Mark of a man who devoted his life to the force

Recent tragic events up in Manchester have served to remind us just what a vital and often dangerous job our policemen and women do, day-in, day-out.

Now squeezed by Government cuts like never before, the thin blue line is getting ever thinner – taking police levels in Staffordshire back to the days when a young bobby called Mark Judson first hit the beat.

The year was 1969 and Mark, from Stafford, had graduated from the police cadets to becoming a full-fledged PC.

Aged 19, he was posted to the outlying Wombourne station on the very fringes of the Staffordshire’s force’s jurisdiction.

Living in digs, the two and a half years he spent there were a relatively gentle introduction to the force.

Mark, now aged 61, recalls: “It was around the time when police officers started to have personal radios.

“Back then we had to carry around a transmitter and receiver. In fact, some people were using the old Army packs and carrying them on their backs as they walked the streets.

“It was a fairly laid-back job in many respects and simple acts like handing out a fine involved us carry around sheets of carbon paper to make copies.”

From the sedate pace of life as a beat bobby in Wombourne, Mark joined the traffic unit in 1972 – driving Jaguars and Ford Zephyrs along the stretch of motorway cutting through our county.

Mark said: “Back then, of course, there was nowhere the near the volume of traffic on the roads that there is now.

“At night time, for example, the M6 was relatively quiet – except for the odd lorry driver or people travelling from the West Midlands to nightspots like the Heavy Steam Machine in Hanley.”

In 1976 Mark was promoted and moved to Leek – due, in part, to the fact that the then Chief Constable Arthur Preece was able to persuade him, as a single man, to move out to the Moorlands.

At the rank of Sergeant Mark then moved to the old police HQ in Bath Street, Stafford, in 1978 – around the time that the first ‘command and control’ computers were being introduced to forces across the UK.

He also worked at Cannock, Codsall, back in the traffic unit and as an Inspector in the force control room from 1989 onwards where a cub reporter called Tideswell would regular pester him for updates.

After working as an Inspector back with the traffic unit, Mark became the Chairman of the Staffordshire Police Federation in 1998 – representing thousands of officers across the force.

It was a role he enjoyed until January, 2011 when he retired after 42 years ‘with a few tears’.

However, Mark is still involved through his new position as Chairman of the Staffordshire branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO). He assumes his role at an interesting and challenging time for the police service – amid cutbacks, an ongoing row over pensioners and the recurring debate over whether or not officers should be armed.

Mark said: “I will certainly be interested to see what the new police and crime commissioner is able to achieve when he or she is elected because it strikes me that neither candidate has any great experience of the challenges facing the police service.

“Policing has changed dramatically in recent years and a lot of that is due to technology – both what the police service uses and effect of things like the internet and mobile phones.

“The workload has also increased. It’s not that it wasn’t there during the Seventies and Eighties but these days it is far easier for people to report crimes.

“There was a time when you had to walk into a police station or find a phone box. Now, most people have mobile phones and that makes everything more immediate.”

But how has the job changed?

Mark said: “I don’t think police officers are able to use their initiative like they were in the past – which was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the job.

“Nowadays, and some will argue this is far more effective, officers are directed to take action having been given packets of intelligence.”

Does Mark think that the horrific deaths of the two female police officers in Manchester a couple of weeks ago has reminded the public of the vital work police officers do and the risks they take?

He said: “I think it has to an extent but the fact is it won’t stop the politicians forcing senior officers to make cutbacks in frontline policing.

“When I started my career we had around 1,700 police officers in Staffordshire.

“Over four decades since that time the workload has increased but our staffing levels are actually being diminished back to around that figure.

“Senior officers will disagree with this and point to the numbers of civilian staff and PCSOs.

“They will also argue, understandably, that armed officers and dog patrols are frontline.

“What has changed is that the force has fragmented in that there are so many specialist roles. We used to have general purpose police dogs.

“Now we have dogs trained to sniff out explosives or drugs, for example.”

Does Mark think being a police officer is more dangerous now than it was when he first donned a uniform?

He said: “I think it probably is and this is partly to due a lack of respect that many people have for the police and all forms of authority due to societal problems like family breakdowns, poor education and high levels of unemployment.”

As I leave Mark to enjoy his retirement with his cocker spaniel Poppy, I asked him to sum up his career.

He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a police officer. In truth I probably put too much of myself into my job. It was my life.

“I’d like to think I did some good and made a difference but I guess that’s for others to judge.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Veteran newsman Chris recalls his role in a slice of Potteries history

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I first met Chris Ellis when he was working as a reporter for BBC Radio Stoke in 1989. A proper, old-fashioned hack, Chris broke, among many exclusives, the ‘Pindown’ story which uncovered widespread abuse of children in care across Staffordshire.

