The Home Run

As I approach the declaration ceremony for my successor as High Sheriff of Essex and hence the end of my year in office, I have maintained my programme of visits and events. The final two will be on Saturday 1 April when I visit Grays to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service during the day, and then Basildon in the evening for a concert to be given by the Basildon Choral Society supporting St Luke’s Hospice.

Support for the emergency services is one of a number of strands of activity that have run through my year. Earlier this week I spent a shift with the volunteer Community First Responders operating from the Chelmsford ambulance station. With the ambulance service under great strain, it turned into a long shift finishing in Braintree attending to an elderly person who had fallen in their house. Fortunately they were not seriously hurt and with support from the clinical adviser in the ambulance control room, the well trained volunteers were able to deal with the situation. I also saw the Essex Police ‘Force Control Room’ at work this week. I spent a morning with there, learning about its work including new and innovative ways of responding to calls from victims of domestic abuse. New technologies can enable victims to be put in rapid video contact with trained officers who can then both gather evidence and give advice as required. Demand on the Control Room remains high, and Essex Police continue to encourage the public to use 999 only for genuine emergencies and to use the many other methods of contact whenever possible.

Inspecting the Essex Police passing out parade at Chelmsford HQ on a very wet St Patrick’s Day.

Another major strand of activity throughout the year has been meeting and supporting the community and voluntary sector across the county. This came to a happy climax with the High Sheriffs’ Awards evening attended by 180 people at Hylands House on 8 March. Working with a panel, I had chosen 23 groups working in the area of community safety to receive certificates and financial awards. Of those, five were selected to receive trophies to celebrate their outstanding work. Winners came from around the county, working in different fields of community safety – from domestic abuse to fraud prevention. I am grateful to Essex Police, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, Essex County Council and Chelmsford City council for their support for these significant awards.

The winners in the five main categories at the 2023 High Sheriffs Awards evening on 8 March Alpha Vesta, The Outhouse, South Essex Advocacy Services, Kool Carers and the St Vincent de Paul Centre – Southend.

Civic and ceremonial events have continued too. In the last few weeks I have celebrated with the High Sheriffs of Rutland and Suffolk at their Justice Services at Peterborough and St Edmondsbury Cathedrals respectively. Each such service around the region has been very well supported, distinctive and enjoyable. The glorious buildings provide a sense of grandeur but also speak to the continuity of many of our national institutions including the Judiciary, the Lieutenancy, the Church itself, the military and the Shrievalty. While the uniforms, judicial and clerical dress might be rooted in history, the purpose and themes of the services remain as important and relevant today as in times past.

I have also joined with ‘Mayors and Chairs’ as they have celebrated the achievements of their communities. The attendance of the High Sheriff helps recognise the importance of local volunteering beyond the city or district boundaries. Over the last week or so I have joined celebrations in Epping and Chelmsford. It is impossible to overstate the value of the contributions made by individuals and local groups of all sorts, and it has been a joy to help acknowledge that.

Shrievalty services at Peterborough and St Edmundsbury Cathedrals; and civic events at Epping and Chelmsford

This final week has seen me ‘back in court’, on both occasions at Chelmsford Crown Court for happy events. I was invited by the Resident Judge, HHJ Morgan, to present Court Awards to several people who had stood out to Judges for their brave or commendable actions in a number of different cases. It was humbling to hear each of the stories that had resulted in criminals being brought to justice and victims cared for. The formal ceremony, in Court number 1, was followed by a jolly tea party giving Judge Morgan, my Under Sheriff and me the chance to meet the award winners and their proud families.

The second visit, earlier today, was for the farewells and valedictory speeches for HHJ Charles Gratwicke who is retiring as a Judge. For a number of years he was the Resident Judge at Chelmsford Crown Court, and more recently a ‘peripatetic murder Judge’ on the South Eastern Circuit. He has been a good friend to Essex High Sheriffs, and more generally to the community in mid-Essex where he is the Honorary Recorder of Chelmsford. Fine speeches were led by Lady Justice Whipple, a Lady Justice of Appeal in London over a video link. A full court included many former High Sheriffs, all with fond memories of Judge Gratwicke. We wish him well.

With my Under Sheriff, Mr Roger Brice DL, examining the Essex High Sheriff’s Staff of Office prior to the Court Awards ceremony

The Staff of Office will be out in public again next week as I hand it to my successor Mr Charles Bishop after his declaration as the 843rd recorded High Sheriff of Essex in the Council Chamber of County Hall in Chelmsford. It has been an immense privilege to serve as High Sheriff of Essex and to have met, and thanked for their service, so many people in organisations of all sorts dedicated to the wellbeing of the people of the county. I now look forward to supporting my successors as they have supported me during this year.

The final words of thanks must be mine to my wife Philippa who has been by my side, and taking many of the photographs, throughout this remarkable year. I simply could not have done it without her.

A Poetic Interlude

I have attended many special church services during my year as High Sheriff of Essex. Yesterday, after a week that included a day in court, an afternoon in prison, a talk to a school, visits to two charities, a civic dinner and a concert, I was invited to read a poem at the annual service at Chelmsford Cathedral held to celebrate the work of Essex County Council. I didn’t know the poem, one of two titled Essex by the Anglican priest, missionary, and writer, Arthur Shearly Cripps. It, and Cripps himself, both intrigued me.

