‘Subbuteo, Bonsai and Catching the Bad Guys’
Superintendent John Field talks about his 30-year career in the Royal Gibraltar Police.
It was like a scene from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.
One night in the summer of 1996, officers arrived at the old Moorish Castle Prison to find that a prisoner had painstakingly dug an escape hole through his cell wall.
Rather cunningly, the hole was hidden by a poster, allowing the man to escape every evening when he would roam Gibraltar freely, before returning to his cell the next morning.
But he was eventually rumbled after a number of jaunts – with a wide-eyed John Field dispatched to investigate the mysterious case of the night-time wanderer.
John said “I remember getting a call from the acting Superintendent of the Prison, Daniel Agius.”
“I went to the prison and he shows me this massive hole in the wall. The prisoner had been removing clay and cement and was going out at night, before returning and distributing alcohol and all the stuff he was stealing.”
“Someone on his parole board even thought he saw him out one evening, which of course he denied.”
“He covered the hole with a map of the world like in The Shawshank Redemption. It went undetected for a good time until eventually we realised what was happening and he was interviewed, charged and convicted.”
That was just one of Superintendent Field’s more interesting cases in a career that has spanned over three decades – making him the second longest serving officer in the RGP after the Commissioner, Richard Ullger.
A former plumber, John joined the RGP on the 23 March 1992 at the age of 21.
“I was the youngest officer in the force when I joined. And now I’m about to leave, I’ll be one of the oldest!” he joked.
But policing has always been in his blood, according to the 52-year-old.
“I come from a family where there were four police officers,” He explained.
“From my father's side, I had Fred and George [Field], who were police Sergeants in the Royal Gibraltar Police, and from my mother's side, I had two uncles, William and Dennis [Ballester], in the Gibraltar Defence Police.”
“Since I can remember, I was the only kid going to fancy dress parties dressed up as a police officer. It's all I ever wanted to be. I don't know why, but I was always intrigued by policing and correcting the wrongs people do to others.”
Another career highlight saw John receive a Commendation for his part in catching a prolific Spanish burglar in 1996.
It followed a spate of residential burglaries when John was a detective in the Criminal Investigation Department.
“It was a good case,” he said.
“I caught this woman from La Linea who was responsible for many domestic burglaries and was later convicted for about 16 burglaries, one of which was the current Commissioner’s grandmother.”
“When I caught her, she had loads of jewellery on her, but it was from the burglaries that she had committed on the day.”
John had to organise an identification parade months later, but there were concerns that the witness wouldn’t recognise the suspect, as she had kicked a heroin addiction, put on weight and looked like a completely different person.
John added: “I remember the witness saying she had a good look of the offender’s teeth, which she described as ‘really horrible’.”
“So she looks at me, I look at the lawyer and the Identification Inspector said ‘Right, everyone open their mouths!’”
“I can't remember what number she was, but the moment she saw the person and her teeth, she said ‘that’s the woman!’ And she ended up pleading guilty.”
Over the decades, John has worked in most of the RGP’s specialised departments, but it was the Criminal Investigation Department and the Drug Squad that he enjoyed the most.
“In those days we didn’t have a Fraud Squad, Public Protection Unit, Victim Support, Designated Risk Managers and Safeguarding – CID undertook all that,” he said.
“I love the thrill of the chase, investigating, securing evidence and persevering until you have what you need to apprehend a suspect, before ultimately charging them and getting a conviction in court.”
“I also liked the Training Department because I could share my experiences with the recruits and relate them to specific offences. And another one which I really liked was being the Executive Officer of the Gibraltar Coordinating Centre for Criminal Intelligence and Drugs (GCID) because I got to be the Interpol Officer for Gibraltar, which meant I was able to travel a lot.”
But in his opinion, what was the best thing about being a police officer?
“You never know what’s going to land on your plate”, said John.
“Every day presents you with new challenges. As for the worst thing about being a police officer, from my experience, it’s approaching people and giving them the sad news that their loved ones have passed away, which I have had to do on a number of occasions.”
When he’s not nose down in police work, John busies himself with two hobbies: Subbuteo and looking after Bonsai trees, some of which are dotted around New Mole House.
“I've always enjoyed playing Subbuteo since I was very small. It just gives me a complete respite from stress. And it's the same with my Bonsai trees, I've got three in the office,” he explained.
“When I'm stressed out, I start pruning them. So, when you see that the trees are left with branches only, you know I’m quite stressed!”
In his spare time, John and his partner Tania, who is also a police officer in the RGP, volunteer and raise money for the Gibraltar-based charity, the Animals In Need Foundation. In the past two years they have organised the annual charity swim at the GASA Swimming Pool – which has now raised over £10,000 for the charity.
John was asked if he would recommend a career in the police to those thinking of joining the RGP in the next recruitment drive.
“I would say most definitely yes.”
“Policing is all I've ever wanted and all I've ever had. And it's given me my status, it's fed my family and supported me throughout. It's a really, really good career path to take.”
“It’s not without its challenges and its ups and downs. But you've got to be here for a vocation. For me, I'm always trying to do good for everyone and correct the injustices that have happened to others. That's what really gives me the kick.”
As for what the future holds for John, he plans to retire towards the end of next year – but it’s not a certainty.
“I could have left already but I'm still here and I still enjoy it. You are who you are, and no one's going to change you and if you like your job, and you're still getting a kick out of it, why cut it short?”
“When I get to 55 and leave, I’ll be in a troubled mind and in the middle of two worlds. But I know there's another world out there and I'm looking forward to it.”
“I'm not necessarily wishing for it to happen straight away. Sometimes I have a cold or I'm aching because of an old ankle injury but I still get up and come to work.”
“But I enjoy the job, I still have energy and I like working with people. I like passing on my experience, my knowledge and I still think I can make a contribution.”
This feature was prepared by the Royal Gibraltar Police as part of a campaign to highlight the work of its officers.