Claire Stockham. Joined Sussex police in 1983, now retired.
When I joined the force in February 1983, it was policy that new officers were posted to Gatwick Airport for at least two years. It was expected that during that posting everyone would have a period of time on the armed section. I spent two years carrying a firearm; I was 21 at the time and keen to do it.
Training was a week at HQ in Lewes and during that we did a mental health screening of sorts. We did not have any tougher physical testing other than the basic test for every course. When we passed we returned to Gatwick qualified to carry a Smith & Wesson .357 and a Heckler & Koch machine gun.
Once a month we would go out to a disused hospital or other such buildings to carry out practical training with various different scenarios. The uniform for women still consisted of skirts, jackets, and handbags in which we carried all our safety equipment – an eight-inch truncheon. Where else could the gun go but also in the handbag?
This was 1985 so WPCs [woman police constables] weren’t allowed to wear trousers other than on nightshifts from November to January, and while the male officers put their guns in their trouser pockets we had to fight with clothing stores which eventually relented and sent us longer pocket inserts for us to sew ourselves in order that we could then put the gun in our skirt pocket. In time we progressed to having our guns in a holster on a belt.