'Immensely proud' Met's first Black police officer returns to Camden school

DS Norwell Roberts QPM

DS Norwell Roberts QPM - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

Sixty years after leaving his Chalk Farm school, London's first Black police officer returned to meet a new generation of youngsters.

Det Serg Norwell Roberts QPM returned to Haverstock School on Thursday (July 7).

The 77-year-old has penned a memoir I Am Norwell Roberts, charting the racial torment and abuse he endured coming to the UK from Anguilla aged 10, two years after his mother, who arrived on HMS Windrush in 1954.

DS Norwell Roberts QPM with Haverstock School pupils Shania Leurs and Joven Suyat

DS Norwell Roberts QPM with Haverstock School pupils Shania Leurs and Joven Suyat - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

"The reason I wrote the book is I wanted to show how a poor Black boy who came from nothing, who came to the country aged 10 and then 11 years later became London's first black policeman – and that anything is achievable and if I can do it, certainly anybody else can. Simple as that."

Norwell first encountered violence while at his Secondary Modern school in Bromley, Kent, where sixth formers "dropped me on my head to see what colour my blood was". The physical scar remains on his forehead.

In 1960 his family moved to Camden and he started at Haverstock.

"When I got here I was surprised to see so many Black faces and Asian faces," he said. "I’d never seen that before."

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He "didn't dare" misbehave as the discipline was so strict.

"I got the slipper for not being able to do my maths," he said. "Another time, for talking in the classroom, I was sent to the headmaster’s office. I think I got the cane, once I think."

He left in 1962 with "two O Levels in chemistry and scripture".

While at technical college he saw an advert in a newspaper that said "London needs more policemen" and applied "as a joke".

DS Norwell Roberts on duty with some children in Covent Garden in 1972

DS Norwell Roberts on duty with some children in Covent Garden in 1972 - Credit: Met

"Clearly the joke backfired because I got called up for selection, went to the Home Office for an interview, and then thought more of it.

"One day on day release, a bloke who was quite well off, who read the Telegraph, read an article saying ‘Met to have the first coloured policeman', because Black wasn’t a word they used back then.

"They said it was me but I hadn’t heard anything. But it was me and the rest is history."

His early days in the force were "terrible" he said.

"On my first day I walked in straight out of training school, my reported sergeant said to me: ‘Look at me n****.  I’ll see to it you never pass your probation.' That was his opening gambit and this went on throughout my service there."

Norwell had cups of tea thrown at him by officers; he was spat at; they tore his pocket books; buttons from his uniform were ripped off; and  they’d hide his uniform so he couldn’t find it.

"I had a really rough time. I thought 'I’ve got to win'. I’d go back to my section house and cry every day, that’s the only way I could get release. Nobody ever knew. I’d splash about and cry, if anybody said anything I’d say: 'It’s just water, you know...'

"That’s life, that’s how it was then, it really was tough in those days.

"It made me a better person, made me a bigger person, obviously."

Ds Norwell Roberts QPM signs copies of his book I Am Norwell Roberts

Ds Norwell Roberts QPM signs copies of his book I Am Norwell Roberts for Haverstock School pupils, where he also went to school - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

He said he is "alarmed" that the Met has recently been put into special measures.

"I can’t really speak about it. I don’t know how it happened. I really don’t know."  

He added: "You wouldn’t dream about behaving perhaps the way you see them behaving now."

He mentioned Sarah Everard, who was raped and murdered by a serving police officer.

"Fellow officers are calling him ‘the rapist’ so they must have known there was something dodgy about him," he said.

And on Bibba Henry and Nicole Smallman, pictures of whose murdered bodies were shared shared by officers, he said. "'There are no words, what can I say?"

In 1996 Norwell, who lives in Kenton, was given the Queen's Police Medal for distinguished service.

"In 2016 I was given a Legend Award from the Black community for being someone who inspired other black people, and I’m very proud of it."

Returning to Haverstock he said he felt "immensely proud".

Haverstock School pupils did a video project based on the life of DS Norwell Robert QPM

Haverstock School pupils did a video project based on the life of DS Norwell Robert QPM - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

Pupils showed him a video of a Black history project they made about his life.

Student Shania Leurs, 18, said: "You paved the way for a lot of black people in Camden. We’re really grateful."