“The bigger picture”
I grew up in Weymouth, a seaside town on the South Coast of Dorset in a ‘regular’ family with my older brother. Throughout my childhood I had undiagnosed issues with depression and social anxiety but despite this, achieved well at school and went on to study English and IT at University. Lacking some disciple and favouring the party life of university, I dropped out in my second year and joined Kent Police aged 22, the same age my Dad joined and coincidentally, the same force too. I was close to my Grandparents throughout life and my both my Grandad and my parents always instilled good values within me and taught me to always stand up for what is right and to treat everyone fairly. At school, I looked after the bullied and had a rapport with the bullies.
Despite a bumpy start to my police career, again due to the undiagnosed disorders I suffered from, I soon excelled and was fast-tracked into the CID team in an extremely busy part of Kent (Dover and Folkestone). There were some others that also got fast tracked and the unimaginable stress and workload that was thrust upon us soon made me realise I was facing a ‘sink or swim’ start to my new career path. We were very much left to it, almost like being given the keys to a car before you’ve ever learnt how to drive. Where others had to take a step away (some even resigned), I managed to realise soon on that to be able to keep swimming I had to learn fast and develop ways to achieve outcomes and solve problems to be able to manage my workload and be able to have some downtime.
I often remember the trepidation of coming to work on a Saturday or Sunday morning and walking into the custody suite to see how full the cells were. On some rare occasions it would be next to empty and the sense of relief knowing we’d most likely be home on time was a beautiful thing. Of course, most of the time, the cells would be overflowing and our DS would have the difficult task of handing out the cases to the very small number of us he/she had at their disposal. They knew that everyone was under immense stress with bulging workloads but we trusted that the right cases were handed to the right people and we never complained.
Due to the close proximity to France, it was normal for many prisoners to be from various parts of Europe. Often one case could have 3-5 prisoners, of varying nationalities (often locals getting into some brutal fights with European nationals). It would solely be down to me to arrange the various interpreters, different solicitors to represent them, gather witness statements, visit the scenes, collect CCTV and physical evidence and then interview the suspects. The ways in which you had to interchange your communication skills to the different audiences was something I was very good at and managed to extract the relevant information as succinctly as possible. Interviewing the suspects was especially enjoyable, quite simply, because I was acting on behalf of victims who demanded that justice was served and if I knew someone was lying or that the solicitor was playing games, it would make me more determined than ever to win the case.
Following this, the next communication style was to kick in. I soon learnt how to type quickly for the confidential reports that were needed to be written to the CPS lawyers to decide upon the outcome of the case. I also learnt early on that what appeared to a simple outcome from the eyes of a young detective, was very different to that of a lawyer. By not achieving the outcomes I wanted, led to prisoners being bailed, which meant another case was added to the pile and more time was needed to make further enquiries. As time went on, I knew exactly what the lawyers would say to me so I covered all angles and 95% of the time, I knew exactly what the charging decision would be before I even spoke to the lawyer. There were still a few times where a surprising decision would be made but that was something out my control. That said, I was able to talk to the lawyers and sometimes get them to change their minds.
I remember once winding down on a late shift ready to go home when uniformed officers appeared in our office. It was only me and my DS there and the news wasn’t good. A frustrated member of the public, annoyed with children playing his street, decided to drive his car and run three of them over. They all sustained life changing injuries. Me and the DS visited the scene and I eventually got home at 1.30am. Knowing the shifts turned around and that I was on an early the next day, I knew what lay ahead for me. Due to the seriousness of the case, an officer was assigned to assist me with gathering witness statements and evidence. The 24-hour custody clock was ticking on and I had to make an application to the Superintendent to request an extension of custody time, which was granted. This process in itself absorbed another hour or two of my time. Eventually, I had completed the preliminary case to a sufficient evidential standard to request a charging decision from the CPS Lawyer. I got the desired result and wrapped up the case by 2am.
The next day I was again on an early shift but due to the stress and fatigue from the previous two evenings, I came to work at 1130am. Within ten minutes the Duty DS handed me another complex case. Somewhat bemused, I asked him if he had any idea what I had been dealing with. I was frustrated by his lack of due diligence and empathy and politely informed him that I won’t be dealing with the new case and I continued with important enquiries that needed immediate attention from the initial case, not least visiting the victims and their parents to check on their welfare and severity of injuries. This form of behaviour from certain officers of rank was quite common within my 17-year career as a police officer. I was never afraid to challenge any such unfair treatment, regardless of rank. What I always knew was that I did my job to the best of my ability, I did it fairly and I was good at it. I achieved an 80% detection rate against the typical national average of around 20%. For these reasons, I was respected amongst my colleagues and was left to my own devices and never got into any trouble.
