Weekend read: Retiring DI reflects on 30-year career
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As a teenager, Detective Inspector John Gray never dreamed of becoming a police officer.
But, having served for two forces – Leicestershire and Norfolk – over a period of 30 years, it’s not a career he has come to regret.
DI Gray, who works in Leicestershire Police’s child referral team, based at Wigston police station, is retiring on 29 April.
As a young adult, he left his home in Lamesley – a suburb of Newcastle, south of the Tyne – to study biological sciences at the University of Leicester.
“I came down here for university and graduated in 1989,” he explains. “I hadn’t really thought about joining the police until then. I applied, I got in and the rest is history.”
His first posting was to the city centre.
“I’d say public order was a bigger issue back then than it is now,” he says. “I think problems with drinking were a lot worse in the 90s than now. There were three shifts – the 4pm, 6pm and 10pm and you’d have 10 officers on each shift out and about.”
During his time in the city, DI Gray was based at now-closed stations in Norfolk Street and Asfordby Street. He was also responsible for policing the old Shires shopping centre for two years – a stint that shaped his future in a very different way.
“It was working in the Shires that led me to meeting my wife,” he says. “She was working in Debenhams. I used to go in there, we got talking and the rest is history!”
After getting married, the couple moved to Norfolk – DI Gray’s wife had family there – and he transferred to Norfolk Constabulary for three years.
But the links to Leicestershire remained.
“The first person I arrested was actually wanted by my colleagues in Leicestershire,” he explains. “It was a man who had raped a woman at gunpoint. It was quite surreal. I knew all about him, what he’d done and why he was wanted and yet I was serving with another force when I came face-to-face with him.”
DI John Gray with his daughter, PC Rebecca Gray
In 1999, promotion brought DI Gray back to Leicestershire, although it involved covering a very different demographic to where he’d started out.
“I was based in Melton, working as a rural sergeant,” he says. “It did take some getting used to. It’s very different to policing in the city. The noticeable difference was that you didn’t have the same number of officers available. If you required assistance, it was much quicker in the city.”
Having not grown up in Leicestershire – or ever really visited that part of the county – there were geographic issues to contend with as well. “I did used to get lost a lot,” he adds. “It became a bit of a stand-in joke among the officers there.”
DI Gray then moved to Keyham Lane police station, where he worked as a custody sergeant for two years, before moving to the Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU) as a Detective Sergeant.
“The CAIU was always a department I wanted to work in,” he says. “I think I was spurred on by the James Bulger case. It’s an area where you’re investigating reports involving some incredibly nasty people, who have committed crimes against innocent children – and you’re responsible for bringing them to justice.”
Further promotion then followed, and DI Gray returned to Melton as an Inspector, serving as the Neighbourhood Policing Area (NPA) commander. “There were quite a few big jobs that I had to deal with when I was there as the NPA commander,” he says.
After Melton, he joined the child referral team as a Detective Inspector. “It’s a job where you never stop learning,” he says. “Even when you think you’ve seen it all, something else will happen that will take you by surprise.”
Reflecting on his career, he adds: “I’ve always said it’s not a job, it’s a vocation. When you view something as just a job, then maybe it’s time to look at doing something else. It sounds like a cliché, but no two days are the same.”
While DI Gray will sign off later this month, another member of his family is only just starting on her policing journey. His daughter, PC Rebecca Gray, is currently working within the Hinckley and Blaby NPA.
“I didn’t influence her at all,” says DI Gray. “I’ve told her that it’s a good career and when she showed an interest, I didn’t discourage her.”
So what does the future hold post-retirement?
“The original plan was to just take some time off, but because of the coronavirus lockdown, I’ve had to re-think things a little bit,” DI Gray says. “I haven’t made any plans yet, but I’m just going to take some time and have a think about what I’d like to do.”