Force’s farewell to ‘old-school officer’
HEAVY rain and strong winds lash Jersey’s south coast on a cold, winters’ day in 2014. A man, a family man, is standing on cliffs near Mount Bingham ready to jump, ready to take his own life. Then Inspector Andy Bisson, a family man himself, is called to talk him down from the precipice. He’s a States police negotiator.
‘The wind and the rain was coming down hard and we were wet through,’ Andy recalls from his States police HQ office on Route du Fort – just a few hundred metres from where he was that day.
‘I was talking to him for hours and hours, I remember. He was ready to jump.’
The talking eventually worked, the man stepped back from the edge and then into the care and support he needed. Job done for Andy – who says he has never lost someone while negotiating – and back to the day job.
‘This one was different though, it sticks in my mind though because it was different,’ says Andy.
‘It was about five or six months later and I was in town having a coffee and he, the man I helped down, came up to me. He recognised me. He said: “I just want to say thanks and want to let you know that my life is back on track”. We spent about ten or 15 minutes chatting with each other and he told me he had followed some of things I had said to him that day. He had two kids, like me. They kept their dad and it obviously had a massive impact on their lives and his. That’s something that will stay with me forever.’
It’s a defining memory that sticks out from the now 50-year-old’s colourful 31-year-career with the States police. A career that came to an end last week when he walked out of the police HQ for the last time.
It’s a career, he says, he wouldn’t change for anything. But it’s not been without its challenges.
‘You see a lot of things that you would never dream about seeing,’ says Andy, who recalls the suicide of a young girl as one moment that still upsets him to talk about. ‘Lots of people say they wouldn’t be a police officer because of fighting or the abuse you might get but, as a young guy, it was two-a-penny and it didn’t bother me. Rightly or wrongly it excited me,’ added Andy, who once single-handledly nicked ten guys at once in town following a drink-fuelled brawl.
‘It’s not the fights, it’s the trauma, the death, dealing with the families of the deceased – that was particularly difficult when I was young because I hadn’t necessarily been through that, and didn’t have the life experience,’ he said.
His varied career, which has seen him work in uniform, undercover, as a prison intelligence officer and lastly as a driver trainer, all started in 1988 when, as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, he got the job of his childhood dreams. Back then the force had typewriters and officers carried wooden truncheons.
‘Some of my mates said they wanted to be astronauts but I knew what I wanted to do. I left school at 15 and my goal was to be a police officer,’ said the father of two.
A 14-week military-style training course at Chantmarle Manor in Dorset lay between Andy and his dream of being a real, trained copper.
It’s an experience, he says, that shaped his style of policing. He says he is seen by colleagues nowadays as ‘hard line, grumpy and old school’.
‘The place [Chantmarle] was surrounded by a moat and I was in a dormitory for six guys that was meant for four and all the other guys were ex-military. It was old school, everywhere you went you were shouted at,’ he said.
How different life would be when he came back to Jersey then. On his first full-day as a real copper Andy spent his time pretending to be one.
‘I came in, ready to start, and my superior told me two guys had gone sick and couldn’t do the Bergerac duties. They needed coppers to be extras in the background,’ Andy recalls, with a smile on his face.
‘I have actually been in three or four episodes and back then you were paid overtime by the BBC. It was quite good actually because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing so at least I could pretend.
‘My TV career actually continued too,’ Andy jokes. ‘A year or so ago, I was the police officer on the bike who was chasing the French version of [Richard] Hammond when they were filming Top Gear France in Jersey.’
During his three decades with the Island’s force, the career-policeman (and actor) has held numerous roles in uniform and out of it. He started, like most do, as a shift officer walking the beat in St Helier. It was the breeding ground for young officers to earn their stripes in some unusual ways.
‘Back then you did exactly what your superiors said. And back then there was no CCTV in town and St Helier was dead after 2 am so that’s when police officers would get mischievous.
‘There would be water fights and banger fights. One incident that always sticks in my mind was at the bottom of King Street outside King Street News – a couple of doors up from what is now WHSmith. At the back they used to have eight-feet-high bins with all their old magazines in,’ Andy says. It was his role, as the junior, to be hurled into the bin and retrieve all the freebies from old magazines.
‘This time they thought it was funny to leave me. I was there for ages and saw cars going past and every time I saw one I would duck – I didn’t realise it was actually officers in police cars looking for me. In the end I tried to climb out of the bin but it was on a slope and the bin started to roll and went straight into back of the shop. The alarms went off and the police – my colleagues who had been looking for me – arrived. We had to wait for the key-holder to come and shut the alarm off.’
It was while on shift, too, in the early 1990s that Andy was deployed as a scene guard while detectives and forensic officers scoured Grève de Lecq woods for the bodies of Nicholas and Elizabeth Newall.
‘They would floodlight the area they were looking in and we were stood on the cordon so were up in the woods. Behind us, it was pitch black but you could see everything in front,’ Andy recalls.
‘It was dead silent and a little eerie because of the situation but we could hear a rustling in the bush. We had been there a long time, maybe coming to the end of an eight or nine-hour shift. The rustling was louder and bigger than a rabbit.You know there is nothing in Jersey but when you’re tired your mind plays tricks. My colleague is looking at me saying “Psst, what is that?”. We moved closer. Then all of a sudden there was this big movement, and we had our truncheons drawn. When we got to the bush, there was a journalist from the Sun hiding there. He’s lucky I didn’t whack him over the head!’
After shift work, Andy spent time patrolling in an incident car. He has also worked undercover in the Proactive Crime Team – an adrenaline-fuelled period where, he says, he got within smelling distance of criminals carrying out major drug deals.
‘I heard one dealer say once that: “Nah, no-one is here, just some numpty.” When I nicked him I said: “Well, this numpty is arresting you now.” Those were fun times,’ Andy said.
He has done detective work in CID and had a seven-and-a-half year stint as the intelligence officer at the prison.
It was during this time that Andy came up with an idea that will now be one of
his legacies at the force – Prison!Me!NoWay!!!
‘It started as a joke. A colleague said to me: “That’s you: Prison Me No Way because you’re never at the prison and you’re never at the police station – no one can ever find you”. We had a joke about it but afterwards I looked at the leaflet and it made me think it could be really important in Jersey.’
So Andy, together with two colleagues, introduced the scheme, which aims to teach children about the consequences of crime, to Jersey – against the will of the then chief officer Graham Power.
‘Mr Power said we did not have the money and he didn’t want to support it. So we put the money up ourselves from our own pockets and eventually secured £90,000 in total with the help of the States,’ he added. ‘I am proud of it, yes. It was what Jersey needed.’
So, as Andy moves into his next chapter – running his own driver and people training business Best Providers – what does he look back on as the best and worst things about being a cop?
‘The best part of being a police officer is the camaraderie, I’ll miss all the guys here. The worst part is the impact on your home life. You miss Christmases, your kids’ birthdays and that can be tough. But, without a doubt, I’d do it all again.’