I have only scratched the surface of the extraordinary story of Fr Cripps. A Kent man, he came to Essex in 1894 as the Rector of Ford End (near Chelmsford) after reading history at Oxford and attending theological college. However he was called to be a missionary and went to what was then Southern Rhodesia where, by 1902 he was the priest of a local parish. He was deeply committed to ‘Africa for the Africans’ and apparently fell out with the British administration causing him to return to England after 20 years. The call of Africa was too strong and this, combined with discovering that England had changed so much after the war, led him to return to the Manyene region of what is now Zimbabwe. Fr Cripps – Baba Cripps as he was known there – led a simple life, living in a mud hut, until his death in 1952 and leaving his estate to the local people.

I believe the poem ‘Essex’ that I was asked to read must have been written, or imagined, while he was on the ship taking him on the long journey by sea to South Africa, possibly on his second voyage there. But what caught my attention was the reference in the poem to the views of the red tower. Knowing Ford End church is a red brick building with an unusual tower, I walked around the parish to understand Cripps’ poem a little better. Here is the poem, with some pictures I took on the morning of the service.

The church of St John the Evangelist, Ford End

Essex by Arthur Shearly Cripps

  I go through the fields of blue water
    On the South road of the sea.
  High to North the East-Country
    Holds her green fields to me–
  For she that I gave over,
    Gives not over me.

  Last night I lay at Good Easter
    Under a hedge I knew,
  Last night beyond High Easter
    I trod the May-floors blue–
  Tilt from the sea the sun came
    Bidding me wake and rue.

  Roding (that names eight churches)–
    Banks with the paigles dight–
  Chelmer whose mill and willows
    Keep one red tower in sight–
  Under the Southern Cross run
    Beside the ship to-night.

  Ah! I may not seek back now,
    Neither be turned nor stayed.
  Yet should I live, I’d seek her,
    Once that my vows are paid!
  And should I die I’d haunt her–
    I being what God made!

England has greater counties–
    Their peace to hers is small.

  Low hills, rich fields, calm rivers,
    In Essex seek them all,–
  Essex, where I that found them
    Found to lose them all!

The view up to the red tower of Ford End church from the willow plantations lining the banks of the River Chelmer.

The memory of Arthur Cripps is kept alive in the Anglican Diocese of Masvingo in Zimbabwe, and you can read a little more about him on its website. It is a very long way from the low hills, rich fields and calm rivers of Essex around Ford End, country I know and love.

It’s a sprint not a marathon

When I was first approached to let my name go forward for nomination as High Sheriff of Essex, the reality of holding the office, while daunting, seemed a long way off. As the year of my likely appointment by Her Majesty, the late Queen, approached, planning started to take over, but there was still a sense of ‘time in hand’. However, as soon as the year started, with the declaration ceremony in April last year, the pace quickened rapidly. It is now a sprint to the declaration ceremony for my likely successor in just ten weeks time.

All the former High Sheriffs I have spoken to tell of the slight frustration that just as we are getting the hang of the role and learning how we can best ‘add value’ to the County, the year comes to an abrupt end. But I shouldn’t complain; it has been like this since the year 1258 when the term of office was fixed as one year!

I expect, like others, I am doing all I can in the remaining weeks to get around the county to thank those working in criminal justice, those working to make their communities safer, and many others who are dedicated to building and sustaining more caring communities.

Visiting a leading rape crisis centre, SERICC in Grays, to award a High Sheriff’s Certificate to the Staff team

Awarding High Sheriff certificates to community champions has been a real pleasure throughout the year. It is a small gesture, but one that can mean a great deal to those who sometimes don’t realise the extraordinary value of their volunteering. The collage below captures some of those moments. I thanked the chair of trustees of a community radio station in Basildon doing great work with young people locally; a long serving volunteer with Park Run in Chelmsford; a young girl supporting her local community centre in Witham; and the manager of a thriving village hall in Stambridge. On each occasion I learned so much about the local communities and gained a further insight into the value of our many community groups.

Awarding High Sheriff’s certificates; everyone a joy!

Throughout the year I have promoted and attended a number of concerts where I have thanked the choirs and orchestras for what they do to enrich community life. They have each selected a local charity to promote at the concerts. The most recent was in the wonderful church of St John in Epping. The Epping Chorus, conducted by Simon Winters, gave a moving performance of Karl Jenkins’ Mass for Peace – The Armed Man. I spoke briefly to commend the choir and also the volunteers of 3Food4u – a local charity that has grown rapidly since the start of the COVI D pandemic, providing food and now many other services to those in need.

Thanking Epping Chorus for their concert, and promoting the local charity 3Food4U, at St John’s Church Epping

Before the end of my term I will also have a couple of excursions to neighbouring counties to join in events with other High Sheriffs. We have worked well together, sharing ideas, contacts and even a few events beyond the traditional Justice Services. Just this week, six of us visited the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester for excellent briefings. It was good to see the expert military and civilian staff there able to address rehabilitation in such a positive and effective way. Sadly this is so rarely possible in our civilian prisons which remain under such extreme pressure.

