Armed police and further cuts – Sir Jon Murphy’s Roscoe Lecture considers the future of policing

The Toxteth riots, an austerity police force and three elephants walking down Tithebarn Street – these are just a handful of the memorable career snapshots Sir Jon Murphy shared during his valedictory Roscoe Lecture

Sir Jon Murphy Roscoe lecture

In 1975, Sir Jon Murphy QPM joined the police force as a cadet. Last night, on the eve of his retirement as Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Sir Jon Murphy delivered the 141st Roscoe Lecture, recounting his four-decade-long policing career.

"There have been many highs and, as you’d expect, some lows," said Sir Jon.

The lows spanned from his early days on the frontline during the Toxteth riots to more recent difficulties, such as cuts to resources and the tragic death of PC Dave Phillips - a 34 year old father who was killed on duty in a hit-and-run. 

“I grew up quickly, walking around Toxteth late at night is a good grounding,” he recalled. "The police force I joined had lost touch with the public. There was no notion of problem solving, or nurturing the community or the importance of community relations. No one was talking to me about public service. All I was required to do was prove myself by the standards of the day, arresting people, meeting targets and that was how we were judged."

Sir Jon lamented that the force paid the price of this type of policing in 1981. Over 300 officers were in hospital following the Toxteth riots, which ushered in a sea change in how the police force dealt with the community it served.

His early years in the police were set to a turbulent socio-political backdrop of the 1980s, with mass demonstrations, pickets and industrial action commonplace and the actions of the police assailed regularly. He said: “This time saw fractured ongoing relations with communities. As young officers we were ignorant of the politics. The experiences though were challenging and rewarding and it was from here that I formulated my philosophy on how to lead Merseyside police and importantly gain public support.”

On a more optimistic note, Sir Jon said: "The police service I leave today is more professional, has greater integrity and offers a better public service than the one I joined 40 years ago. These are different times."

But this new era in policing is not one without a new set of issues. Looking to the future, Sir Jon spoke about the challenges the officers of tomorrow will face. Highlighting issues as wide-ranging as terrorism, converged services, false identities and further cuts.

Asked by a member of the audience if police officers should be armed, Sir Murphy said: “I’m pleased to be leaving after 41-years with a force that’s unarmed.” He went on to say that, although it would not be something he wanted, he believes it’s an inevitability.

Speaking of his retirement from the police, the self-proclaimed “Liverpool comprehensive lad" said: "After 41 years, it’s a wrench to go. But you’ve got to go sometime. And the time is right for me. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – the good and the bad."

Sharing his illuminating stories demonstrated the standards, integrity, humility and humour he has deployed over the years in order to be a successful police professional. His lecture was also littered with colourful anecdotes, like the time he was on the beat when three elephants walked past him on Tithebarn Street, from a nearby circus, which he recounted to a disbelieving team back at the station, and the occasion he was also mistaken for a Strip-o-gram while on duty. 

Though Sir Jon Murphy is retiring from the police force, he will remain working within the policing field, having accepted a position as Professor of Advanced Policing Studies for LJMU’s Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing Studies

At the conclusion of the 141st Roscoe lecture, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nigel Weatherill, addressed the audience to announce that Professor Alton will retire at the end of this academic session but will continue his association with the University as an Ambassador Fellow – an award to be conferred during the summer Graduation ceremonies. Other Honorary Fellows to be conferred during the week of Graduation include Lord Hall of Birkenhead, Director General of the BBC, Louise Ellman MP for Liverpool Riverside, and the latest recipient being announced this week as Emma Rodgers, an internationally renowned sculptor for her outstanding contribution to art.

The Vice-Chancellor confirmed that the University will continue to present the Roscoe lectures series as part of our Public Events programme and future Roscoe lectures will be hosted by Sir Jon Murphy with Roger Phillips.

Listen to Sir Jon Murphy’s Roscoe Lecture here.

Timeline of Sir Jon Murphy’s career

  • 1975: Sir Jon Murphy joined Merseyside Police as a cadet
  • Early uniform roles in Toxteth and Liverpool city
  • Three years in the force support group
  • 1981: Frontline at the Toxteth riots
  • Joined the CID for almost 20 years as a detective
  • Rose to the rank of Detective Superintendent SIO
  • Took up Force Operations Manager position
  • Attended the Strategic Command Course
  • 2001: Joined the National Crime Squad as Assistant Chief Constable, Head of Operations
  • Led the first European Joint Investigation Team for the UK
  • 2004: Deputy Chief Constable to Merseyside Police
  • 2007: Asked by the Home Secretary to lead the Ministerial Task Force – ‘Tackling Gangs Action Programme’
  • 2008: Became the ACPO National Serious and Organised Crime Coordinator
  • 2010: Took up role as Chief Constable of Merseyside Police

Want to attend a Roscoe Lecture? Find out about upcoming Roscoe Lectures here


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