Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Lord Stevens, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police

'I kept failing my exams'
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The Independent Online

I failed the exams at Hendon Police Training College twice, and would have been thrown out of the force if I'd failed a third time. I had to get up very early in the morning to put in the extra effort and learn police procedure - what to do when you stop someone in the street, and so on - word for word. Later, the exams for being a detective were not a problem, but I had to take the sergeant's exam four times, finally coming in the first 50 out of thousands of candidates.

The teachers were very strict at all the schools I went to; you certainly didn't take any chances with them! My primary school was in Tooting Bec, London, and then, at six, I was briefly at another primary school when we moved to North Wales. At six and three-quarters, it was a severe shock to be sent off to a prep school in Sussex where the regime was spartan and there was a lot of bullying and unpleasantness, not least from the teachers. After a year, my parents took me away. At seven, I went to Heathfield House, also in Sussex, which was a good school. I was head boy, a zone of responsibility that was very enjoyable.

When I was 12, my father took me to Lancing College for an interview. He owned a private airline, BKS, which, in its heyday, carried a million passengers a year, and we turned up in his spanking new Jag. After a bit of chat with me about Latin, the headmaster turned to him and said, "And what do you do, Mr Stevens?". My father replied, casually, "Oh, I work at Heathrow airport". I could see the headmaster thinking, "This is some crafty loader who works at the airport and somehow he's acquired a Jaguar...". I never got into Lancing!

At 13, however, taken to the interview by my headmaster instead of my father, I was accepted at St Lawrence College, a minor public school in Ramsgate. I had a great time there. I was in the rugby first XV, but my passion was the Cadet Force. I was in charge and I started up its band.

I only got three O-levels at my first attempt, then got a total of seven. I had to take maths O-level three times; I needed it because I wanted to be a pilot and it's important for flying. (I finally abandoned hopes of a flying career because of an eye problem, which later disappeared.)

I joined the police when I was just short of my 20th birthday. At 35, I got a police scholarship to read law at Leicester University. At first it was a bit frightening; if you failed any exams, you were out, and, in my case, the money provided by the police would have been wasted. The teaching was excellent and university allowed me some quality time with the family; being a career detective, I hadn't seen much of them. I got a 2.2 and later did a part-time Masters at Southampton University on the philosophy of law. This took three years. I was then Assistant Chief Constable in Hampshire. It was very hard work. I taught at Bramshill Police College, and afterwards did a five-month stint as Visiting Professor of Criminal Justice at City University in New York.

I've just finished taking more exams, for the instrument rating of the commercial pilot's licence, which allows me to fly my (shared) twin-engine aircraft into any airport in bad weather conditions. No, I'm not going to be a commercial pilot!

jonty@jonathansale.com

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