Ranks of the senior Judiciary alongside the Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Hertfordshire and the Dean at the Justice Service at St Albans Cathedral and Abbey Church, supported by six neighbouring High Sheriffs

In the remaining weeks I have visits planned to prisons, days in court, a visit to Essex Police and another to the Probation Service. I will be helping Mayors and Chairs of District Councils celebrate their busy years, and visiting Police Cadets, Scouts and a couple of schools. I am pleased that my simple theme of supporting volunteers and volunteering has remined very relevant. Everywhere I go, volunteers either oil the wheels of our community ‘systems’ – or they form the wheels themselves. Even yesterday, when I visited the Essex Coroner’s Court there were volunteers of the Coroners Court Support Service supporting those facing the sad duty of attending an inquest. All the professional staff in the Coroner’s Office conducted proceedings with great care for the families and other loved ones, but the volunteers were there too, to give the extra help that can make such a difference to those facing an unfamiliar and potentially distressing experience.

The year has taught me much about how the not-for-profit sector plays such a crucial role across our communities. It has also shown me how much pressure there is, not only within the criminal justice system but also on communities right across the county as the cost of living challenges bite. I expect there will be more to learn before the end of my year in office – but also much more to celebrate as volunteers and professional together seek to make our communities safer and more caring.

Variety’s the Very Spice of Life

So wrote the anti-slavery campaigner, poet and hymn writer William Cowper, who lived much of his rather troubled life in East Anglia. I can affirm that it is true for a contemporary High Sheriff. With just a few days until Christmas and then three, I suspect short, months before the end of my year in office, it is tempting to do a bit of a stock-take. The past few weeks give such a good feel for the variety of opportunities that I have had as High Sheriff, and also point to some of the insights I have gained into relevant issues.

A wonderful carol concert by the Hutton and Shenfield Choral Society at St Thomas of Canterbury church, Brentwood. I was able to commend all local volunteers and a collection was held for the local charity SNAP

At this time of year there are invitations to many and varied carol concerts and services. Over three weeks I have attended three Advent carol services or concerts and nine Christmas carol events (with one still to come). They are joyful and increasingly inclusive events. A highlight was to join a small group, with Salvation Army band members too, carolling around HMP Chelmsford. Standing in deep, virgin snow outside some of the wings, and on some being able to sing and play inside on cell corridors, felt a privilege as prisoners joined in – with cheers and applause. Around 75% of the men in HMP Chelmsford are on remand, often for very many months awaiting trial. They, and the victims of crime surely deserve speedier justice.

Essex Police Special Constables on patrol. The photo (credit Essex Police) is from my book on the Essex High Sheriffs’ Fund.

Exploring and supporting the criminal justice system is close to the heart of the traditional role of High Sheriffs and I have seen several aspects of it at close quarters over these weeks. I spent an excellent day with Essex Police on patrol with a roads policing team and then meeting new officers in Harlow. Essex Police now has more officers and staff than at any time in its history, though demand remains high as crime changes, much driven by the criminal use of the internet. The police also continue to spend much time responding to incidents where individuals are in mental health crisis. I am uncomfortable with some other police forces saying they may not respond to such cases. It does seem obvious to me, however, that there is a strong case for setting up properly resourced specialist mental health response teams working alongside the police and ambulance services, but fully integrated with and funded by the mental health trusts, an idea now being quite widely talked about.

The rather austere Basildon Crown and County Courts. Photo (credit Matt Mallett) also from my High Sheriffs Fund book

Our judges and magistrates play such a central role in the criminal justice ‘system’ and I have been privileged to spend time with some of them recently. The Chelmsford Crown Court judges kindly invited me to join them for a conversation over lunch on a very busy day. It is good to see the courts working again at full capacity, tackling the backlog that built up during the COVID pandemic. I also had the privilege of addressing the magistrates of the South Essex bench on a video call, and the Chairman then hosted me for a morning at Basildon Magistrates Court. I observed several hearings, expertly managed by the very hard working legal adviser (the court clerk) supported by the court usher. It continues to surprise me that 95% of all criminal cases are heard by volunteer magistrates advised by their clerks. The shortage of magistrates – and legal advisers – severely restricts the volume of cases that can be heard, adding to the many challenges in the criminal justice system. Anyone over the age of 18 can apply to be a magistrate and I commend it as exceptionally valuable volunteering.

I attended the Thurrock Community Safety Partnership meeting from the Thurrock Mayor’s parlour, courtesy of the Mayor, Councillor James Halden.

Month by month I have met dedicated people working very hard in each area of the criminal justice system – police, prosecutors, courts, judges, magistrates, prison, probation staff and others. It is hard, however, to understand how all their good work is drawn together and ‘managed’ as a system at our local, county, level. Indeed the evidence seems to suggest that this not working as well as it could and should; and most of those I talk with seem to agree. I do hope that improvements to the ‘system’ can be identified and implemented.

