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The real world of police work

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The Fall has put female detectives back under the spotlight. Stylist gets on the case of Detective Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle, head of public protection and forensic services at Greater Manchester Police

Words: Kathryn Blundell, Photos: The Sunday Times, Rex Features, BBC

If you’re like us, you’ve organised the last five Mondays around BBC Two’s utterly brilliant crime drama The Fall, which sees Gillian Anderson play ballsy detective superintendent Stella Gibson, seconded from the Met Police to Belfast to track down serial killer Jamie Dornan. Already commissioned for a second series, it’s seriously addictive television that succeeds in awakening our curiosity for the real world of police work.

A woman who knows the reality of this world is DCS Mary Doyle, 44, who joined the police after leaving school. She spent 17 years in the Met before moving to Manchester with her retired police officer husband in 2006, where she took on the role of detective superintendent – the fourth highest ranking position and commander of the criminal investigation department (CID) in most territorial forces. In the past couple of years alone, she has been involved in the Dale Cregan case, where the gangland murderer killed two policewomen when they arrived at a property in North Manchester to investigate a suspected robbery. Doyle also oversaw the conviction of Kiaran Stapleton, who, on Boxing Day 2011, shot student Anuj Bidve in Salford in cold blood.

Safe to say, it’s not what we’d call an average day in the office…

The Fall has had us glued to the television. How realistic are these police dramas?

I love The Fall, CSI and Blue Bloods, the female officers are strong and professional, which is realistic, but I do end up screaming at the TV when shows skew parts of the job. CSI’s bad for giving the impression that forensics can turn up comprehensive evidence in a short space of time, which can give victims of crime unrealistic expectations. People also see cases resolved very quickly and think it’s the same in real life. Six months is fast – Dale Cregan’s trial for the murder of a father and son and two police officers happened within five months of his arrest, and we had a conviction for the murder of Anuj Bidve six months after the crime. But then other high-profile cases take years, such as those involving sexual exploitation. Victims can be so traumatised that it’s too much to put them through the court process until they’re ready.

Do you have to sit through postmortems? How do they affect you?

I occasionally have to attend post-mortems. As part of my training I had to sit through nine back-to-back and it’s never really affected me. In a way, the bodies don’t feel like real people – that person has gone and you’re dissecting the body to look for evidence. It’s a purely scientific thing, though some police officers find some [of the more gory] elements hard to take. These days, postmortems tend to be viewed from behind a glass screen to reduce the risk of infection, but I prefer to be in the mortuary. In Greater Manchester Police we have a bespoke forensic mortuary with cameras, so we can zoom in if the pathologist finds anything the senior investigating officer needs to look at closer.

ABOVE: Gillian Anderson in The Fall

In your job you face danger on a regular basis – are there any incidents that stand out?

I spent 11 years as a PC, when you’re regularly in the firing line, and the most dangerous situations tend to be pub fights – I’ve had my nose broken, black eyes, teeth shaken out of my jaw. There’s been the odd crash in a car chase. As you go up the ranks, you get more distanced from real danger, but when you’re commanding an operation you still manage massive amounts of risk and have to keep your team, the public, victims and suspects safe.

Telling people that a family member has died is a difficult task. How do you approach it?

Giving “the death message” is usually carried out by more junior police officers so I haven’t done it for a while, though I still deal with bereaved families and it does impact on you. It’s hard to see people upset and there’s a real urge to want to do anything you can to make it better. Generally, we give officers a script of what to say but it can be hard to stick to that when you’re confronted by a family’s grief and people can make promises they probably shouldn’t. It’s human nature.

Seeing criminals face justice must be supremely satisfying. Is there any case that sticks in your mind?

When Kiaran Stapleton got his minimum 30-year sentence in July 2012 after lying his way through the Anuj Bidve case. It was such a vicious, unprovoked and brutal attack on someone completely innocent – it could have been anyone who happened to be at that place at that time. Anuj had such a bright future ahead of him, his family were truly devastated and Stapleton at no point showed any remorse.

I’ve had my nose broken, black eyes, teeth shaken out of my jaw

Do you get a rush of excitement when a big case comes in?

