The last conversation I had with Vanessa I was stood outside the cell block in Chelmsley Wood about eight months pregnant with my second child. She said “Right I’m off to Bosnia now but keep in touch – write and tell me what you have.”
As it turned out she wasn’t to be there long enough to write.
Vanessa Carroll started her career with West Midlands Police in 1977 as a 16 year old cadet.
It was when she joined the regulars that we first met at Chelmsley Wood Police station. I arrived fresh out of police training school and joined the same shift.
Vanessa was the first one to welcome me. She was a few months ahead of me in service and in those days ‘the new girl’ made the tea for the shift before parading for duty. I fully expected Vanessa to simply hand over the tea making job to me, but instead she showed me where all the stuff was and got stuck in and helped me at the start of each shift.
We hit it off right from the start. Vanessa was simply the nicest, most polite young lady I could ever have hoped to meet. We soon became the best of friends. She looked after me and we walked the beat together around Chelmsley Wood and Kingshurst. We were glad we had each other – we girls got a bit of stick from the men – we worked hard to get accepted , aided by the fact we loved being out on the beat fighting crime.
I can clearly remember a snowy night in January 1982 when we were working a night shift. It was beyond freezing at minus 20c. All the men on the shift were in Panda cars but because Vanessa and I were the youngest on the shift we were posted to walk the Kingshust area. We were glad we had been issued with police capes as at least that gave us a bit of warmth, but we were frozen, we even had frost in our hair, and could hardly stand or walk on the dreadful ice on the ground.
We were sent to check all the shops in the shopping area were ok. We found a smashed window, looked through it and found a young burglar walking towards us and the broken glass with a sack full of cigarettes. That arrest gave us a few warm minutes back at the station before we were back out again to the frost and ice.
Vanessa was incredibly proud to be a police officer and didn’t like anyone doing anything wrong. She really was ‘fearless’ and we ended up in lots of difficult situations. She could take on any man and was never afraid to arrest them even without back up, which at times she probably needed.
We both loved sports, Vanessa was captain of the Force Netball team, and was a very fit cross country runner. I lost count of the amount of times she out ran offenders, chasing them through streams without a second thought then forcing them to give up when they couldn’t run any further.
On one occasion Vanessa was commended by a High Court judge for her bravery in chasing and detaining a convicted rapist and violent offender responsible for an offence of affray whereby two police officers were seriously injured.
In those days, after two years on the beat in Chelmsley Wood, everyone had to do six months at the airport. When Vanessa’s time to go came she was heartbroken, thinking she wouldn’t get to chase criminals anymore. I can remember the day she was summonsed into the gaffer’s office to be given the news she would be starting at the airport the following Monday. The next day I was sent to go with her and look after her. She needn’t have worried because we spent plenty of time chasing car criminals on foot down the A45 Coventry Road.
Being a well brought up Catholic girl she had a strong sense of right and wrong that helped make her an outstanding officer. A real bobby’s bobby she was a workaholic. She never liked taking time off and always looked immaculate. I tried to polish my shoes and box iron my skirts like Vanessa did, but never seemed to manage to get them to look as good.
Vanessa was a really kind person, she would go out of her way to help anyone who needed help. We shared a love of music and sport. As well as working together, we socialised closely. When I got married in 1984 she came to my wedding, as did her sister and mother and family, we were all so close.
In 1985 Vanessa passed her sergeant exam and for the first time we got split up. She went to be a sergeant at Queen’s Road Police station in Aston and I stayed at Chelmsley Wood. She later moved into CID and spent some time as a Detective Sergeant on various squads. Wherever she went she was successful and incredibly well liked and respected by all of her colleagues.
In 1994 she was promoted to inspector and came back to Chelmsley Wood. She phoned me the night before she came back, excited to be coming ‘home’.
Vanessa soon settled into the role of ‘Gaffer’ on her new shift and did what she always did, motivating the shift to become serious thief-takers. She was always out with them bagging her fair share of prisoners and really did lead from the front. Her shift loved her, she was strict and fair demanding a high work load from every member of her team, they worked hard and played hard and always got good results.
When in 1996 she told me she was going out to Bosnia I was really surprised, she was a proper home girl, close to her Mum and sister and new nephew who she adored and I couldn’t imagine her wanting to be away from them. She thought it was the sort of challenge that might help her earn her next promotion though, so I guess it was that that motivated her in the end.
The last conversation I had with her I was stood outside the cell block in Chelmsley Wood about eight months pregnant with my second child. She said “Right I’m off to Bosnia now but keep in touch – write and tell me what you have.”
As it turned out she wasn’t to be there long enough to write.
It’s one of those moments you never forget. My daughter was three weeks old, my husband was getting up to go to work when he noticed there was a message on the answerphone. He listened to it then ran upstairs saying: “Vanessa’s been killed over in Bosnia”.
I was in absolute shock. I couldn’t believe it. The phone rang off the hook after that, with everyone calling saying ‘have you heard the news?’ She was all over the TV.
It was 28 April 1996 and Vanessa was 35 years old.
I really wish I’d been at work that day. Her shift walked in to work that morning to the news and after the shock and the tears they decided that day would be a good day to execute some warrants. They arrested loads of people in her name – they knew that that would have been what she had wanted.
We had lost officers before but it felt different when it was Vanessa, particularly since she was a girl and one of the gaffers.
Peter Fahy, the Chief Superintendent at Solihull at the time, now Chief Constable at Greater Manchester Police, pulled out all the stops to get her brought back in a military plane. Her shift made sure they were there on the tarmac when she landed at Brize Norton.
The funeral at Olton Friary was packed with colleagues past and current. The force drape and her hat and gloves sat on the coffin. Members of her shift carried her in and Angie, one of Vanessa’s closest friends and the senior policewomen on the shift, walked in front of them, watching what was almost unbearable to so many of us . Her friends and colleagues stood shoulder to shoulder, friends she had made in the cadets, on her first shift and throughout her police career and of course friends from the netball team, basketball team, athletics and cross country team.
She was a good friend to a lot of people, especially her team mates in sport and those she had worked with on her various shifts and squads. She is still missed by so many people, she impacted upon so many lives, I think about her often.
When I retired I thought about how she should have been retiring at the same time. I often wonder what rank she would have reached, she was certainly destined to be high ranking.
She has left so many people with the most wonderful, fun memories and is fondly remembered as a wonderful colleague, friend and sportswoman.
I consider it a privilege to have known her. Vanessa was a very talented lady. There was nothing she could not achieve. She was an outstanding officer and a friend in a million who was an inspiration to me and so many others.