Presenting a High Sheriff’s certificate to Paul Brookes who has volunteered more than 313 times for Chelmsford Park Run

On a jollier note it remains so rewarding to visit the many not for profit organisations that do so much to enrich our communities. In the last few weeks among other things I have opened a playground in Rochford, joined in an inspiring music therapy session in Braintree, visited a homeless charity in Chelmsford, started a Saturday Park Run in Chelmsford, and spent time with Julie Taylor, the grandmother of a murder victim Liam. She is fundraising for, and supplying, ‘bleed packs’ to pubs and other venues where they can be available to treat stab victims. Such incidents, thankfully, remain relatively rare in Essex, but immediate first aid with the right equipment can make the difference between life and death.

A privilege to meet Julie Taylor who has responded to the tragic murder of her grandson, Liam, with fundraising for ‘bleed control kits’ to supply to pubs and other venues.

Relatives of those who have died recently may well find Christmas a particularly difficult time. We will all know those who have lost loved ones this year, indeed our own family and several friends have been affected. It also looks like being a tough winter for many reasons. I commend all those who volunteer to help those in need of all sorts; and to those struggling in any way – please seek the help that I know is available from the many wonderful organisations around the county.

So as the Christmas holiday season comes, and many of us joyfully celebrate the birth of Jesus, whatever your faith or none, I wish everyone a blessed time and a happy New Year.

The clocks have gone back, but time is rushing by

Since my last post the clocks have gone back, but that just seems to make my year as High Sheriff rush by even faster. The mix of activities I have undertaken recently remains varied, but they highlight the importance of volunteers, and the community and voluntary sector more generally, in making our communities safer and more caring places.

With my focus on issues relating to the criminal justice system, visits to the Aspirations Program in Southend-on-Sea and to the Open Road AGM in Colchester both highlighted the importance of effective services to those in recovery from addictions. They were inspiring occasions. Drug addiction in particular drives a large volume of acquisitive crime, though alcohol probably causes more harm overall. The support offered by very local charities like the Aspirations Program, or by larger county-wide organisations like Open Road is critical to effective recovery. Both organisations employ professional staff, many with lived experience of addiction, but they also rely heavily on volunteers.

At the Open Road AGM we heard from Dame Carol Black, who recently authored a major report into addiction. Her well-evidenced, and well-received report makes clear that a major shift in treating addiction is needed so that it can be treated alongside the mental health problems so often associated with it. There is a need, too, for the full range of services needed by those in – or seeking – recovery to be more joined up, with someone locally held clearly accountable.

Dame Carol Black, the guest speaker at the well-attended Annual General Meeting of Open Road (phot Seana Hughes)

I have commented before on the crucial role of magistrates in our criminal justice system. More than 300 people in Essex volunteer as magistrates and between them hear more than 95% of all criminal trials. I had the privilege of sitting with His Honour Judge David Turner KC and the Deputy Lieutenant for Essex, Dr James Bettley JP, himself a magistrate, as Judge Turner heard nine new magistrates swear their judicial oath in Chelmsford Crown Court. It was encouraging to see a diverse group of people, swear their oaths that day. I would encourage anyone over the age of 18, who can work flexibly or find the time to give a minimum of 13 days a year to the role for 5 years, to find out more – and you can do so here.

Essex Police also makes great use of more than 1300 volunteers who include more than 400 Special Constables. These volunteers support a force that is now, or will very shortly be bigger, in terms of officers and staff than at any time in its history. I was delighted to join other guests for the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal awards, held together with the awards for long service staff and special constables. The evening was marked with mostly happy memories and stories from those receiving awards, though as always tinged with the hard reality that too often our police officers have to deal with the harms and tragedies that most of us are protected from. It is right that our police service is held to account – and to higher standards than apply to most of us; they do, after all, have exceptional powers. But my experience is that Essex Police is constantly striving to improve, in terms of diversity, culture and performance, within the constraints imposed by sometimes challenging legislation, political interference at a national level, and under the unrelenting and quite often unreasonable spotlight of social media.

Deputy Chief Constable Andy Prophet hosting the Long Service awards for Essex Police, the Special Constabulary and police staff

The first of my ‘Conversations on Justice’ was held at ARU with Dame Vera Baird DBE KC and Dr Theresa Redmond a Dawes Senior Research Fellow at PIER – the policing research institute. Focusing on whether we are achieving progress in tackling ‘Violence against Women and Girls’ it was a stimulating but sobering occasion. Dame Vera outlined a number of key challenges. She argued that the still muddled legislation around ‘Domestic Abuse’ is a block to progress. The 2015 legislation on controlling and coercive behaviour, which lies at the very heart of Domestic Abuse, has helped, but it remains complex and hard to implement. Some changes are in hand, but the complexity makes it difficult for the police to investigate who, as a result, tend to default to charging with easier to prove assault offences. Those, in reality, are a symptom of the controlling behaviour and so the underlying offending behaviour, even if recognised, goes unpunished. In addition to these challenges with the legislation and policing practices, Dame Vera also outlined concerns with the thresholds for prosecution imposed by the Crown Prosecution Service in some area of violence against women and girls, and particularly sexual offending.

