Hockliffe man receives OBE for police services

Richard Johnson OBE
Richard Johnson OBE

After serving 40 years in the police service, a volunteer for the Scouts in Leighton Buzzard feels ‘privileged’ to have received an OBE.

As the head of the first tri-force of scientific services for the Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire police forces, Richard Johnson was honoured for a lifetime of achievement in pioneering the delivery of forensics to fight crime and protect the public.

Richard, 59, who lives in Hockliffe with his wife Sandra, said: “It was one of the hardest secrets to keep. At a minute past midnight on the day the list was published we were sat on the computer to see it. “Until you see it in black and white in the London Gazette you can’t be absolutely sure.

“I am very happy and very honoured to be given the award, it was a huge thrill for both myself and my wife.

“It reflects the high regard in which forensic investigation is held in the police service and indeed the country.”

At 19 years old Richard was working as a woodworker in London, but after spotting a job advert in The Sun newspaper, he joined the Metropolitan Police as a trainee fingerprint officer in 1972 and his career has included pioneering the world’s first mobile crime scene fingerprint searching capability.

He says opportunities stemmed from spending five ‘life-changing’ years working in America where he was at the forefront of ground breaking technology.

“I joined as a trainee fingerprint expert and my one ambition was to qualify and once I had, then really the only ambition I had was to be a senior expert and eventually I thought maybe I could make head of fingerprint unit, which I did.

“To a degree I am ambitious, but where I never envisioned myself to be head of a whole forensic investigation unit.

“I could only ever see myself in my discipline, I couldn’t see myself out of it, but what really changed that was spending five years working in America where we were at the forefront of some massive ground breaking technology.”

But his exciting work opportunity overseas coincided with a new relationship with his future wife.

He said: “We had been going out for three weeks when I got my posting to Seattle and I asked Sandra if she wanted to come. Either very fortuitously for me, or she might say foolish for her, she decided to come.”

Richard, a father of boys, was District Commissioner for the Scouts in Leighton Buzzard for seven years in 1980s and has long since been an avid supporter, devoting a lot of his spare time to voluntary work.

He added: “I have been in policing an awfully long time and the award is predominantly about my services to policing, but it does mention some of the charity work I have done in Leighton Buzzard, both in terms of scouting and rotary.

“I don’t think I consciously sit down and think why I do voluntary work, but it’s just something I have always done.

“I was a Scout Cub when I was eight years old and I suppose I have never really left and it’s as simple as that. I am still a member of Rotary in Leighton-Linslade, I still have a hand in things like the May Day Fair and the Santa Float and I was president of Rotary for 12 months in 2005.”

Richard first joined the Metropolitan Police as a trainee fingerprint officer in 1972, working on the early fingerprint applications for the new Police National Computer.

He transferred to Bedfordshire in 1978 and worked on numerous serious cases and then led the implementation of the first semi-automatic fingerprint searching system in the early 90s.

He added: “It has been an honour and a privilege to work for Bedfordshire Police.

“Despite what everyone says, in my view, Beds Police does, for its size and the amount of financial resources it has, incredibly well and punches well above its weight.

“I have a really deeply held belief that this is not, and this sounds cheesy, but it’s not just about giving something to me, it’s about forensic investigation as part of the police service and it is a recognition of that vital part that the forensics play in solving crime and protecting the public.

“I have gone from being ambitious in the sense of that I’d like to run a small fingerprint team within a big investigation unit, to running one of the biggest forensic investigation units in the country, which is 250 people strong.”*

“And sometimes recognition of people like me, is a recognition of that fact. It’s that corny thing that it is different everyday and it’s still as interesting and exciting as it was 40 years ago when I joined.”

Amanda Devlin @LBOamanda