Yes, you get a massive adrenaline hit. The day you stop getting excited is the day you should give up. I don’t wake up in the morning and think, “Oh God, I really don’t want to go into work.” I’m usually like, “Ooh, I wonder what’s going to happen today, then?” I still love my job

When Dale Cregan killed two policewomen, it became national news. Did you think, ‘I’m going to get this guy’?

It was absolutely ‘we’re going to get this guy’. I was on holiday in Malta when that happened and you can’t help feeling, ‘I need to get on a plane and go back’. Because it’s just horrendous. Any murder is horrendous, but the effect it has on your colleagues and your staff... That day I was an awful lot quieter than I normally am.

Has there been a particular incident that’s stayed with you?

Child murders are always hard. The case of Tia Rigg always stays with me. It was Easter 2010. She’d been murdered by her [maternal] uncle. She was a 12-year-old girl; she’d gone round on the premise she’d babysit his daughter, and he [raped and] killed her. I just think… [Pause] it was so horrific. The impact it had on her mum… it was just horrible. The absolute grief and horror we inflict on other people is just shocking. And it does stay with you.

ABOVE: BBC's The Fall

Have you ever lost your temper with criminals?

Yes! I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t get frustrated – especially when you get punched in the face by a drunk. But staying calm in these situations is part of my character – we’re custodians of the law so we can’t break it. Shouting at people is one thing, lashing out is another.

Do you think police detectives need a special set of characteristics?

I don’t know. I mean, I’m fairly laid-back. You have to be mentally strong and a lot of it comes with experience. I’ve been in the job 24 years and there comes a point where you’ve seen and dealt with it all so it becomes easier the next time.

Your brother was in the Met too. Do you think your upbringing geared you to be successful in the police?

Our family instilled strong moral values in us. We grew up on a dairy farm in Cheshire. It’s a tough life; you’re used to hard work, long hours and you get used to death because the animals die. I think your upbringing does have a huge bearing on the person you turn into.

To deal with the nastier parts of the job, do you find you have to compartmentalise your work and home lives?

Yes, you have to. While I do compartmentalise, I never walk away from the job. My phone is always on. And I always take it on holiday with me. It drives my husband mad. [Laughs] He’s just about to put the tea on the table and the phone rings and he knows damn well I won’t ignore it.

Your husband is a retired police officer – is it a help to have him to talk to about work?

Absolutely, because he gets it. He does cop the brunt of my frustration sometimes but he’s got used to it. It’s harder with friends who aren’t cops. They assume you know everything that’s going on in the police. Something will happen in Cheshire and they’re like, “What’s going on there?” And I’m like, “I haven’t got a clue. I’m Greater Manchester Police.”

You get a massive adrenaline hit. The day you stop getting excited is the day you should give up. I still love my job

Often in TV dramas, you see detectives plagued by nightmares or driven to drink. Is that realistic?

Not for me. I find it easy to switch off at home, and I gravitate to the kind of activities where I don’t have to think too much, like watching TV and pottering around in the garden. I never have problems sleeping.

Is the police force a tough place for women?

Funnily enough, some of the women are harder than the men and being a woman has done me no harm. It’s still a male-dominated profession and historically, yes, women were treated differently and I’ve seen sexist behaviour, but my view is it’s the male colleague’s fault, and I’m here to do a job. Women often have to be better than male colleagues to be seen as equal but it is changing and the force wants women to join.

Do you have any failsafe methods to cope with pressure?

I don’t mind pressure – we’re dealing with dangerous people and we have to get it right and be accountable. It’s made easier by the strong team ethic in the police force and there’s a real camaraderie. A bit of black humour helps – some jokes might make us seem heartless – but it’s a coping mechanism, really.

You need to be tough and battle-hardened in your line of work. Have you ever cried on the job?

Occasionally through frustration. During the ambulance pay dispute in the early Nineties I had to accompany an ambulance to a call – it was for an old lady who’d had a fall and she’d been lying in the same spot for 24 hours before she was found. It upset me that no-one was looking out for her. There’s a danger you can become hardened to situations, but you can’t think, ‘I’m a cop, I can’t cry’. It’s not healthy to suppress your feelings.

You’ve got to remain human about it…

Absolutely, yes. If we lose our humanity then we’re just agents of the state.

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