‘We used to trick colleagues into jumping into Whitestone Pond’ says Camden’s oldest policeman
With the borough’s oldest bobby set to hand in his baton and historic Hampstead Police Station on the brink of closure, it seems like the end of an era for police in the village.
Aged 55, Sgt Phil Hewetson is considered long in the tooth in the Met and will retire next week.
He is probably one of the few remaining officers who can recall Hampstead as a fully functioning police centre and remembers bringing in prisoners to the cells and giving evidence in the old magistrates’ court next door.
In his office in the cottage next to the Grade II listed police station, the 6ft 7in sergeant reminisced about the happy days of high jinks and camaraderie after he had followed his brother into the force.
“We used play this trick on probation officers when they came out with us on nights,” he said. “We drove up to Whitestone Pond and said it’s time for a kip and when they dropped off we would move the van so it would back onto the pond.
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“Then we would shout ‘suspects, suspects!’ and pile out and they would go straight into the water.”
Nicknamed “Opium” by colleagues for being a “slow working dope”, Phil has skippered both Frognal and Hampstead neighbourhood policing teams.
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Phil, who has been based in Hampstead for seven years, said he will miss its people.
Police station campaigners joked at a recent meeting that if the station was sold they would buy the cottage next door as a retirement present for Phil.
“I’m impressed by how strongly the public feel about the police station and keeping a police presence in Hampstead,” said Phil, who will leave his post next Wednesday.
“If you upset them I can imagine life would be hell. They might get straight onto the commissioner. But they have always been supportive of local officers on the street.”
When he first joined the force he remembers a fellow officer being called to a job in Heath Street.
When his colleague arrived a member of household staff appeared with drinks on a silver platter.
“He said something like ‘the lady of the house would like to offer you some refreshment’,” said Phil. “If you got that in Kentish Town you would think someone might have done something to it.”
After 30 years, during which he has policed the Wapping dispute, the Broadwater Farm riot, the miners’ strike, the Poll Tax riots and last year’s London riots, Phil will not be sad to call time on his career.
“We were less tied up in bureaucracy to be honest,” he said of the old days.
“Now they say they are going to cut bureaucracy and then introduce a form saying how they are going to do it.”