First gay police chief calls for more ‘visible role models’ to attract diverse recruits

Watch: ITV News Meridian’s Kit Bradshaw joins senior officer Adrian Hanstock on his final patrol before retirement to discuss diversity in the police service

The first openly gay chief constable has called for more "visible role models" in policing to help address the "ongoing challenge" of attracting recruits from diverse backgrounds. 

In an exclusive interview with ITV Meridian, Adrian Hanstock said that while attitudes within the force had been transformed since he joined in the 1980s, more needed to be done to encourage applicants from black and other ethnic minority backgrounds.

“It was a risk, back in the mid-80s, anybody who was different – in my case being gay – was just never something that matched policing,” Mr Hanstock said.

“I really had second, third, fourth, fifth thoughts. But then I thought, I’ll give it a go, what’s the worst that could happen? I can leave after two or three years if it becomes a problem. Thankfully it wasn’t a problem but that’s not to say it’s not had its challenge along the way.” 

Adrian Hanstock joined officers and staff at London Bridge railway station last week, ahead of his retirement from British Transport Police.

Mr Hanstock, who lives near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, is thought to have become the first openly gay man to hold the rank of chief constable in the UK, when he took charge of the British Transport Police (BTP) in February 2021, on a temporary basis.

He began his career as a filing clerk with Nottinghamshire Constabulary, before he became a constable in 1985. Rising up through the ranks, he transferred to the Metropolitan Police in the late 1990s, where he played a significant role in the operation to keep the London 2012 Olympics secure. 

  • Watch: Adrian Hanstock discusses the ‘overt homophobia’ of the 1980s and how greater diversity can create a more ‘representative and professional’ police culture

A filing clerk was Mr Hanstock's first job in policing in Nottinghamshire in the '80s. He has been deputy chief constable of BTP since 2014. Credit: Adrian Hanstock / BTP

“Overt homophobia” was commonplace when he started out as a PC, and despite big improvements colleagues with “extreme views” are still a challenge today, according to Mr Hanstock.

“Our role now, and particularly those of us who have leadership responsibility, is to tackle that head on, to set the culture and tone, by being visible role models; whether you’re gay or a woman in policing or black or minority ethnic, all of these factors help create a more representative culture but a more professional culture.”

Nationally 92.4% of police officers are white, compared to 86.0% of people in the general population. While 32.4% of officers are female, compared to 51% in wider society. 

The data around police officers’ sexual orientation is described by the Home Office as ‘experimental’ as there are only figures held for 52.3% of the workforce. Of them, 92.9% of officers identify as straight, 4.7% gay or lesbian, 2.4% bisexual, and 0.1% ‘prefer to self-describe’. 

  • Watch: Police officers and staff discuss how open policing is to people from diverse backgrounds and how it can benefit the public

On one of his final patrols before retiring, Mr Hanstock spent time meeting some young officers and police staff at London Bridge station.

Araf Rahman, who is a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) with BTP, is of Asian heritage and also gay. He believes it’s “very important to have people from other minority backgrounds so people don’t feel alienated”.

Fellow PCSO Philly Ward feels that the force is welcoming to people from all different backgrounds, something she says can play an important role when helping those in need: “So many different people will come to you with problems. We’ve had people not wanting to come out to parents – ‘I think I identify as this but I’m scared’ – and to have someone in uniform who can say: ‘I’ve been through this’, it really does help the community.” 

Reflecting on his 37-year career in policing, Mr Hanstock said: “When I joined there were no gay people in policing full stop, let alone in leadership roles, so the thought of being a chief officer never entered my mind... I can leave feeling I enjoy this job as much as when I joined, I haven’t become jaded or cynical, and I have such admiration for those who continue to take up the challenge.”