PC Andy WOOLLASTON ( Standard Bearer)
After 31 years I still enjoy coming to work, and my wife enjoys seeing the back of me!
After three decades with the force, and a landmark birthday fast approaching, you’d forgive PC Andrew Woollaston for contemplating a well-earnt retirement. But the response officer is adamant that he still enjoys coming to work every day and has no intentions to leave.
So Newsbeat asked him to share the story of a career that spans 31 years (and counting), the painful loss of a colleague and his indisputable passion to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for queen and country…
In Andy’s own words he is soon to reach the ‘grand old age’ of 60 And although he probably hasn’t been referred to as a ‘sprog’ for some time, he still remembers a colleague calling him this as he made his first ever arrest.
It was 1987 and Andy had been posted to the old D3 sub division which covered Erdington and Kingstanding. Two young men had just burgled a house and fled into a nearby park.
Andy feared he’d missed out on his first arrest until a Zulu driver and his partner returned with both suspects. Without hesitation they were passed onto Andy who was duly advised ‘Sprog, I think these are yours’.
Throughout that night Andy and his tutor took fingerprints, photographs, noted down admissions made by the offenders in interview and prepared the charges and file. It was a long night fuelled by lots of tea making. And it was at this point that Andy had a profound realisation about the job.
“It was an awesome night and I knew then I was in for an interesting career,” recalled Andy.
“It reaffirmed the decision I had made. Since I was at school it was always my intention to join the police and to follow in my father’s footsteps, by serving in the Coldstream Guards and then joining the police.
“After completing his military services my father joined the British Transport Police and served for 33 years. My eldest brother joined the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and my younger brother joined the Warwickshire Police. So policing was in my blood.”
Andy’s career saw him complete a successful 18 months in a burglary squad, leading to Erdington and Kingstanding seeing the biggest improvement in the whole country for burglary stats. He also spent two years at Bromford Lane as part of the divisional crime squad. But for the majority of his career he’s been able to do what he loves the most – response duties.
In 1989 he was commended following a murder in Sutton Coldfield which involved two WMP employees. As he arrived at the scene he immediately gave CPR to a woman who had been stabbed, efforts that would ultimately be in vain.
As a colleague escorted the victim to hospital Andy gave him his radio as his was faulty But it soon dawned on him he was alone at a murder scene, with no tape, covered in blood from his life-saving efforts and without anyway of contacting colleagues. He remained this way for three hours.
Unbeknown to Andy at the time his colleagues had arrested the fleeing armed offender who had hijacked a bus and crashed into an off-duty officer’s brand new car before eventually being arrested.
But a more pressing concern for Andy was preserving the scene. He improvised by ripping a wooden panel from a nearby garden fence to mark where the murder was committed.
“I can still remember the moment my chief superintendent arrived at the scene. He bawled at the top of his voice ‘who the hell has done this?’ and I saw him pointing at the fence wood,” said Andy.
“I was summoned by my inspector. I arrived, stood to attention and saluted the officer, but I must have looked like I had just arrived from Vietnam covered in blood. The chief supt turned to my inspector and said ‘give this man a commendation for using his initiative’.”
But it was another stabbing in 2004 that Andy is still affected by to this day, both personally and professionally. The loss of his colleague and great friend DC Mick Swindells.
Andy and Mick were crewed together for nearly three years. They were both ex-military and it was probably this that made the duo hit it off straight away. But on 21 May 2004 – a date that Andy says he will never forget – tragedy struck.
“It was two days before my birthday and I was on rest days. I heard on the news a police officer had been killed while on duty. I made calls to Queens Road police station where I worked, I was informed by a colleague that Mick and a number of officers were chasing a man armed with a machete.
“The chase on foot ended up on the canal network under Spaghetti Junction, four CID officers chased the offender, Glaister Earl Butler, onto the canal towpath, as the towpath narrowed to go under a bridge Mick was the lead pursuer all of a sudden Butler turned around and plunged the machete in to Mick’s chest which pierced his heart killing him instantly. Rest in Peace mate.”
But it isn’t just Mick’s memory that Andy honours. Five years ago he volunteered to be the force’s standard bearer – a role he also performs in the Coldstream Guards Association Birmingham branch.
The voluntary role allows him to pay tribute to service personnel and officers, past and present, by attending their funerals to recognise their service. Andy has honoured 82 police officers and staff since taking up the role, often in his own time and at his own expense.
In November 2017 Andrew represented WMP at the Birmingham International Tattoo. Carrying the Union flag he led out 1,200 performers.
“I have attended a number of funerals where the officer may have retired before I even joined the force. But the smiles on people’s faces make it all worthwhile, especially when you hear comments about how much the person loved the police and how honoured they’d feel knowing they’d been remembered by the force even after retiring all those years ago,” said Andy.
“I am amazed at the gratitude that the families have shown me for representing the force at their loved ones funeral. It is a great honour for me to represent the force in this way and it means so much to the relatives”
After 30 years with WMP we asked Andy what the future held for him, any plans to retire and the advice he would give to colleagues embarking on the early stages of their careers.
“I still enjoy coming to work every day and I am sure my wife does just to see the back of me,” said Andy.
“To the new recruits I would say, enjoy your new career and make the most of it, you will never find another job like it. Do not spend all your years running the job down like some people do on a daily basis. Get what you want out of the job, 40 years is a long time to be unhappy in your chosen career.”