Always keen to listen, always sniffing for his next big story, Chris was a pleasure to work with back then and later when he joined me as a sub-editor here at The Sentinel.

Little did I know it at the time but there was more to BBC Radio Stoke’s veteran newsman than met the eyes.

Born in Leek, Chris was a member of local rock bands Hunter and Demon.

He was also one of the key players in arguably the most important piece of regeneration work to take place in the Potteries to date.

Now retired and living in Cairns, North Queensland, Australia, he’s returned to his first love – playing rock, blues and jazz music.

Chris is currently on tour with singer/song-writer Leanne Tennant and says has no intention of returning to the UK because it’s ‘far too cold’.
However, he was happy to reminisce about his role in making the 1986 National Garden Festival here in Stoke-on-Trent a roaring success…

Chris wrote:

‘May 8, 1986. A date I’ll never forget, and the culmination of months of planning, dramas, nerves, and, for me at least, sailing an unknown ship into unchartered waters. It was the day the Queen opened the National Garden Festival at Etruria, billed as “The Greatest Event In Europe”.

If there was ever a team effort, this was it. An unlikely mix of people had come together to transform the old Shelton steelworks into 180 acres of gardens, shops, events and other attractions, to breathe new life into a site that had been left derelict and an eyesore after 2,000 workers were made redundant when the factory closed.

Various cities had competed for funding to hold garden festivals. Liverpool held the first, the International Garden Festival in 1984, and Stoke successfully bid for the second, in a campaign spearheaded by the former trade union leader Ted Smith, and Ron Southern, who was leader of the city council at the time.

On the day the steelworks had closed, I remember Ted vowing to see those lost jobs replaced before he died. He succeeded, and lived to see the results of his efforts after the festival closed, and new businesses moved on to what’s now known as Festival Park.

I was brought into the team as the events manager. I’m not sure what qualified me for the role, apart from my previous experience of organising various musical events, my reputation as a musician and broadcaster, and perhaps friends in the right places.

I joined a team of designers, architects, marketing and business experts faced with the daunting task of making Ted’s vision a reality.

Many were leaders in their field, others, like me, were going to have to play it by ear.

In late 1984 I reported for work at Etruria Hall. I certainly recall a great sense of pride as I sat in my new office in what had been Josiah Wedgwood’s home. Through one window I could see what had been the old rolling mill of the steelworks, where the marina was under construction, along with a number of “show homes” and the China Garden pub.

Through the other I could see piles of rubble from the old works being piled into a huge mound, eventually to be covered in topsoil and saplings. This would become the “Woodland Ridge”.

On my office wall was pinned the “Master Plan”; a designer’s vision of what the site would look like – which changed on an almost weekly basis, depending on which consultants thought what was appropriate, and what ever-changing budgets would allow).

To tell the full story of the festival would take a book, but for the purpose of this article I only have space for what I feel the festival achieved.

Despite the constant battle with the weather, especially the ever-present wind which swept across the site, construction somehow continued on schedule, sponsored gardens were constructed, and compromises were reached.

There were many compromises, among them the choice between spending money on horticultural and design aspirations, and the real aim of the festival, which was to rejuvenate the land for commercial and community use.

If I have a personal regret, it was losing the argument to build a bridge at Cobridge lights, to relieve the constant traffic congestion; a problem which remains to this day.

We had the money to build it; maybe those of us who were “locals” didn’t have the fortitude to hold out for it.

It’s the old story though, we had the money to build it then but didn’t; today the cost of such an endeavour would be unthinkable.

Now back to the things we did achieve: We created a place of beauty out of industrial waste. We brought thousands of people to Stoke-on-Trent who would never have come for any other reason.

We created hundreds of temporary jobs, on the old Community Programme scheme, even convincing the powers-that-be to allow us to employ musicians to provide entertainment.

This wasn’t easy, especially when the local Musicians’ Union got involved. The musicians we employed were from various backgrounds, but did a fantastic job entertaining the crowds, and many are still playing today, probably most noticeably members of “Boneshaker”, who were formed especially for the event.

Many visitors will remember the sight of “Rob the Bones”, always with his “bones” clicking away and a smile on his face, despite the days of wind and rain. While we didn’t create permanent jobs at the festival, what we did do is get people back into the workforce, albeit temporarily, and I think we gave some people self-respect that had been lost either when the steelworks closed, or during the decline of the many other manufacturing industries in the city.

We employed some pretty interesting people; former factory managers, supervisors and labourers, all with their own ideas about how the festival should be operated, how the festival should look, and how our anticipated visitors should enjoy the festival “experience”.

