Fair Cop BBC 4
An unfair cop! Curtsying for the boss, needing permission to marry and armed only with HANDBAGS… policewomen reveal their fight for equality in the force
First female officer given power to arrest was Edith Smith in 1915
In the Seventies women had to wear skirts and couldn’t carry weapons
Trained police dogs seen as more useful than WPCs, says one woman
New BBC documentary celebrates journey of women in the force
When Cressida Dick quit the Met police at the end of 2014, she had risen to become Britain’s highest ever ranking policewoman. Her role as Assistant Commissioner was a far cry from her humble beginnings in the force as a bobby on the beat in 1983.
In a new BBC documentary, she and other female police officers have revealed how they had to overcome rampant sexism in their bids to follow.
On A Fair Cop: A Century of British Policewomen, which airs this evening on BBC4, Cressida said:
‘1983 seems like a very long time ago. I loved it but it was incredibly different. There were some women detectives but they tended to be one in an office or in a crime squad.’
Many of the former police officers interviewed in the show said the lack of equality with male officers even put them in danger as they weren’t allowed to carry weapons and had to wear skirts, which hindered their movements.
WPC Mary Routledge recalls:
‘Women were expected to do same role as men without equipment. Once I was sent to guard 10 Downing Street at the last minute.
‘When I was there, a security officer asked me where my gun was. I said “I haven’t got one.” He replied “what will you guard the PM with?” So I said my handbag.’
It was situations like these that led her to resign in 1974. She explained: ‘We were being put in positions that a man would be put in but we weren’t being given equipment.
‘I was embarrassed at the thought of a male officer being injured looking after me, I couldn’t have that on my conscience.’
Many of the female officers were exposed to sexist comments on a daily basis and one of the worst crimes they could commit was to want to become a working mother.
Della Cannings, a WPC with Devon and Cornwall Police, reveals:
‘One superintendent told me it was better to employ a police dog than a policewoman because the dog stayed for longer in the organisation than women and they didn’t answer back.’
She revealed how when she wanted to marry, she had to ask the permission of her senior officer and it was noted at the time that it would be the end of her career.
This was also something Barbara Franklin experienced when she joined Northumbria Police in 1982.
She said: ‘There was a lot of sexism. I had a male detective inspector and every day my first job was to take him a cup of tea, put it on his desk and curtsy before I left his office.’
When she was promoted to be a detective, she said she dared not tell them she was pregnant. When she finally did, her department head ‘ranted and raved’.’He said said it was a waste of taxpayers money because of all the training I had,’ Barbara recalled.
‘When I said I intended to return after having the baby he said
“over my dead body will I have a mother as as a detective, you will have to go back into uniform”.
‘One of my bosses, a chief inspector said he would have me back as a sergeant but there was no part-time hours or job shares so I went back 13 weeks after having my baby.’
Jackie Malton, who became a detective chief inspector in the Eighties and provided the inspiration for Prime Suspect character Jane Tennyson, said it was a difficult time for women to prove themselves professionally. But she added: ‘The police service was definitely sexist but it also reflects society.’
100th anniversary of the first British policewoman
The female officers have shared their stories as 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first British policewoman – Edith Smith – being given the power to arrest. Women had started working as unofficial law enforcers the year before in order to support the war effort.
A group of suffragettes including Margaret Damer Dawson formed the Women’s Police Service in 1914. They designed their own uniforms and were ‘armed’ only with umbrellas. Joan Lock, a police historian said: ‘They didn’t have power of arrest, they were very much unofficial and they were being tolerated, partly because the suffragettes had promised to behave themselves during the war.’
After Edith Smith was given the power to arrest in 1915, other women were given this power from 1923 onwards and they were also then given an official uniform designed by Sophia Stanley made by Harrods.
The police force was divided by gender until the Seventies when the force became integrated and women were given more rights and equal pay. Even though they still had to work against sexist attitudes, since then, the pioneering women of the force have helped other women rise to the top.
Today, there are nine female chief constables in Britain and women make up 28 per cent of the country’s police strength. Women can work across all departments from murder investigation to firearms.
PC Suzie Ranyard
One woman who serves in the latter is PC Suzie Ranyard, 34, an armed response officer for East Midlands operational support services. She said she loves her job – but despite living in an age if more equality – still feels she has to prove herself at times.
She said: ‘It’s quite a hard specialism to get into and rightly so because it’s such a responsible job, you could potentially take somebody’s life.
‘Training is tough you are constantly being analysed. As a female officer you feel you have to prove yourself and compete with the males.
‘The most exciting element is not knowing where you could be going next. One minute you could be sat in the police car and the next jumping walls chasing someone.’
Cressida Dick hopes more women will find a role they love in the police service like PC Ranyard and she did. She said:
‘I would like all women to feel they can do anything they like in policing, that they don’t just survive but they are thriving and having as much fun and interest and excitement and challenges as I have had.’
Fair Cop A Century of British Policewomen BBC Documentary 2015