Dame Vera Baird DBE KC and Dr Theresa Redmond join me at ARU Chelmsford for a ‘Conversation on Justice’

Dr Theresa Redmond shared findings from her research, much of which resulting from her working closely with the victims of sexual violence; hearing the words of victims is so important. She called for much more, and better structured education on healthy relationships in schools, taught by specialists. She has written passionately about the subject of violence against women and girls in a blog here. It is encouraging that in Essex, tackling violence against women and girls is a high priority in the Essex Police and Fire Commissioners Plan, and that Essex Police is adopting firm and imaginative approaches to dealing with offenders. However, the impact of such offending on victims, and the scale of the remaining challenges in addressing the problem was clear from the powerful discussion.

The next two Conversations on Justice are on 7 December at Essex University with Stephen Kavanagh QPM, the Executive Director of Policing Services at Interpol, and on 25 January at Chelmsford Cathedral with Bishop Guli Francis-Deqhani, the Bishop of Chelmsford. More details can be found via the links, where you can also book for these free events.

So the year rushes by – and now very quickly towards Christmas. I am today tackling many invitations to events of all sorts as we approach the end of the year and in particular the many Carol Services and concerts that will be held around the county. It will be a busy and hopefully joyous Christmas season though no doubt this year tinged with anxiety around the cost-of-living pressures that are affecting individuals and organisations alike. There has rarely been a greater need for generosity towards those in need.

Justice is still at the heart of a High Sheriff’s concerns

Like most High Sheriffs, much of my activity during the year involves visiting charities and voluntary groups across Essex that are serving their communities in many different ways. For example, in the past three weeks I have visited seven different groups working variously with young people, carers of all ages, those with addictions to drugs and alcohol, new arrivals to the UK, and a group of community first responders supporting the ambulance service. Most of these may be distant from the criminal justice system – but from a perspective of social justice, they are all making a difference, offering opportunities to those who otherwise would be denied them – or at best find them difficult to access.

Visiting ‘Welcome to the UK’ founded by Ilda Safa in Southend, with local MP Anna Firth and the Mayor Cllr Kevin Robinson and Mrs Robinson.

I have also continued a more traditional interest in the mainstream criminal justice system. I visited Chelmsford Prison for an afternoon to meet the chaplaincy team, which I learned is supported by 80 volunteers. I also met the probation and prison staff who work together to prepare prisoners for release – though this remains a difficult task in a prison where around 75% of all the men are on remand awaiting trial. Later that week I spent a day at Basildon Crown Court at the kind invitation of the Resident Judge, Her Honour Judge Leigh. I was impressed by the diligence, courtesy and care shown by all those involved in the trial and other hearings I witnessed, though a little disheartened to see a building so poorly maintained.

Basildon Crown Court

Then just last evening, it was joy to be a guest at the Essex Police annual Awards event. To hear the stories of the courageous, caring and determined work of officers, staff and volunteers was inspiring. At a time when there has been some justified criticism of the police in London and elsewhere, it was a timely reminder that the overwhelming majority of offices act with selflessness and dedication in the service of their communities. It was good, too, to see the growing diversity of our communities represented in Essex Police, and in those receiving awards.

Chief Constable BJ Harrington QPM introducing the Essex Police Awards evening.

Finally, last Sunday was the day of the annual Essex Justice Service. A previous High Sheriff, James Bettley who maintains this excellent website, wrote a post about it here. I was lucky to enjoy a lovely autumnal day and the company of the Honourable Mr Justice Cavanagh, many of our local judges and magistrates, the Lord Lieutenant, and the High Sheriffs of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. While there was much ancient tradition in the service, through more modern technology I can share it with you here.

The Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriffs, Judges, the Coroner and my chaplain at Chelmsford Crown Court before processing to the Cathedral.

Looking ahead, I am now preparing for the first of my ‘Conversations on Justice’ on 3 November at ARU in Chelmsford with Dame Vera Baird KC . Together with Dr Theresa Redmond of ARU we will be exploring whether, at last, as a society we are starting to tackle violence against women and girls and achieving justice for them more effectively. The event is free and open to the public and you can book here. Do join us.

A busy Autumn coming up

Following the excitement of the Jubilee and Summer holidays, then the sudden and sad death of our beloved Queen Elizabeth and her most fitting funeral, together with the accession ceremonies of King Charles III, I am now preparing for a busy autumn in a reflective mood.

The problems that we were worrying about a few weeks ago, sadly have not gone away and it could be a tough winter for many.

Signing the book of condolence at County Hall in Chelmsford before proclaiming the accession of King Charles III on 11 September.

I am planning a number of events, some traditional and some new. On Sunday 9 October at 3.30pm, I will be attending the annual Justice Service at Chelmsford Cathedral and I am delighted that two neighbouring High Sheriffs will be joining me for it.

Many of those involved in the criminal justice system in Essex and beyond will come together in a special service dating back many years. The annual assizes, when High Court Judges travelled from London to preside at major cases, used to be preceded by a church service, appealing to God to grant the judge and all those involved with the administration of justice, wisdom and humility in the conduct of cases, and guidance to arrive at a just and fair outcome.

