While I knew that Mike Fuller became the first black chief constable in 2004, it seems that I was wrong to believe that Norwell Roberts , who joined the Metropolitan Police in 1966, was not the UK’s first black police officer.
Today’s Independent carries an interesting story: it transpires that the first black police officer was John Kent, who worked in Carlisle from 1837. He was the son of, Thomas Kent, who was brought to work on the estate of a Cumberland landowner returning from duty with the colonial civil service in the West Indies.
Bob Lowther, a former detective superintendent who has researched the history of the old Carlisle City Constabulary, traced Mr Kent through police records. He first appears as a, "supernumerary constable'' or probationer, joining on 17 August 1837. He was made a permanent constable on 26 October. In 1841, he was in the thick of the action when a constable was murdered by a blow to the head as an election crowd got out of hand in the city centre and overwhelmed the Chief Constable and about eight of his officers. It is recorded that PC Kent gave evidence against the accused at Carlisle Assizes.
Sadly PC Kent's career did not end on a high note: he was sacked after just seven years with the Carlisle constabulary for being drunk on duty - a common occurrence among officers at the time. A lack of clean drinking water in the city is often blamed for excessive beer consumption. "He had reported late for duty two or three times," said Mr Lowther. "I don't know if drink had anything to do with that, but the force had had a new chief constable who had posted notices saying that anybody found drunk could expect severe punishment. On 6 December he came in intoxicated, so he was taken before the watch committee." The young officer was duly disciplined and his services were dispensed with on 12 December 1844.
The National Black Police Association (NBPA) attaches huge significance to the discovery of his career, which it says is totally unexpected. "The significance is that while we had people of colour joining that far back" said David McFarlane, NBPA's national co-ordinator. "A lot of people are under the misapprehension that black people only arrived here during the Windrush years (the 1940s and 1950s), or when the Asians came in the 1970s, but people of colour have been in this country for centuries.”
Norwell Roberts, joined the Metropolitan Police in 1966. (on the same day as former Met Commissioner Paul Condon), rose to the rank of Detective Sergeant and received the Queens Police Medal in recognition of 30 years distinguished service
black history police