighting chance.”
“I think the genuinely bad people are a tiny percentage of the population. There are so many people who are born into circumstances where you are able to predict what will happen. We are starting to get a far better knowledge of adverse childhood experiences.”
He is acutely aware of the positive effect of his own upbringing and attributes his success, his drive to make a difference, to this. “It came from my parents. You are very much the product of your parents,” he said. . “I will always look for the best in people. I will always treat people the way I would expect to be treated myself.”
Simon is not the only high achiever in the family. His sister also went into public service, as a midwife, and his brother, Chris, was a professional tennis player who played at Wimbledon several times. Simon played too, at county level. “I still might occasionally hit a tennis ball or badminton shuttlecock,” he said. He also enjoys long walks with the family spaniel. What he does not do is watch much television. Not even police dramas? Not even Line of Duty? “No, there have always been too many important things to do. I did watch the last few episodes of the last series of Line of Duty, but only because everyone was talking about it.”
So, no insight from the real chief constable, who spent part of his career investigating real OCG (organised crime groups) and child abuse, about his fictional counterparts. One of the most admired (or contentious) facets of Line of Duty is its lack of neat endings. In Norfolk there are cases which will continue to haunt the retiring chief constable. “It’s a mystery to me why we haven’t found the person responsible for Natalie Pearman’s murder,” he said of the 16-year-old whose body was found at Ringland, just outside Norwich, in 1992.
Simon leaves the force on June 30. Alongside leading the hundreds of Norfolk people involved in solving crime, preventing crime and helping the victims of crime, his duties have included welcoming new recruits. Over the past eight years he has spoken to more than 1,200 student police officers at the start of their policing careers.
“I have said to every single one, ‘I’m a living example of what you can achieve through really hard work.’ I have a modicum of talent but I have achieved through hard work, dedication and my passion for policing.
“And I would change places with them and start again tomorrow.”