The church may be less central to the lives of many today, but the sentiments remain just as important. If you would like to attend the service but have not been invited, some places may still be available. Please enquire at

Chelmsford Cathedral, where the annual Justice Service will be held on Sunday 9 October at 3.30pm

The administration of justice remains a key concern for High Sheriffs, though we no longer have a formal role. To promote general interest in relevant topics I am delighted that friends at ARU in Chelmsford, Essex University in Colchester, and Chelmsford Cathedral have helped me arrange three evening ‘Conversations on Justice with the High Sheriff’.

Dame Vera Baird KC – Guest speaker at the first of my ‘Conversations on Justice, at ARU on 3 November.

The first is on 3 November at ARU in Chelmsford when I will be delighted to welcome Dame Vera Baird KC, the Victims Commissioner for England and Wales to discuss ‘Progress in tackling violence against women and girls’. We will be joined by Dr Theresa Redmond an ARU researcher in this important field. The event starts at 6:30pm and is open to all. You can book for this free event at Eventbrite here.

On 7 December, the former Chief Constable of Essex, Stephen Kavanagh QPM visits from Interpol, where he is Executive Director of Policing Services, to explore ‘We are all in it together – crime, safety and justice in an increasingly fractured world’.  He and I will be joined this time by Dr Kat Hadjimatheu from Essex University, which is kindly hosting the event, for what should be a fascinating evening. Booking for this free event will open shortly. The third and final session will be at Chelmsford Cathedral on 25 January when the Right Reverend Bishop Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani explores with me and local experts the subject of ‘Housing is a justice issue’.  At a time when many of us follow topics through the snippets in social media, or through rolling news updates, please join us for a more relaxed discussion of these interesting and important topics, with a chance to ask questions and join the debate. Eventbrite links to book a space at these events will follow.

My third strand of activity this autumn is to help promote music events where, in addition to an evening of good music, the role of local charities can be highlighted. On 15 October I will be attending the Southend Symphony Orchestra concert in Hadleigh where Essex Community Foundation will be featured. Then on 8 November I plan to attend the Stondon Singers concert in Galleywood which will be promoting CHESS, the Chelmsford based organisation supporting the homeless, and on the 19 November I hope to attend a concert by Chelmsford Singers, with more to follow in December.

Do please follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for more for more details of these concerts where I am thanking the concert organisers and the charities for all they contribute to the wellbeing of our communities across Essex.

Finally, on Saturday the 26 November I am organising a fundraising concert featuring friends who sing as ‘Essex Voices’. It is at Layer Marney church, preceded by a reception by kind permission of Nick and Sheila Charrington. The concert is in aid of the Essex High Sheriffs’ Fund at Essex Community Foundation  (registered charity 1052061) which supports groups across Essex working to make their communities safer.

The magnificent Layer Marney Tower photographed by former Essex Police officer Matthew Mallett

Invitations to this lovely evening will issue very shortly but if you would like to attend, please get in touch through

I have a feeling that the next few months will pass even more quickly than the last few. I hope you will follow me through these blogs to share my journey as I continue to experience our remarkable county.

It’s holiday time!

Beach huts at Walton-on-the-Naze on a sparkling summer day. A photo by Matt Mallett from my book on the 25 years of the Essex High Sheriffs’ Fund with Essex Community Foundation.

Many of us, including me, will be enjoying time off in August to spend on holiday, perhaps with family and friends. It can be an important time for reflection and renewal, and I have been reflecting on my first four months as High Sheriff.

The first reflection is that the time has simply flown by, as former High Sheriffs warned me it would. More than a third of my time as High Sheriff has already passed. It has seen me visit most corners of the county for a range of purposes. Visits to charities in Thurrock, Southend, Colchester, Clacton, the Dengie, Billericay, Chelmsford, Braintree, Harlow and many more. I’ve met the military in Colchester and Wimbish and enjoyed concerts including those I am promoting that are supporting local charities in Maldon, Great Waltham and Waltham Abbey. I have also visited schools and colleges to judge competitions and speak about my role.

I’ve been to the new Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance base at North Weald, and to one of our main ambulance stations. The focus for me, however, has properly been on those involved in the criminal justice system.

I have sat with a Judge in the Crown Court on the opening day of a murder trial, met with our senior Family Court Judge and our Tribunal Judges, and visited two of our Magistrates Courts and the teams who administer them. Essex Police have been welcoming and I have met those running the varied volunteer programmes within policing, as well as teams tackling rural crime and those targeting the most serious of the domestic abuse perpetrators across our county.

Presenting the High Sheriffs’ Probation Service award to Sue Taylor

Within the criminal justice arena I have made good contacts with the Probation Service and with the Essex Youth Offending Service. The Probation Service invited me to present their annual awards at a lovely ceremony – the first time it has been held for 3 years. I also joined an ‘unpaid work’ team to understand the value of that both as a punishment and to the communities where the work is carried out. I have enjoyed connecting the Probation Service with groups which might offer additional unpaid work opportunities.

