There is something reassuring when you visit a cathedral and see a ‘bobby’ casting his watchful eye over the visitors. Once common place, cathedral constables have, for the most part, been replaced by private security firms. Gone is much of the history and tradition, forgotten as the pace of modern life brings change at breath-taking regularity. It should remembered, that for over 700 years, the predecessors of today’s cathedral constables, policed and upheld law and order all over Britain. Walk around any cathedral that employs constables and good order, spiritual serenity, and hundreds of years of traditional policing are abundantly evident. No need to dress cathedral constables in paramilitary uniforms.
But this is their role and one which they uniquely perform. Now in the 21st Century the clock has been turned back and constables are once more being attested. Not through the police, but through an acknowledgment of the fact that the Dean and Chapter of a cathedral can, as an ecclesiastical corporation in perpetuity, with a millennium of Common Law tradition, and the provisions contained within the Cathedral Measures Act 1999, appoint attested officers, thereby restoring a tradition going back nearly a millennium.
Although most constables are attested, those who are not still have a power of arrest to deal with people behaving in an anti-social way within the cartilage of a cathedral. This power comes from Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860, which states:
‘Any person who shall be guilty of riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour in England or Ireland in any cathedral church, parish or district church or chapel of the Church of England or in any chapel of any religious denomination, or in England in any places of religious worship duly certified under the provisions of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, whether during the celebration of divine service or at any other time, or in any churchyard Or burial ground, or who shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble, or by any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse any preacher duly authorized to preach therein, or any clergyman in holy orders ministering or celebrating any sacrament, or any divine service, rite, or office, in any cathedral, church, or chapel, or in any churchyard or burial ground, shall, on conviction thereof before two justices of the peace, be liable to a penalty of not more than for every such offence, or may, if the justices before whom he shall be convicted think fit, instead of being subjected to any pecuniary penalty, be committed to prison for any time not exceeding two months.’
Section 3 states:
‘Every such offender in the premises after the said mis-demeanor so committed immediately and forthwith may be apprehended and taken by any constable or churchwarden of the parish or place where the said offence shall be committed, and taken before a justice of the peace of the county or place where the said offence shall have been so committed, to be dealt with according to law.’
But most constables will rely on their police powers, which they hold within a cathedral and its precinct, having been sworn in by a Justice of the Peace. So if you want to see a bobby, who looks as if they have just walked out of Jack Warner’s Dock Green police station, then take a second look at a cathedral bobby. They deal, like their Home Office colleagues, with difficult, testing and sometimes dangerous situations. In doing so, they use all of the tact, good humour, and authoritative persuasion needed to resolve situations; ensuring minimal disruption to the spiritual tranquillity of these most Holy of buildings.
Their status may sometimes be questioned by Home Office police officers. What is without question is the long and historic lineage of cathedral constables; longer than any modern police force. York Minster Police can trace their roots back to King Edward I. They, and their counterparts in the other cathedrals mentioned, have protected their churches for many centuries. To this end, they have earned the right to use the title of ‘constable.’ They are few in number, less than 30 in the nationally. But despite the demise of Salisbury Cathedral’s constabulary, the future is bright.
The constables have their own association and have forged strong working relationships with their local police force, having in place Memoranda of Understanding, setting out support arrangements, responsibilities and jurisdiction. There is a very informative website, which receives many hits. Enquiries are frequent and new networks are established. In September 2012, the Liverpool’s constables were employed by the Home Office to police the publication of the Hillsborough Enquiry event, which took place at the cathedral. Sensitive to the views of grieving relatives, who did not want Merseyside Police or Stewards involved, the constables provided an effective but low key presence.
Officers, prior to attestation, qualify in the Level 3 Certificate in Cathedral Constable Attestation. The award which covers areas including criminal law, powers of arrest, conflict management, stop and search, crime scene and incident management. Once attested they undergo personal safety training provided by qualified police trainers from the Mersey Tunnels Police. This training licenses officers to carry personal protection equipment including rigid handcuffs and batons.