Reflecting on a career packed with incident and breaking glass ceilings

Sue Sim, then Acting Chief Constable, surrounded by the media in rothbury during the hunt for Raoul Moat in July, 2010.
Sue Sim, then Acting Chief Constable, surrounded by the media in rothbury during the hunt for Raoul Moat in July, 2010.

From leading a major manhunt for a crazed killer to being investigated over misconduct claims – Sue Sim’s time at Northumbria Police was not without incident.

The veteran ex-chief, who retired yesterday with three decades of experience under her belt, certainly made a name for herself.

Raoul Moat incident Monday July 12.'Members of the police Marine Unit cross the stepping stones.

Raoul Moat incident Monday July 12.'Members of the police Marine Unit cross the stepping stones.

Her stint at Northumbria Police, which began in 2004 after a 19-year spell on Merseyside, was very much a roller coaster ride.

Mrs Sim’s appointment as the Force’s Chief Constable in 2011 was a historic moment – she was the first woman to be selected to lead a Metropolitan force.

But on the other side of the coin, she was recently directed to apologise to staff for upsetting them after her management style was criticised in an independent investigation.

By her own admission, she has faced several challenges. But there is one that stands out – the role she played in the manhunt for Raoul Moat, who fired at his ex-girlfriend, shot one of Mrs Sim’s officers and murdered Christopher Brown.

During this time she fronted public appeals to locate the killer and became the face of the police response, during which officers were warned they were targets.

The fugitive’s reign of terror, which spanned a week in July 2010 as he went into hiding after the shootings, forced her, the Force and the quiet village of Rothbury into the international limelight.

The incident, which ended when Moat killed himself after a six-hour stand-off with police on the banks of the River Coquet, will remain long in her memory.

Mrs Sim, who was Acting Chief Constable at the time, said: “That was one of the most challenging times of my career and the largest manhunt the country has seen for 44 years.

“I had to lead the operation. One of our own, PC David Rathband, had been shot by Raoul Moat, we had to make sure our communities were safe and there was a lot of media interest, all while this critical operation was going on.”

Despite the challenge of the Moat manhunt, Mrs Sim believes a lot of lessons were learnt from that week in July and emphasised the importance of neighbourhood policing.

She said: “It was a very unfortunate thing to happen, but if ever there was a place for it to happen, then Rothbury was it, because of the extraordinary support we received from the locals.

“If there was one positive to come out of the Moat manhunt, then it was that neighbourhood policing – placing communities at the centre of the operation – was the way to go.

“It absolutely fuelled my passion and commitment to delivering neighbourhood policing and it was a demonstration of neighbourhood policing at its very best and helped us deliver the outcome that we did. Indeed, it was a member of the public who spotted Raoul Moat for us.

“The thing that remains with me more than anything is the absolute support that we received from the people of Rothbury and the surrounding communities. They have a special place in my heart and I can’t thank them enough.

“That partnership, between communities and the police, is so important and you need that to deliver brilliant policing. It is what communities deserve and I hope that will go forward in the future.”

The Moat manhunt was a major chapter in her policing story, which began in the 1980s.

In 1985, she joined Merseyside Police as a graduate entrant, progressing through the ranks in both uniform and CID roles.

She came to Northumbria in 2004 as an Assistant Chief Constable and was promoted to Deputy Chief Constable in 2008. Traditionally, a senior officer can only hold two chief officer posts in one Force. However, the Police Authority’s determination to keep her in the Force led to the unprecedented decision to request special permission from the Home Secretary to allow Mrs Sim to apply for the position of Chief.

Then came her historic appointment in 2011 as Chief Constable – a role she held until her retirement.

Mrs Sim also led the Association of Chief Police Officers’ public order portfolio for a number of years, where she provided strategic advice at a national level. In 2009, she was honoured with the Queen’s Police Medal and then became Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear in 2014.

But, recent misconduct claims threatened to overshadow her distinguished career. While an independent investigation found she had no case to answer on breaching police standards, it levelled criticism at her management style and she was directed by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Vera Baird to apologise to two officers.

And had she not been retiring, Mrs Sim would have been required to undergo retraining for her management style.

Mrs Sim said: “Leading any organisation, particularly one like Northumbria Police, is very demanding and difficult decisions have to be made and sometimes not everybody agrees with them.

“I did shout at people, but it was never personal and it was often born out of frustration.

“It was always about work-related issues and as a result of the significant challenges we faced. It was never my intention to cause any upset and, if I did, then obviously I apologise wholeheartedly. I have always supported my officers fully whenever they have faced work-related or personal difficulties.

“Of course, I was saddened that some senior members of the organisation chose to act in this manner and I raised my concerns with the PCC in respect of the motivations and intent of some of those involved in making complaints against me.”

A major pressure that faced Mrs Sim was managing a 37 per cent reduction in Northumbria’s budget over the course of the last Parliament – amounting to a total of £117million.

Despite this, she said she remained determined to retaining visible policing in communities and to minimising the number of compulsory redundancies for police staff.

She said: “We made savings wherever we could, closed outdated buildings and relocated our teams into the heart of our communities, as well as reducing to three Area Commands.

“I know this meant some unpopular decisions but that is what leadership is about and I have never shirked away from those decisions.”

Mrs Sim believes her legacy includes her work with communities and listening to her staff.

She said: “I am absolutely looking forward to my retirement with my family. I have had an absolutely fantastic career with Merseyside and Northumbria. It was a difficult decision for me to make, because policing has been my job for 30 years and I am very passionate about it. But it was the right time to move on. I would like to thank everybody who has helped and supported me throughout my career.”