The most rewarding part of the role has to be the visits to charities and voluntary groups working with young people and others with additional needs of all sorts. Over the past two weeks during this worryingly hot summer, I have seen holiday activities in full swing. Some of these are open to anyone and are organised by groups to help fund their charitable activities. Others are especially for those who otherwise would not be able to enjoy a holiday at all.

Some of the team at the holiday club run by UTurn4Support in Clacton-on-sea

But the demand on the charitable and voluntary sector – for volunteers and funds – to support those in need, especially at holiday time, is great. My theme for the year is volunteering and if you have ever thought of volunteering, or perhaps are now considering it for the first time, please do find out how you can help. Help of many sorts is required: as a front line worker; perhaps helping with administration of a group; or offering your skills as a Trustee. There are just so many opportunities, and there has never been a more important time to step forward, as we can be sure the next couple of years will be tough for many people. Your local CVS should be able to point you to volunteering opportunities in your area and there is a Volunteer Essex website that you can refer to.

The other great need, of course, is for funds. Over the years, successive High Sheriffs have build up a fund that offers sustainable funding to groups across Essex that are seeking in many different ways to make their communities safer, often by caring for those who otherwise would be at the mercy of criminal gangs. All monies raised by the High Sheriff are matched by Essex Police, with £1 for every £2 raised, from the monies recovered from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act. How satisfying is that?

Bids for grants are invited each year and awarded by a panel including former High Sheriffs, Essex Police, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, and local authorities.

The striking front cover of the book I have edited on the Essex High Sheriffs’ Fund

You can donate to the Essex High Sheriffs Fund here. I would also be delighted to post a copy of my book about the Fund, which contains more than 40 wonderful new photographs of Essex taken by Matthew Mallett, as well as chapters about Essex, Essex Community Foundation, the Fund, Volunteering and the High Sheriff! There is also a fascinating chapter on Police Crime Scene Investigation and ‘The Essex Camera’. What was that?

Order a copy of the book to find out – available in return for the ‘promise’ of a donation to the fund, by emailing with your name and address.

It is a real privilege to be High Sheriff, and I am looking forward to the rest of my year. Please now enjoy the rest of the summer, taking care in the continuing heat. Let’s also keep in mind those who are not in a position to enjoy a holiday – and those whose voluntary and charitable work supports them throughout the year. They need our support.

Volunteering and Partnership

Exploring and encouraging Volunteering is the main theme for my year as High Sheriff. Over the past few weeks I have seen at first hand how volunteers, of many different sorts, are essential not only to the effective operation of the criminal justice system, but also to helping in organisations that encourage young people and others lead fulfilling lives, and to enriching the life of our communities.

The hugely successful, Essex Police organised, ‘Community Goals’ football tournament at Great Baddow on 9 July supported by Chelmsford City players and many others, volunteering their time.

Just a couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of spending a day visiting the magistrates courts in Colchester and Chelmsford. Magistrates deal with over 95% of all criminal cases but it is easy to forget that they are all volunteers, giving typically a couple of days a month to their court duties. They are well supported by the professional staff of HM Courts and Tribunal Service, and this partnership between well trained volunteers and professionals within the statutory or community and voluntary sector is replicated in many parts of the criminal justice system and beyond. If you are interested in finding out about becoming a magistrate you can do so here.

On a visit to St Mary’s Church Kelvedon I was able to see the excellent ‘unpaid work’ being carried out by ‘People on Probation’ (POPs) under the experienced supervision of Probation Officers. The POPs are welcomed by church volunteers who ensure the right work gets done!

Last week I was briefed by the team that draws together all those who volunteer with Essex Police to help make our communities safer. These volunteers total nearly 1500 and range from very experienced members of the Special Constabulary, to youngsters who have recently joined the Volunteer Police Cadets. All around the county, there are Active Citizens and Police Support Volunteers and others giving their time to help make their communities safer. You can read more about the work of volunteers within Essex Police here.

Without effective partnership and coordination, however, there is always a risk some of this effort would be wasted. I have been pleased to see those partnerships at work as I attended the meetings of community safety partnerships in a number of districts. I also joined a conference to share learning from the development of community safety hubs. In most districts across Essex, these now bring together many of the different agencies that need to work closely to deliver safer communities. Many of those hubs host regular meetings where local charitable and voluntary sector organisations can contribute both to identifying local problems and, working together, to finding and implementing solutions.

At the Beehive in Thurrock, many local community and voluntary sector groups are co-located; an efficient accommodation solution and one that allows for easy partnership working.

On a visit to Thurrock, I visited the Foodbank at Corringham, and KidEco and Baby Bank at Lakeside, each meeting essential needs of those facing financial hardship. I went on to The Hive, the HQ of Thurrock CVS (Community and Voluntary Services). It was heartening to learn how the CVS encourages both volunteering and partnership working across all the organisations it supports. I was reminded that within the charitable and community sectors there are not only volunteers, but also many highly skilled professionals delivering badly needed and expert services, often commissioned by, and working closely with statutory services.

