Phillip King | Middlesex University London
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Phillip King

Phillip King

Police Development Consultant in developing/post conflict countries; former Detective Superintendent, Special Branch, The Metropolitan Police

BA Criminology and the Sociology of Deviance, 1994


What made you choose Middlesex University and made you apply for your course?

At the time, I had just been promoted to Detective Inspector in the Metropolitan Police and while on a promotion course was tutored by one of your alumni, another Police Officer. He had completed what was then the BA Social Sciences degree and all of the main subject areas not only seemed germane to my occupation but also offered an opportunity to explore the wider aspects of the social interaction between the police and the public, etc. My brother had also attended Middlesex Polytechnic, as it then was in the 70's, to study Electronic Engineering so it seemed a natural choice to apply to Middlesex.

I was also aware that at the time I was considering studying, the opportunities for advancement within the Police Service were narrowing and serving officers who had expanded their knowledge through courses such as that on offer at Middlesex, were much more likely to find themselves being afforded opportunities for promotion.

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

Interestingly, the subject areas that touched most upon policing were the least interesting to me. I found modules in Moral and Political Philosophy far more enjoyable.

Had I had the time left, I would have considered doing another course specialising in Philosophy, difficult though I sometimes found it.

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

As a part-time student I rarely had the time to interact with the full-time students, except for the one afternoon/evening a week. I do however fondly remember smoky evenings (pre Health and Safety) in the SU Bar and sitting on the grass outside in the summer with others discussing the course and their workplace experiences.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

Part-timers have their own reasons for undertaking the courses offered and are driven mostly by a desire for self-improvement or a calculated decision to use study to enhance their future career prospects. I think that will always continue.

For full-timers who have just left sixth form, university is seen almost as a transition before entering the jobs market. My advice to this group of students would be to keep that thought at the back of your mind. At the forefront of your mind should be an understanding that a university education in itself will make you a more well-rounded person and open your mind to possibilities that you would never have been aware of previously.

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you to get where you are professionally today?

Following on from my BA I enrolled on to the MA (Modern Social History) a year later. By that time, I had been promoted to Detective Chief Inspector and was a Senior Investigating Officer dealing with Murder Inquiries in North West and North London.

Unfortunately the workload as an SIO left me with no study time and I had to withdraw after the first year, something I regret having to do even now - some 15 years later.

However I think that the course helped me intellectually but perhaps more importantly, to recognise myself for whom I actually was. I found myself then being something of a 'what you see is what you get' and strangely promotions seemed even easier to achieve.

Having retired from the Metropolitan Police in 2004 as a Detective Superintendent in Special Branch, I have been working as a Consultant on Policing/Security/Police Development and have worked for DfiD, The British Council and others in Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Moldova, Romania.

From 2010 until June 2013 I worked on the Al Sweady Public Inquiry in Iraq, Istanbul and Beirut identifying witnesses and facilitating the presentation of their evidence to the Inquiry. Since August 2013 I have been employed as a Police Adviser to the Government of South Sudan, working in the town of Rumbek. The Safety and Access to Justice Programme exists to help raise the standards and conditions of Police within newly democratic societies.

Without the wider knowledge of society I gained through the course, I would not have been prepared for the challenge that working in such difficult and hostile environments holds. Equally, without a formal qualification I feel those selecting people for this type of work would have overlooked me.

What made you choose the industry you work in, what are its pros and cons and how did you get your foot on the career ladder?

In the early 1970s as a less than academic pupil (4 O Levels and 1 A level) there were still ample jobs. Joining the Police Force was the one that attracted my attention, not for any reason other than their then recruiting slogan 'Dull it isn't'. Once in, I was hooked and never looked outside.

Vast changes occurred during my service, not always for the better, but you have to learn to roll with the punches. After leaving Warwick University (BA Sociology), my daughter tried a couple of management trainee roles that promised much and gave little.

She then joined the Police and is now a detective in North West London. I have to say her conditions seem a lot harsher than in my time, but they seem as committed as we ever were. I find the development work that I have been engaged in for the past 9 years extremely challenging, often frustrating, and always physically demanding.

By their very definition, developing countries are short on comforts and you have to be prepared to live in some Spartan conditions with no access to healthcare. Those, together with the often volatile security situation, mean it is not everybody's cup of tea (you have to learn to love rice as well or starve). Despite all its challenges, it is immensely rewarding, though often not in the short term. In particular, it is really rewarding to feel that your efforts can help change the working lives and accountability of security personnel, and also to bring them closer to the community that they serve.

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

Perhaps I've always been lucky in some ways as there are too many to list. There is no doubt in my mind though that obtaining the academic qualification from Middlesex and, just as importantly, being taught to apply an analytical mind to the strategic and operational decisions I was required to make was something of a breakthrough.

At the time, the Police Service was actively looking to educate and promote officers they saw as offering something different to the debate around democratic and accountable policing. Without exposure to such ideas at Middlesex, I would almost certainly been one of the 'also ran's'.

What does the future hold for you?

I had expected to retire, enjoy grandchildren and my police pension, however immediately after I had retired I was coerced by one of my senior officers to 'do a short job' as a favour to DfID in Sierra Leone, which had just come out of a bloody civil war.

I finished that work some three years later and have happily continued working in post conflict/developing countries ever since. I will be working here in South Sudan (but only for five to six weeks at a time) until sometime in late 2014.

It remains to be seen whether I can resist the lure again. With calls for assistance in Libya, Somaliland and others, there are always opportunities. Come back to me in 2014 and I'll let you know if my wife has allowed me to spread my wings again!

What are the top three career tips you would give to current students and recent graduates?

While employment opportunities may seem limited at present, good times will roll around again. When choosing a career or chasing a particular job, be who you are .You will find that employers will be more open to those who display an open and honest character and who do not attempt to overinflate their capabilities.

Do not be afraid to accept that sometimes in your career you may feel as if you have peaked. Recognition of this can free you immensely and leave you able to give your job your best without concerning yourself about further advancement. You will be surprised how this sometimes brings about recognition and unexpected promotion.

It's an old cliché but always be kind to people on the way up as you will surely meet them again on the way down. People need leaders, not managers and the best way to do that is to inspire by example and show empathy to those who work with you.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

It's fine to study in your youth but don't think of it as a one-off rite of passage. Come back to it in later years and discover just how relevant it can be personally and professionally.

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