In 2008 I moved back to Weymouth and my first and only child, a beautiful daughter was born in 2010. As throughout my life, I had battled not only with a social anxiety and depression but also an addiction to gambling, which began when I was just aged 10/11 in the local arcades. As soon as I began earning a wage as a student, I became trapped in a cycle of ‘payday gambling’. My wages would sometimes be spent on the fruit machines in pubs or the bookies in my lunchbreaks. The addiction really took hold when I joined the police and began to receive a much larger wage than I was used to and it being a monthly wage too created a lot of problems. The growing emergence of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in bookies caused me to become glued to the roulette table (a game that I had never played before) for hours upon end. My wages would be gone within the first couple of days of the month and not only was I left with the financial torment for the month head, my depression and anxiety became exacerbated. I first had counselling in 2004 after disclosing my issues to Kent Police and again in 2008 via picking up a leaflet from Gamcare in a bookies after a heavy loss. I went on to have a different counsellor in 2015 followed by a further 5 different consultant psychiatrists and psychologists.
Although following these interventions, I would have a few periods of abstinence, I always got back into gambling and the rebuilding of my finances over numerous months, would be undone in a matter of hours. I would always ask myself, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and look at myself in the mirror and tell myself how stupid and idiotic I was. Not once did any medical professional ever reference was what was really going on with me- that being I was a sufferer of several mental disorders, all stemming from Gambling Disorder. Instead the treatment was entirely focussed on depression, which was the wrong focus to have (this view is amplified by the fact that Gambling Disorder suggests that the treatment of antidepressants should not be used).
I began a journey of discovery, researching gambling disorder and for the first time things began to make sense for me. I started to stop blaming myself and the guilt slowly began to ease. I then decided to dig further into my own gambling history whilst also discovering the existence of The Gambling Commission and The Gambling Act 2005. I then spent a solid and focussed six months unearthing mountains of emails and bank statements, showing I had opened and closed some 75+ online gambling accounts, the majority of which I had little recollection of. The common theme was that it always ended with me sending an email to the company in the early hours of the morning, after losing my month’s wage, telling them I was not in control of my gambling and to permanently self-exclude me.
I then obtained some 20+ Subject Access Request material (often I had to battle companies to get this despite it being a legal right) and began to see that time and time and again, I had opened multiple accounts with the same parent company (the licence holder); had been sent a bombardment of marketing emails and text messages after self-excluding; and bombarded by marketing from companies I had never even had accounts with. Furthermore, there was not once ever any Social Responsibility or Money Laundering interaction from any of the 75+ companies, despite the clear and obvious harm markers that were prevalent and the sums of money being deposited. Soon, the last part of my guilt and shame dissipated and my energies turned to constructive engagement with these gambling companies, The Gambling Commission and The Information Commissioner’s Office. I managed to speak to several CEOS and Directors of various companies and all but one of these (L & L Europe) took a level of responsibility and refunded me. The others either ignored me or, as L & L resorted to, sent me legal letters telling me that they’d done nothing wrong and to not contact them further. I gave all the case material to the Gambling Commission and it became they were ineffective and paid very little interest, in what for me as a police officer, was clear evidence of wrongdoing.
I complained about the Gambling Commission and became the first person to ever have The Parliamentary Ombudsman look into my complaint. The result of which was that the Gambling Commission had done nothing wrong! (quoting their policies). As time went on, I began connecting with more and more people that had similar experiences to mine and I began to seriously question why there was seemingly little accountability and poor regulation.
As always in my life, when I am treated unfairly or unjustly, I never give up until fairness, justice and accountability is achieved. And this is the path I began, transitioning away from a police career that had no hope of having fulfilment due to the stranglehold that the disordered gambling had over me, into one where I can and already feel I have, made a difference for others. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, neither was my idol Brian Clough, but I know I am good person and I know I can help and will help bring change and I am not afraid of the branches of the industry that want to attack me for telling the truth. I’ll leave you with a quote from the Ol’ Big ‘ead, Cloughie…..
’Saturday comes again, welcome or not. It comes again like it always does, welcome or not, wanted or not, another judgement day- The chance to be saved, the chance to be damned.’’
Brian Clough…..a legend that told it how it was.