- Iain Donnelly
Five reasons why I wrote the book and started the TJF podcast, probably making myself a target.
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
***WARNING: Graphic content***
Why did I write the book, start the Tango Juliet Foxtrot podcast and stick my head above the parapet?
When I started writing TJF I had no real intention of it becoming a book.
I had left the organisation that I had been part of for thirty years, and during that time, I had experienced so much. Some of it had been exciting and terrifying, and a lot of it deadly dull. Much of it had been hilarious, and a great deal of it had been sad and depressing. Therefore, getting it down on paper felt like a good idea, and if nothing else, it would be an interesting legacy to record for my kids and future grandkids to read and to know what I had been involved in.
However, once I started writing, the words began literally pouring out of me in a way that took me by surprise, and I quickly realised that there was more to this than just leaving a legacy.
So having had nearly two years to reflect on the previous thirty, here are the five reasons why I wrote the book.
1. I want it to act as a legacy for my four children, and wider family; to educate them, hopefully inspire them and ensure that they never fall into the trap of lazily stereotyping police officers or unfairly criticising them without the full facts.
2. I quickly realised that writing it was becoming a cathartic process; helping me make sense of some of the craziness of the last thirty years. The different jobs that I had done, what those jobs had taught me, the great memories of the wonderful colleagues and managers, and the bad memories of the truly terrible ones. I wanted to record my memories of the fun, the fuck-ups and the fear.
3. I discovered that I was holding inside me a great deal of what psychologists might describe as ‘unprocessed trauma’. I had never really had time to think about it properly, but I had dealt with so much death, much of it violent, gory or just very sad and tragic. Coming back to the police station and finding tiny pieces of human gore in the laces of your boots, and blood splattering over your trousers. Memories of horrible road traffic accidents, suicides, murders, industrial accidents and worst of all, the many dead kids when I was on child protection. Sitting with a mother and father as they cuddled and talked to the body of their dead child, having to gently explain that the doctors now needed to take the child away to obtain tissue samples and evidential swabs. Watching babies being dissected and cut apart by pathologists, until they no longer even looked like a baby; more like a raw chicken being cut apart and prepared for the pot. Helping a doctor to undress a dead ten year old child who had committed suicide by hanging. The sound of crunching through millions of dead flies that had completed their entire life cycle, having fed on the decomposing body of an old man who had died alone in his flat. Desperately trying to keep someone alive using CPR and having to give up when you realised it wasn’t working, and some other things just too disturbing to be written down here. Not good!
So when you get your marker pen out and write your pathetic, shitty little cardboard ACAB protest placard you might want to think about some of that.
4. I also realised how angry and frustrated I had felt for many years about the scandalously unfair way that UK policing has been treated by politicians and many parts of the media; undermining public confidence, the morale of police officers and putting the British public in a great deal more danger as a result. 20,000 officers lost from the workforce, 23,000 support staff lost and police stations closed all over the country. 8500 officers resigning in despair between 2017 and 2020, resulting in the police service haemorrhaging many of its most experienced officers who had just had enough.
All this reckless damage, resulting in the completely unnecessary deaths of dozens of young men up and down the country, who would almost certainly still be around today, growing up, sorting themselves out, maybe raising a family, but whose names are now forgotten by everyone apart from their own families and friends. We had become unable to function effectively in inner-city communities, no longer working with young people in schools and building strong, trusted relationships with their teachers, social workers and their families. We no longer had enough people to identify the young men who were going off the rails, and help them to access support services. We no longer had eyes and ears in the community to gather intelligence on knife crime and gang membership, and disrupt serious criminality before it spilled over into fatal stabbings and shootings, or the exploitation of children by County Lines gangs.
One of the most basic responsibilities of good government is to keep their citizens safe, and they had failed miserably.
5. Finally, there was the stark truth, reinforced from the last four years of working as a voluntary hospice chaplain, that life is not a dress-rehearsal. I had sat with so many people during that time, who had described their sadness and sense of loss, whilst facing their own mortality, who talked about some of their regrets. None of them regretted not making enough money, or spending too little time at work. Many of them regretted not following their dreams, or putting up with situations that were damaging to their mental or physical health. They regretted broken relationships, and wished that they had swallowed their pride and reached out to people who they cared about. However, time and emotional distance had prevented that from happening. It would have been so much easier for me to just walk away and get on with the rest of my life, but I knew that I needed to try and speak for police officers in the UK, because it felt like very, very few people were doing that, and I didn’t want to have that particular regret one day.
If I try, and nothing changes, then at least I can say that I tried.
I know that there are risks to me from doing this. I know that certain politicians are in complete denial, and will try to rubbish what I say. A few senior police officers won’t like it either. Many of them seemed to be inflicted with a collective form of Stockholm syndrome, acting rather like Mr Stevens, the stoic, but emotionally constipated butler in Remains of the Day, failing to challenge and push back against the political meddling that was so obvious to everyone else in their own organisations. I don't think any of them are bad people, quite the opposite, but many of them definitely failed to put their heads above the parapet and support their own people when they needed that support most.
There is a very strong likelihood that parts of the media and anti-police activists will also have me in their crosshairs, and I have a few concerns that I might even be targeted by some of the people that I helped to convict.
I didn't join the police for an easy life, so why should police retirement be any different?