Derbyshire’s High Sheriff - David Coleman

PUBLISHED: 09:00 26 May 2014

David (61) is a familiar face around the county, and expects to be busy in the months ahead as High Sheriff

David (61) is a familiar face around the county, and expects to be busy in the months ahead as High Sheriff


Pat Ashworth talks to David Coleman who was sworn in as High Sheriff on 3rd April

Popular couple David and Hilary in the conservatory of their Ironville homePopular couple David and Hilary in the conservatory of their Ironville home

David Coleman describes his seven years as Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary as ‘stressful, demanding, challenging, exciting and fulfilling’ – in fact all the things he expected it to be when Derbyshire Life interviewed him on his appointment to the role in 2001. He made his mark and in his own words, ‘did my job’, leaving a force that was arguably the most effective in the country when he retired almost seven years ago.

His wife, Hilary, said of his 70-hour working week at the time, ‘If he could move his bed into the office, he would...’ The new High Sheriff is a Derbyshire lad through and through, brought up in Ripley, educated at Swanwick Hall Grammar School and starting work as a beat bobby in Shirebrook after graduating from Manchester University with a geography degree.

He rose through the ranks, working as a detective sergeant at Cotton Lane in the inner city of Derby and a detective inspector at Full Street, Derby, before being plucked from operational policing to run the Force building programme at the Ripley HQ and work as staff officer to the Chief Constable, Alan Smith. From Divisional Commander, he went on to become Assistant Chief Constable for Leicestershire for five years, and as Chief Constable, took up the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) national portfolio for Forensic Science.

The ‘out of the blue’ call asking whether he would be prepared to be nominated as High Sheriff took him completely aback, he says, reflecting, ‘I was a lot taken aback. It’s such an honour. I never saw myself as being the sort of person who would get that role. I’m the 950th High Sheriff, and if you look back over the list – and consider Derby street names – many were families who owned large parts of the county.

‘Times are changing. We are encouraged by the Privy Council, and others who administer the shrieval system, to widen the remit and find sheriffs from a wide range of backgrounds. That’s one of the things I want to try and promote during the year, increasing involvement with all sections of the community.’ His own close involvement as a trustee of the Derbyshire Community Foundation, into which the High Sheriff’s youth crime charity, Crimebeat – now known as the High Sheriff’s Fund – has been absorbed, will be of benefit there. He is also president of Peak District Mountain Rescue; a patron of the children’s charity, Umbrella; and a trustee of Sporting Futures.

There was one potential stumbling-block to accepting the invitation, he confesses: the court dress. ‘I was dreading the uniform. I said originally, yes, I’ll do it as long as I don’t have to wear the uniform. They would have accepted that and I could have worn my Deputy Lieutenant’s uniform, but at the end of the day, after much soul-searching, I thought I’d go for it,’ he says cheerfully. ‘I know it will cause amusement in some quarters and some of my ex-colleagues will be amused, but it goes with the territory so I thought, “What the hell – I’ll go for it.”’ And he looks splendid in it, as the pictures testify and as all High Sheriffs do.

The role is individual but the effort will be a team effort, he observes, not least for this very close-knit family. The couple’s elderly mothers and also their two married sons, Gareth and Alistair, live near to the family home at Ironville, near Codnor, and the school run is part of daily life for David and Hilary. She will be his chauffeur during his year of office, something enabled by her own recent retirement from work, and friends and neighbours have all rallied round. ‘So many people have said, “Please let us know how we can help you when you’ve got loads to do – we’ll do everything we can.”’ he says with gratitude. ‘Everybody seems to be taking some reflected pleasure in the fact that we have the role.’

They will have the advantage of having ‘done the rounds’ many times when David was Chief Constable and therefore of meeting many people they already know, ‘so hopefully, being able to get into it quite quickly.’ A keen walker, he also plans to ‘beat the bounds’ of his shrieval constituency – and make money for his charities at the same time – a project that will bring David into contact with a multiplicity of people all over the county.

He has a track record here: as ‘Chief on the Beat’, he walked the 180 miles between all the county police stations, raising £32,500 for his five charities. In August and September, he will exercise his prerogative as High Sheriff to walk the entire county boundary, averaging about 20 miles a day. He confesses, ‘I didn’t know how far it was when I first announced I would do it, but as soon as you’ve said it, you’re committed. I still don’t know precisely how far, but I think it’s between 225 and 250 miles.’

In the company of friends – particularly the walking group that accompanied him on Chief on the Beat and which still walks together – together with ‘anyone who wants to come on one of the legs and raise money for me or for their own charities’ – he will start at Ironville and walk anti-clockwise via Shirebrook towards Dronfield, ‘then right up to the top,’ he says with enthusiasm. ‘I’m doing it for the High Sheriff’s Fund and for Peak District Mountain Rescue in its 50th year.’ It will help him keep the weight down too, he suggests, in a year when he will be eating a great many formal dinners – ‘I’m not one of those people who can leave half a meal... I have a nasty habit of clearing my plate, so the walking will be a counterbalance to the eating.’

Already, in March, the invitations were pouring in. After his installation – a dignified ceremony with a very long oath, taken in Derby’s historic courtroom – his first public appearance will be at the Right of Entry Parade in Chesterfield for the returning Mercian regiment. Other early occasions include a charity fashion show at Bolsover District Council, the opening of the new Autism unit at Chesterfield hospital and a visit to Ashgate Hospice. ‘My first appearance will be a little nerve-wracking but I want everyone to enjoy it,’ he says.

The honour has come at the right time, when he is well adjusted to the change of life that retirement brought. For five years after his retirement, he continued to act as a consultant and as an independent advisor to the Forensic Service, and also to work for a business processing software firm. ‘I’d have been like a bear with a sore head if I’d had nothing to do,’ he acknowledges. ‘When I retired, I didn’t really miss the job, other than when something was going on, but I did miss the people. But now I have a whole new set of people that I’m involved with, so I’m very much around and among people all the time.’

He started cooking when he retired, and enjoys that immensely, though Hilary says he cooks for the whole street and David himself admits, ‘I haven’t quite got my quantity control right...’ He has an allotment at Riddings, five minutes from home, where he’d like to spend more time and be able to produce a year-round supply of fresh vegetables; plays golf and has also developed a passion for sailing, introduced to the joys of cruising by two friends from grammar school. He was hooked after a week in Falmouth, got qualified and enjoyed, with Hilary, a ‘fabulous fortnight’ cruising the Ionian islands last summer.

‘It’ll be nice for us to spend more time together, something that for one reason or another, we haven’t been able to do over the years,’ he concludes. ‘This year will take a bit of adjustment. It’s a big change of lifestyle in terms of Hilary’s retirement and with all this coming up. After that, we’ll settle down to more of a routine and wonder how we did it all.’

The Office of High Sheriff

The Office of High Sheriff is at least 1,000 years old, having its roots in Saxon times. It is the oldest continuous secular office under the Crown and originally the office holder held many of the powers that are now vested in lords lieutenant, high court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and even the Inland Revenue.

The office of High Sheriff had precedence within the county hierarchy until 1908 when it became the Lord Lieutenant’s as ‘the prime office under the Crown and the Sovereign’s personal representative’. The High Sheriff remains the Sovereign’s representative in the county for matters relating to the Judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.

New High Sheriffs are chosen each year by the Queen in a meeting of the Privy Council when the appointee’s name is ‘pricked’ with a silver bodkin.

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