Viv Galloway on Black History Month
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“I made a decision early on in my career to be the best I could be. I could walk away after 37 years knowing I achieved that.”
Leicestershire Police was home to a revolutionary fingerprint expert and Scientific Support Manager up until her retirement in 2011.
Vivienne (Viv) Galloway describes herself as a naturally shy and unassuming person but when placed in the scenario of needing to find answers at a crime scene it was a very different picture. Gone was the shyness and trepidation and out came an assertive woman who broke down barriers in all areas during her career which spanned four decades.
Viv, who was born in Manchester, had originally planned to become a fashion designer despite women’s jobs being seen as most suited to nursing or shop work back in the early 1970s.
After college Viv got her first job in a lab. Whilst she enjoyed the role it soon became evident there was little room for progression, with woman in the workplace considered only being there temporarily before getting married and starting a family.
Looking at a possible change in career, an opportunity arose when a friend showed Viv an advertisement that Greater Manchester Police, who’s Fingerprint Department were recruiting for fingerprint assistants.
Due to a huge response, she wasn’t originally successful at securing an interview for the role but was delighted to receive a letter inviting her to interview a year later. When offered the job she made a decision she’d live by for the rest of her career – she was going to become a fingerprint expert. This ended up being the (finger)tip of the iceberg!
It could have been curtains fairly early on in Viv’s career when she was part of a group protesting about the increase in food costs in the staff canteen – she felt it was important to stand up for what was right and fair.
Her grit came from her mother who bought her up alone after her father died when she was just a year old. Viv’s father was of Caribbean extraction and her mother was white, there were only seven black or mixed heritage children at her school – Viv was one and the other six were her siblings.
One example of Viv’s tenacity was to push to be able to attend the scene of a crime before women were officially allowed to. It wasn’t until her Chief Inspector back in Manchester went on annual leave for two weeks, she again pushed the boundary of what was considered acceptable and asked another officer if she could go – he agreed.
Viv moved to Leicestershire in 1981 to become the forces first ever police staff fingerprint expert and later the first female head of a fingerprint department in the country. About her early years in Leicestershire, Viv recalls: “I didn’t originally want to leave Manchester but I am so glad I did. Moving to Leicestershire was definitely an eye opener but it paved the way to providing me with a long and very interesting career.
“Working for Leicestershire Police provided me with so many varied opportunities that I just wouldn’t have achieved elsewhere. I worked on the transition from a manual fingerprint system to a computerised digital system, worked on several fingerprint and scientific support projects with the Home Office and got to travel to America on four separate occasions to oversee the digitalisation of Leicestershire Police’s fingerprint collection and to work with an American Law Enforcement Agency testing the accuracy of their computerised fingerprint systems.
“If you’d have said to me as a naive 23 year old at the start of my career that one day I would be involved in working on a system that was to revolutionise the fingerprint identification system I’d have said you were mad!”
Viv’s approach to her career and employing new staff members was always based on their ability to do the job well. It surpassed applicant’s gender and skin colour and only ever came down to their skills and attributes.
Her role as Head of the Fingerprint Department progressed to that of Scientific Support Manager in 2001. The person in the role had decided to step down and really encouraged Viv to apply – something she chose to politely ignore. She had talked herself out of the role but he didn’t let her get away with it and badgered her up until the day before the applications were due in.
Viv was congratulated on her new post, by the then Chief Constable, before she had even accepted the promotion – it seems everyone had decided she was the best fit for the role before she had herself.
Viv remained as the Scientific Support Manager up until her retirement in 2011 after a staggering 37 years working for the police, not bad for someone who had originally dreamed of being a fashion designer.
During her illustrious career Viv won numerous prestigious awards and commendations and even attended a ceremony at Buckingham Palace for her contribution to the police service.
She said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have the career I had. It wasn’t until my very last day in the job did I realise the impact working for the force had on me – hand on heart I loved it. Yes, there were tough times but when you work for the police, I always believed you were part of a family who are devoted to looking after and caring about each other.”
Viv was part of the team who fingerprinted and helped to identify the 47 people who were fatally injured after the Kegworth air disaster in 1989. She also took fingerprints from many murderers and helped gather evidence on several high-profile cases where fingerprints provided the final piece of the puzzle that lead to a conviction.
Being of mixed origin was never a barrier that Viv had to face, in fact, she feels that any wall put up was because of her gender rather than her race. She fully supports Black History Month (BHM) as a way of striking a balance between education and understanding.
Viv says: “Lockdown has given people valuable extra time in order to be able to learn more about the world around them and its culture.
“When I was a child in the 1950s we were taught to think about the ‘poor African children’ who needed our money and help, but we were never taught about the different cultures or any of the positives within their nation. Now I’m older it makes we wonder how they, the children depicted on the posters, felt about being pitied by western civilisations.
“In terms of positive role models within policing, the people in the communities of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland need to see people like them reflected within the police work forces. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, if it’s what you want to do go for it.”