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Work/life: Valerie Hester, Police Constable at Gatwick Airport


Valerie Hester, 34, is a police officer on the tactical firearms unit at Gatwick airport. She lives in Sussex with her husband, Bill, who is also a police officer

At different times depending which shift I’m on. It could be as early as 4:45am to be at Crawley police station, where I’m based, by 6am. I arm-up as soon as I arrive – I always carry a 9mm handgun and a taser, and often a G36C assault rifle (including the stab vest I wear, my kit weighs around 2st). Then I meet the rest of the team to debrief before our shift.

Preventing crime at Gatwick airport and the surrounding area. I patrol at the airport and do everything from arresting shoplifters and drunken passengers – such as one woman who had thrown her prosthetic leg at a flight attendant – to evacuating the airport in the event of a bomb threat. I’m also called out to assist neighbouring forces. 

In 2005. My mum worked for the police in an admin capacity and the stories she told me piqued my interest. I’ve done everything from street policing after the 2011 London riots to tracking burglary gangs. This year marks the centenary of the first female police constable – given that female officers weren’t even allowed to carry guns until 1988 (men were given restricted access to guns from 1884), it’s amazing how much the profession has changed in the past 100 years. 

Is geared towards counter-terrorism. I patrol with an explosives dog and keep an eye on persons of interest passing through the airport. I’ve dealt with bomb threats, but thankfully, so far they’ve all been hoaxes. Since August 2014 the UK threat level has been severe; an attack could occur at any time so vigilance is key. Events, such as those in Paris, highlight to me just how vital our work really is. 

Happened a month ago when I was called into a situation where a man was holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head. Along with three other firearms officers, I stormed into the block of flats where they lived to negotiate with the gunman. I don’t get nervous; I’ve had a lot of training – 10 weeks on firearms alone – and have 10 years’ experience in the force, so in pressure situations I often feel as if I’m on autopilot. Training takes over. In this instance, the woman came out of the flat first – willingly – then we persuaded the man to come out calmly, at which point I arrested him. The whole time I was poised in case he started shooting, but later we found that the gun he’d been using was actually a pellet-shooting gun. 

Is dealing with dead bodies. It’s not something you ever really get used to. I’ve been called to scenes where the person had died alone and no one had noticed for a long time, which is incredibly sad. Those cases really play on my mind. 

Is the team. We build strong bonds, and become more like family than colleagues. Because of the dangerous situations that we encounter, we have to have complete trust in each other. 

If I’ve been on an early shift, I might finish around 2pm and ride my horse, Darcy, in the afternoon. I used to do pentathlons and I still train when I get the chance. To do my job, I have to be fit, especially given the weight of the kit. If I’m on an early shift, I’ll be in bed by 9pm.

Words: Alexandra Jones  
Photography: Sarah Brimley

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