The Chesterfield childhood of Chief Crown Prosecutor Steve Chappell
PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 July 2014
David Marley talks to Steve Chappell about his early memories of growing up in rural Derbyshire and his delight at returning to his native county to become the region's Chief Crown Prosecutor
For as long as he can remember Steve Chappell has been passionate about the law. As a young scholar at Chesterfield Grammar School he loved to watch legal television dramas, dreaming in his classroom that one day he could become a solicitor and help to bring criminals to justice in a courtroom. Forty years later the Derbyshire-born lad is now the most senior prosecutor in the East Midlands, responsible for thousands of criminal cases every year – a role, he admits, that is more challenging and rewarding than he could ever have imagined as a child growing up in rural Derbyshire in the 1970s.
After qualifying as a lawyer, over 28 years ago, he steadily established a reputation as an effective prosecutor who had a talent for diligently preparing complex legal cases. His friendly, down-to-earth management style combined with his dry sense of humour endeared him to his colleagues, ensuring his promotion to a number of senior roles with the Crown Prosecution Service. In May 2013 this commitment was rewarded with his appointment to the post of Chief Crown Prosecutor for the East Midlands. He is now responsible for a 300-strong team of legal professionals working across the East Midlands, who last year prosecuted over 19,000 criminal cases in the law courts of Derbyshire.
As one of 13 regional chief prosecutors located throughout England and Wales, he is answerable to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He regularly travels to London to attend meetings about criminal justice performance and reform. In his post he is ultimately responsible for all criminal prosecutions prepared and presented by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) across the counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire. The growing complexity of criminal cases brought by the CPS, along with its increased public profile following a string of recent prosecutions brought against celebrities, seems a long way from his childhood experiences growing up in the rural villages and provincial towns of northeast Derbyshire. He reflects: ‘I had a very peaceful and happy childhood growing up in a wonderful county, with lots of opportunities to discover the natural beauty of the area.’
He was born in the village of Calow, near Chesterfield. His family had strong connections to Derbyshire: ‘My mother was born in the county, as was her mother, and I was very lucky to spend my weekends exploring the Peak District – many journeys ended at one of my favourite destinations, the Grindleford café, which was part of the old railway station. For a time we also lived very close to the Queen’s Park in Chesterfield, one of my much-loved cricket grounds.’ As a schoolboy he spent his weekends playing competitive sport for Chesterfield Grammar School. He remembers: ‘Hockey and cricket were my preferred sports. As a young person I visited a lot of Derbyshire. Our school hockey team had a healthy rivalry with Shirebrook School and the cricket team travelled throughout the county playing teams as far south as Derby. For my sins I still follow and support Derbyshire County Cricket Club.’
As a teenager he developed an interest in the natural world and conservation, devoting time as a volunteer to improve his local environment. In the school holidays he worked for the Forestry Commission, helping to clear weeds and brambles in the forests and woodland of Matlock. However, it was his passion for the legal system that was eventually to take him away from his native Derbyshire to study law at the University of Hull. He then went on to complete his training in Sheffield, before beginning his professional career in Dorset with the Prosecuting Solicitor’s Office. He returned to Derbyshire for a short time to become the county’s police force solicitor. He recalls: ‘This was a wonderful time to work in the legal profession. Many of the courts, which have since closed, such as Alfreton, Ilkeston, Bakewell (in the old town hall) and Glossop, were great places to visit. Although I seem to remember the rural courts were always a challenge to get to in the winter.’
In 1987 he became one of the first solicitors in the country to join the newly created civil service department of the Crown Prosecution Service. By now he was married with two young boys, and his career was to take him away from Derbyshire again. He went on to work for the CPS in North Wales, Staffordshire and Lancashire. In 2004 he returned to the East Midlands as a senior district crown prosecutor in Nottinghamshire. He remembers: ‘My role was based in Nottinghamshire but I was keen to make the short journey across the county border and live in rural Derbyshire, a landscape I missed during my various postings throughout England with the CPS. I commuted to work each day from a delightful cottage I rented on the western-edge of Belper overlooking the stunning Derwent Valley for over a year before I bought a house in southern Derbyshire where I still live today.’
Now settled in Derbyshire, he was appointed to create a regional complex casework unit for the East Midlands – a specialist team of lawyers that works closely with the police to investigate and prosecute the most sensitive and complicated criminal cases. Having successfully established the unit he was rewarded with two further promotions to the roles of Chief Crown Prosecutor for Lincolnshire and Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for the East Midlands. Now in his new post, as the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the East Midlands, he is facing the most significant challenges of his legal career – managing a department that is required to make over 25 per cent spending reductions nationally by the 2015. He says: ‘The environment in which we operate will change significantly over the coming year and beyond. The central challenge for the CPS continues to be ensuring the delivery of a quality service independently and fairly in a climate of reduced funding. Maximising the capability of our people and building capacity are critical to improving quality and delivering new tools and skills for the job, including digital working and supporting the delivery of wider criminal justice reform.’
Typically, he is very positive about the future. He is determined to ensure the service provided to victims and witnesses continues to be at the heart of the work of the CPS and there is evidence that significant progress is being made. He admits: ‘You will now see prosecutors in magistrates’ courts throughout Derbyshire using computer tablet devices to receive evidence from the police electronically – which they use to present cases in court without the need for paper files. This saves time and increases our ability to work flexibly and efficiently.’
The past 12 months since he was appointed to his role have been very busy and have made it harder for him to get out and about into Derbyshire and the places he loved visiting as a child. ‘I still have relatives in Chesterfield and I enjoy taking time to visit local pubs to enjoy and pint and some home-cooked food – Derbyshire has lots to offer!’ It is very pleasing to see the young boy who hoped of one day becoming a lawyer in the classrooms of a Derbyshire school, has now well and truly achieved his dream.
The Role of the Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service is the Government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.
As the principal prosecuting authority it is responsible for
• Advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
• Reviewing cases submitted by the police
• Determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
• Preparing cases for court and
• Presenting cases at court