Abberton Rural Training in full swing (building a new pond among other tasks) where I was delighted to present a High Sheriff’s Certificate to Joe, now a staff member, who has done much to support those, who like him, live with Autism.

I so enjoyed a visit to Abberton Rural Training at Wormingford, which offers a variety of learning opportunities, in a rural setting, to those struggling in many different ways with their mental health or having additional learning needs. This blending of expert professional and volunteering effort within a charity, to meet what would otherwise unmet needs, is deeply impressive.

So too – in a completely different context is the work of the Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance Trust (EHAAT). I visited their North Weald base last week, appropriately with Sally Burton DL, the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire. EHAAT is a charity raising all the funds needed to keep the two helicopters and fleet of specialist road response vehicles operational with crews and doctors. The NHS fund the expert paramedics who work on the crews. Those paramedics also work shifts in the ambulance control room, providing essential coordination between EHAAT, the ambulance service and hospitals. This ensures that those critically injured in our counties get the best help as quickly as possible, and are then moved to where they can best be treated. The voluntary support needed to sustain this highly professional, hi-tec emergency service, working hand in glove with our NHS, is similarly remarkable.

NHS paramedics work not only on the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance helicopters and response vehicles alongside doctors, but also at the Ambulance control room, triaging calls. Here is the Hi-tec simulation suite at the North Weald base where they can practise both on the ground patient care (here in a night club setting), and, in a separate space, continuation care on the helicopter – complete with the noise!

It is a huge privilege as High Sheriff to be able to visit these many different organisations and to learn about, and witness, the remarkable work they do for those in need across our county and to enrich the lives of our communities. Partnership working between them is always important, but the more so when resources everywhere are being squeezed. And I haven’t yet met an organisation that doesn’t need more volunteers: to train as a magistrate or a police support volunteer; or to work in the many charities helping those in need; or in their governance as a Trustee; or as a fundraiser. If you can find a few hours a week – or a day or two a month, perhaps supported by your employer, why not explore the many options?


June has been a busy month of celebration. The Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen has been a constant and joyous theme, but interspersed with this have been celebrations with several Essex based charities. Over the past week the celebrations continued as our armed forces moved onto the stage during Armed Forces Week.

Our Lord Lieutenant commenced the Jubilee celebrations with a service at Chelmsford Cathedral, attended by dignitaries from around the county. Red, white and blue flowers added to the occasion which was enjoyed by all those present and broadcast on the Cathedral’s Facebook channel. You can still watch it on You Tube here.

The Cathedral celebration was closely followed by a magnificent ceremony at Castle Park in Colchester where the guns of 7th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery fired a 42 Gun Salute to mark the Jubilee. Such a salute is a rare occasion and we are lucky that the event was hosted in our county by a resident Regiment, part of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team.

The same evening I joined the Mayor of Chelmsford and many hundreds of Chelmsford residents for the lighting of the Jubilee Beacon at Oaklands Park. The Chelmsford Singers sang – and Jonathan Swan played the specially commissioned piece for the Bagpipes. It was altogether a very special evening.

Jubilee services were held at churches around the county as, town by town, people came together as they have for centuries, to celebrate a very happy Royal occasion. I attended several including one at one of our finest churches, St Mary’s in Saffron Walden – one of the great ‘wool churches’ largely built in the 15th and 16th centuries funded by the wealth of the Essex wool trade. You can read a history of the church here.

The Vice Lord Lieutenant, the Mayor and Town Clerk of Saffron Walden, and me, with partners together with the Macebearer at St Mary’s Church

During the month I was also pleased to attend several happy celebrations with Essex organisations, though sadly I missed joining Keep It 100 and ECVYS for their evening events as I was under the weather for a few days. It is hard to pick highlights, but Chelmsford CVS organised a very successful Volunteer Festival in the High Street; Lads need Dads held a terrific awards event at Princes Theatre in Clacton-on-Sea; and North Avenue Youth Centre in Chelmsford held their AGM and lovely awards ceremony followed by a barbeque that we all enjoyed. The charity and voluntary sectors contribute so much to community life and it right that we celebrate with them as they transform lives.

Enjoying the barbeque after the North Avenue Youth Centre AGM

Celebrations at the end of the month didn’t let up as Essex Police held a long service awards evening, and the county celebrated Armed Forces Week, the more special this year because of the Jubilee. Towns raised flags to mark a local Armed Forces day, and our Essex based military units organised events, with the 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team putting on a spectacular show on Abbey Fields in Colchester. Essex is also proud to host the Royal Engineers at Carver Barracks in Wimbish. I was honoured to be invited to take the salute at the Jubilee Parade of 35 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search) and to present their Jubilee Medals. After the constraints imposed by COVID19, celebrating in such a way felt very special indeed.

As this month of celebration draws to a close, there is much to reflect on: the 70 years of faithful service of her Majesty the Queen: the loyal and brave commitment of our police and armed forces: and around Essex, day by day, the work of many voluntary and community organisations. Their employees and volunteers work tirelessly, seeking to make communities safer and more caring places. I have been deeply impressed by those I have already met, and now look forward to meeting many more during the summer and autumn.

There truly is so much to celebrate.