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Dorset lives – In the public service

Jane Stichbury was a successful Chief Constable of Dorset for five years, and continues to serve the county by chairing an important NHS Foundation Trust. John Newth has been to talk to her.

We at Dorset Life rather missed a trick between 1999 and 2004, when Jane Stichbury was Chief Constable of the county’s police force, because we never got around to interviewing her for this series.  By the time we would have done, she had been transferred to higher things as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary with the job of inspecting sixteen forces in the south of England and responsibility for specific aspects of policing nationwide. Happily, we have a second bite at the cherry because since April she has had a job back in the county, as Chairman of The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Jane Stichbury, second left, on one of her walkabouts with, left to right, Joan Pounds (Chair of League of Friends), Alison Ashmore (General Manager of Outpatient Services) and Carol Penfold (Outpatient Services Clinical Leader)

Jane Stichbury, second left, on one of her walkabouts with, left to right, Joan Pounds (Chair of League of Friends), Alison Ashmore (General Manager of Outpatient Services) and Carol Penfold (Outpatient Services Clinical Leader)

Although she was born in London, Jane’s family moved when she was six to Burley in the New Forest, and she came to know Dorset well through frequent expeditions over the county boundary. She read history at London University, then joined the Metropolitan Police through its graduate entry scheme. ‘It might sound a bit pretentious,’ she says now, ‘but I wanted to do something that was worthwhile and served society – a job that I could feel passionate about because it was making a difference. It seemed to me that policing is one of the fundamental building-blocks of society, because if people are going to fulfil their potential, they need a safe and peaceful environment in which to do so.’

She started her police career as a beat officer in South London for four years in the late 1970s. It cannot have been easy in those days for an aspiring young officer who was not only a graduate but a woman, but she makes light of it: ‘It comes down to personality and your ability to get on with people.’ She became a sergeant in Peckham and worked her way up the Met, including a spell as Commander (Crime) for Central London – it is easy to believe her when she calls that job ‘fantastically challenging and rewarding’.

Jane was a Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the Met, and the force’s most senior woman officer at the time, when she was appointed Dorset’s Chief Constable, taking over from Dirk Aldous. It had something of the ‘Large and Little Show’ about it, since Dirk is a tall man and broad in proportion, whereas Jane Stichbury’s physique is best described as ‘petite’. However, those who during her career have taken her lack of stature to mean a lack of steel in her personality have soon realised the unwisdom of such a confusion.

HM The Queen paid an official visit to Dorset during Jane Stichbury’s time as Chief Constable

HM The Queen paid an official visit to Dorset during Jane Stichbury’s time as Chief Constable

Policing Dorset was naturally very different from policing London. As usual, the Dorset force was under-resourced and it covered a wide geographical area, with the added challenge of balancing the requirements of the countryside against those of the conurbation. Then there was a party conference every year at the BIC, with all the security implications at a time of raised terrorist threat. But Jane Stichbury did not lose sight of her basic policy aims, among which were to respond to local people, to create more of a performance culture, especially in crime prevention, and to help the organisation position itself for the future by listening to staff and encouraging their development. With the last of these in mind, she would spend time as often as possible with officers on the front line.

Even when she had reached the top, Jane’s broad view of policing had not changed since it attracted her as a career fresh from university: its potential to make a difference. ‘I believe that the police can act as a catalyst for many other agencies,’ she says. ‘One must be optimistic that education can change society and in the widest sense the police can contribute to that, alongside their enforcement role.’ In addition, her career had taught Jane much about the skills of leadership, and during her time in Dorset she was in charge of the Association of Chief Police Officers Personnel Management Business Area. Later, when she was an HMIC, she saw her job as not just inspecting and assessing but trying to encourage and inspire in a constructive way.

She has brought the same style and the same view of public service to her work at the NHS Foundation Trust. ‘Some people say what a difference there must be between the police and the NHS, but both are public service bodies and in fact there are many similarities. Each is in its own way a very complex organisation dealing with some very sensitive issues.’ Jane’s job itself has its own complexities: she chairs both the Governors, who represent the Trust’s members and the public and are responsible for shaping strategy, and the Board, who are responsible for putting that strategy into practice. Her role is part-time and does not involve day-to-day administration but is about, as she puts it, ‘offering support but also standing back’. Having said that, she thinks it important to ‘go walkabout’ around the hospital frequently – an echo of the time she would spend with front-line officers when she was Chief Constable.

Any spare time Jane likes to spend by the water or walking her dogs near her East Dorset home

Any spare time Jane likes to spend by the water or walking her dogs near her East Dorset home

Jane pays tribute to her predecessor at the Trust, Sheila Collins, from whom she took over ‘a good team working well together. The Foundation Trust is lucky in having a hugely committed staff. We have been awarded Acute Organisation of the Year and acknowledged as a high-performing hospital by the Care Quality Commission, who rated us as double Excellent, but as a public service we must never be arrogant or complacent, nor forget our duty to give the best possible value for money.’ She looks forward, without obvious trepidation, to the impending changes in the NHS, only some of them forced by the restrictions on public spending. One possibility she finds interesting is the developing co-operation between neighbouring hospital trusts to provide centres of excellence rather than each hospital trying to be all things to all men.

‘When the hospital job came up, it was in the public service and in Dorset, so it couldn’t have been better,’ smiles Jane. She still lives with her husband, a retired Met detective, in the house in Ashley Heath which she bought when she was appointed Chief Constable; even when she was travelling a lot as an HMIC, she preferred to keep her Dorset base and to live out of a suitcase when necessary. With Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, she is one of the first two women to be appointed to the England & Wales Cricket Board. Locally, she is a Deputy Lieutenant of the county and a governor of Bournemouth School for Girls. When Boris Johnson dispensed with Sir Ian Blair’s services as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 2008, there was speculation that Jane Stichbury might get the job of Britain’s most senior police officer; it has been Dorset’s gain that it remained no more than speculation.

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