PCs Chris Hewson, Stuart Watts, Michael O’Connor and James Howlett
Middle: The Rev Stanley Underhill (left), and TDC Becky Saunders
Bottom: (left to right) Sergeant Paul Bristo, PC Iain Campbell, PCSO Fin Lawles, PCSO Shazia Saheb and PCSO Barbara Lacovides
Published: 4 May, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
THE next time you’re woken up in the middle of the night by a police helicopter hovering low over your house or flat, think about the man who may be at the controls.
Before joining the Met as a civilian pilot, Matt Leaver spent 11 years as an army pilot, flying the rotary beasts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and “all the usual places”.
Matt is clear that while the coppers’ chopper may be a noise nuisance – “we get a lot of complaints” – it is only ever being used to chase down burglars and muggers.
What is really remarkable, however, is that when Matt isn’t chasing criminals by air he does so by foot.
He became a volunteer policeman, he says, to gain a better idea of the job his uniformed colleagues have to do. Such is his designation that on Tuesday he was named Special Constable of the Year at the annual Islington Police awards held at the Royal Artillery House in City Road, Clerkenwell.
Cops from the borough were awarded for their bravery, tenacity and detective skills displayed in a range of everyday events from rescuing people from burning buildings and dealing with domestic violence to solving high-profile murder cases.
Matt has put in 600 voluntary hours since last June – the expected minimum for a special constable is 200 a year.
“I was a foot soldier in the army,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found the military. It gave me respect for others, myself, and a sense of duty.”
Matt, 40, lives in Hertfordshire but volunteered for the Islington Police after getting to know most of the boroughs flying over them.
“I chose Islington because it has a bit of everything,” he said.
“There are some affluent areas, some poorer areas, some open spaces. I thought if I’m going to enjoy being a police officer why not do it in a borough that has everything?”
Asked if he has any spare time, Matt replied that he does, and during it is a sky-diving instructor.
THE MURDER CASE TEAM
OTHER award winners included the teams of officers who helped crack the Jessie Wright murder case.
Zak Sackett, 20, was jailed for a minium of 25 years last April for the murder of schoolgirl Jessie, 16, who lived on the Bemberton estate, off Caledonian Road.
She was strangled and her body dumped in King’s Cross in 2010.
On Tuesday, the officers from Tolpuddle Street whose detective skills helped crack what was known as Operation Fardale were commended for outstanding professionalism.
PCs Chris Hewson, James Howlett, Stuart Watts, Dario Persechino and Michael O’Connor received the commendation for their work retrieving CCTV images that showed Sackett selling Jessie’s mobile phone less than 15 minutes after killing her.
PC Ellis Coates was also commended for recognising Sackett as the man seen on CCTV footage accompanying Jessie, thus enabling an early arrest to be made.
THE TECH-SAVVY CIVILIAN
ONE civilian was commended for his detective skills in tracking down a thief at his care home.
The Rev Stanley Underhill, 84, was cited for “community spirit and determination in bringing a person in a position of trust to justice”. He sprung into action when £100 and a number of cards were stolen from his wallet in his residential home in Farringdon. Nobody seemed interest in tackling the robbery, so after further thefts he and a friend set up a webcam.
It revealed the cleaner stealing the money – along with the comment: “Why is this man so stupid?” She is now serving a 12-month community order and carrying out 140 hours’ unpaid work.
THE TENACIOUS TRAINEE
TRAINEE Detective Constable Becky Saunders was commended for professionalism, tenacity and detective ability for her work in helping a grandmother who had been robbed by her grandson.
After winning the elderly lady’s trust, she managed to find evidence to prosecute the grandson, as well as enabling the property to be recovered from a pawn shop.
TDC Saunders told the Tribune: “It’s nice to be recognised.
“The awards help people see all the good things the police do.
“Normally, only the negative things find their way into the papers.”
THE SAFER NEIGHBOURHOOD TEAM
DRUG-BUSTING and “improving the quality of life on Holloway Road” earned the Holloway Safer Neighbourhood team the Outstanding Team of the Year Award.
• Police Community Support Officers Anthony McCausland and Tosun Gulakdeniz.
• DC Lee Spicer and TDC John Vinten.
• PC Eddie Kemp.
• PCs Steven Hanny and Kieran McAuliffe.
• DC Alison Jones.
• PC Matthew Fletcher.
• Inspector Martin Epps.
• TDC Jason Cole.
• DS Neill Scrimgeour.
• PC Chris Walsh.
• PC Matthew Pham and PC Nicola Tyler.
• Special Constable Chris Heathcote.
• DC Marcus Johnson.