To cut a very long story very short, there’s no doubt that the festival succeeded on many fronts.

The majority of visitors enjoyed their time on the site, and we certainly gave many people a great day out.

Apart from the Queen’s visit, a highlight was the parade of the Royal Tournament, which had never been held outside London before.

The logistics of bringing hundreds of soldiers, their uniforms and even cannons to the festival were challenging to say the least, and the flypast by a Hercules plane at low level will live with me forever.

Every day there was a crisis of some sort, but we got through it.

As the Queen’s limousine was leaving the railway station for the festival site we were still making last-minute changes. Only 15 minutes before her arrival a road sweeper was cleaning the entrance. It demolished a lamppost.

Faced with the prospect of the Queen’s initial impression of the festival being a heap of rubble, our unflappable operations manager, Mark Michelmore, ordered that the offending lamp be hastily removed, and a team of volunteers covered over the stump and created an improvised floral display which was, quite literally, fit for a Queen.

Looking back now, 26 years later, from the other side of the world, I still have mixed emotions about the festival. I don’t think we got it right; I don’t think we got it wrong either.

I think we just did what we thought was best at the time, and did what was needed to restore some pride into a city which still had things to be proud of, but had suffered at the hands of people who didn’t understand the need for recognition of a city’s heritage or proud past.

We did what we could to restore that pride. Whether we succeeded is not for me to judge but I know many people of the city go there every day today, either to work, shop or be entertained.
I don’t think we did too badly in the end.’

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel for 12 pages of nostalgia

Never mind the election… what about our manifesto?

As Gordon Brown and David Cameron are busy peddling the policies they hope will propel them to 10 Downing Street, I thought I’d have a dabble at my own manifesto – specifically for North Staffordshire.

As Stoke-on-Trent celebrates the centenary of the federation of the six towns, what better time to take stock of where we are as a city and a region and plot a vision for a brighter future?

With a newly-arrived chief executive at the city council, a new face arriving in the role of the Stoke-on-Trent Central MP and a transfusion of new blood via the local elections, I think opportunity genuinely knocks for our neck of the woods.

Let’s hope we don’t ignore it.

This is my wish-list to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st century…

*Forget parochialism and create a North Staffordshire authority serving nigh on half a million people – including the city, Newcastle, Leek, Biddulph and Cheadle and do away with the present, inefficient hotchpotch of local councils. Let’s face it, we’ve all got more in common with each other than we have with Stafford, Tamworth or Lichfield. I would suggest it is better to start speaking with one voice which would give us far more clout nationally. Such a merger would also enable us to get rid of many of the public sector non-jobs created in recent years. Perhaps then we could balance our budgets.

*Get serious about regeneration and deliver the key foundations to our economic recovery and future prosperity. How many times have we been shown plans of glass bottle kilns and the like which never come to fruition? Hanley desperately needs the long-awaited new bus station and the East-West shopping precinct so let’s ride a coach and horses through the bureaucracy and get them built. The University Quarter, or UniQ, and the Business District must become a reality rather than limping along as artists’ impressions. By the same token, our MPs and councillors must lobby like their lives depend upon in it in the coming months to ensure that, irrespective of which party wins the General Election, the hundreds of millions of pounds of funding currently transforming our estates via regeneration agency Renew North Staffordshire doesn’t dry up halfway through the process.

*Throw all our weight behind the Next Stop Stoke campaign to ensure the £60 billion high-speed rail network comes to North Staffordshire. We must ensure Stoke-on-Trent is selected as a stop on the flagship HS2 inter-city project or we run the risk of missing out on investment, jobs and tourism.

*If we don’t want to become a cultural desert then we need to stop quibbling about subsidies for The Regent Theatre and accept that if you want a top class venue in the city centre then, like other major cities, you have to be prepared to spend serious public money to help a private operator earn a crust. The benefits to our economy, the social life of the sub-region and the aspirations of future generations are there for all to see.

*Bring our home-grown football stars, role-model Olympic hopefuls and local celebrities together for a campaign to tackle North Staffordshire’s chronic obesity problem run through every single school in the city, Newcastle and the Staffordshire Moorlands. Tie this in with major renovation and promotion of our parks, public open spaces and excellent cycle routes to encourage more people to become active and fitter.

*Act now to capitalise on the huge public interest in the Staffordshire Hoard. As I suggested previously, let’s have a campaign to build a huge, great statue of a Saxon warrior visible for miles just off the M6 passing through Stoke-on-Trent and luring in visitors to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Let’s market ourselves as the home of the Hoard and completely renovate the venue to make the Hoard exhibition a tourist attraction of international significance. The time has come for us to stop marketing ourselves solely on our industrial past and find a new identity.