I know I’m just one of thousands of people shocked to learn the terribly sad news that former Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police, Simon Cole QPM, had died suddenly. Mr Cole was found at his home in Leicestershire on Wednesday having retired from his position as Chief Constable only six days earlier and was 55yrs of age.
He was a leader, a gentleman and I’m one of many how who will miss him.
Betweeen 2012-14, Simon was the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on mental health and disability and it was in this capacity that I first really knew him. I’d just started this blog when I learned he’d taken over the role from my former boss, the previous ACPO lead, and I messaged Mr Cole to check he was OK with me doing this or to take any guidance or direction he wanted to give, including that I wouldn’t do it that’s what he preferred. His reply was simple and encouraging: I should keep chipping away, he was aware of the blog and had his support. In the coming months and years, he would often message me and retweet the posts I wrote, eventually inviting me to Leicestershire to meet him properly and discuss these issues. He even wrote a guest post for this blog about 10yrs ago and his support for me and this work was enduring, including as recently as last year and I will always be grateful for it.
Simon Cole enabled access to places I would never have been invited to shout my message. When he was invited to present at the College of Policing Strategic Command Course on this topic in 2017, he asked me to join him and was always one for deflecting credit, embarrassing me on a few occasions and keen to ensure people understood what he thought they needed to know about my work. Commenting to the SCC on the Home Affairs Committee Report (2015) on Policing and Mental Health, he pointed out I had been the only police officer named in the report – something about the report I had not noticed until then and I emphasise this just to show him as a leader: keen to ensure others were the focus of attention and credit, not him. He would nudge, encourage and advise, but appeared always to be pushing the limelight towards those he led.
Memorably, we were both invited to Iceland in 2017 by Dr Andy Hill from the University of Akureyri. Icelandic police officers had used fatal force in resolution of a mental health crisis incident – the very first fatal shooting in their nation’s history – and were looking for input and support around their police responses. Andy invited us both to work with his colleagues over a few days, to emphasise work done in the UK around policing and mental health in the hope it would assist them to review what had happened in Reykjavik and how they could ensure they were as good as they can be.
Most memorably of all, though, I recall a phone call, in 2014: I was at work in the West Midlands on a Saturday morning, an early shift before I had moved to the College of Policing. Not long after 7am, my phone rang and the boss’s number was on the screen. When Chief Constables from other police forces are ringing you at the weekend, you’ve got to consider you’ve dropped a ball somewhere and he’d always made it clear he’d gently nudge me if he thought I was over the line on social media. I’d published a new blog post only the previous evening! —
“Morning, Michael! – do you know what Samizdat literature is?!”
”Err … no, boss. I don’t!”
He explained: it was the counter-communist, subversive literature circulated in the Soviet Union by dissidents who couldn’t easily ensure their fiction, poetry and written material was printed and distributed. Handwritten copies would be handed around, readers might copy out the material as they read it and they’d have two copies to hand on. There were other subterfuges to ensure wider distribution and within a few efforts, the number of copies would increase considerably and the work would spread.
”Your blog – it’s samizdat. It’s subversively circulating its way around the police service and it’s helping, Michael. You must keep doing it.”
What a metaphor to make a point; and what a time and way to do it – I was blown away and stood taller that day. He asked me last year if I was still standing tall? I said, “yes – just” … and occasionally producing samizdat, Sir, as you said I should.
My heart goes out to Simon’s wife Jo and their children Emily and Ben, I’m sure there are no adequate words but I’m glad the tributes pouring in for him are helping ameliorate some of the heartache.
Leicestershire Police has opened a book of condolence, if anyone wishes to leave a tribute to Simon.
Winner of the President’s Medal, the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award
All views expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation.(c) Michael Brown, 2022
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