Sislin Fay Allen: Britain’s first black policewoman

At the age of 29, Sislin Fay Allen put on the uniform for the first time and paved the way for women and ethnic minorities

Anthony Hayward
Thursday 15 July 2021 10:27
<p>Allen in 1968</p>

Allen in 1968

Sislin Fay Allen, who has died aged 83, was Britain’s first black female police officer, joining the Met in 1968 at the age of 29, when she proudly put on the cape that was part of a new uniform designed by Norman Hartnell.

As part of the Windrush generation, she’d arrived in Britain from Jamaica six years earlier and had been working as a nurse at Queen’s Road Hospital, Croydon, until looking for a change of career.

“On the selection day, there were so many people there,” Allen recalled. “The hall was filled with the young men. There were 10 women and I was the only black person.”

She passed the interview and, on joining, initially lived in the police section house at Peel House, Pimlico, while attending the Met’s training school (before it moved to Hendon). After 13 weeks’ training, she was posted to Fell Road police station, Croydon.

“On the day I joined, I nearly broke a leg trying to run away from reporters,” Allen told Black History Month Magazine in 2015. “I realised then that I was a history-maker, but I didn’t set out to make history – I just wanted a change of direction.”

Within months, Allen was considering whether she had made the right decision, after receiving hate mail from the public and some hostility from fellow officers.

“Many white people have congratulated me on joining the police,” she said at the time. “But, for every nice letter, there have been others full of abuse. They are all from white people and they say things like, ‘get out, black,’ and, ‘stay out of the police, n*****.’”

Her training also coincided with Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech warning against further immigration from the Commonwealth at a time of racial tension.

Finally, in 1972, after four years’ service – including stints at Scotland Yard’s Missing Persons Unit and Norbury police station – Allen returned to her Caribbean homeland with her husband and two children but continued working as a police officer in the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

“I discovered doing the job [became] very troublesome again right here,” she said later when interviewed at her home on the island. “There has at all times been a stigma hooked up to the police – individuals have their very own concepts, however all of that’s not warranted.”

Allen and fellow trainee policewoman Carolyn Marriage learn how to deal with a motorcycle accident

Nevertheless, her legacy in Britain was marked in 2020, when Allen received a lifetime achievement award from the National Black Police Association.

Sislin Fay Allen was born in St Catherine, Jamaica, in 1938, the second-youngest of 10 children.

When she was 13, her mother died and she was brought up by an aunt who was a judge. On leaving school, Allen spent six years caring for her ill father until his death in 1962, the year in which Jamaica received its independence – and she emigrated to Britain, whose government was advertising to fill a shortage of nurses.

She worked as a geriatric nurse at Queen’s Road Hospital, but had always held the ambition of joining the police. During a lunch break, she was reading the Daily Mirror and saw an advertisement for officers.

On filling in an application form, Allen wanted to ensure the fact of her colour was known before she was called for an interview. “I penned at the bottom of it that I was a black woman,” she said.

Allen joined a year after Norwell Roberts had become Britain’s first black male police officer since the 19th century, when John Kent, the son of an enslaved Caribbean, served as a constable in the north of England.

On her return to Jamaica, she received a congratulatory welcome letter from Michael Manley, the country’s prime minister at the time.

Allen moved back to Britain to live in south London in retirement but later returned to Jamaica, seeing out her final years in St Ann, overlooking the northern port resort of Ocho Rios.

In 2019, 100 years after the first female police officer joined the Met, Allen’s photograph was featured on London underground posters as part of a campaign launched by Cressida Dick – its first female commissioner – to encourage more women, especially from ethnic minorities, to join the force.

Allen is survived by her daughters, Paula and Lorna.

Sislin Fay Allen, police officer, born March 1938, died 5 July 2021