Long-serving cop who first joined Force at inception retires

16 Jul 2018 14:00 PM

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Northumbria Police waved farewell to one of its long-serving officers last week.

Bill Sproates, 64, joined the Force at its inception in 1974 and has been a familiar face in police stations across the region throughout the last four decades.

He has worked in Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and South Shields during his illustrious policing career, with his highest-ranking position coming as a Detective Inspector specialising in surveillance and major crime.

After a five-year stint away from the Force following his initial retirement in 2003, Mr Sproates returned to Northumbria Police as a licensing officer – and went on to set up the Sunderland and Washington pub watch schemes.

But now he has left policing for good as he looks forward to a well-deserved retirement consisting of plenty of golf and cooking.

“When I first joined the police it was just like Heartbeat – Nick Berry on a vintage motor cycle” said Mr Sproates as he stepped into South Shields’ Millbank station for the final time on Wednesday (July 11).

“It’s totally different now. I’ve seen the transformation in policing over the years, the emerging trends, the challenges and the different types of crime that officers now have to tackle.

“I’ve dealt with so many different things during my time here – from murder enquiries to big drug jobs, anti-social behaviour to pub licensing hours.

“But it’s the people who make this job what it is. As a police officer, you deal with so many things – some difficult and complex cases, investigations that you take home with you every night and mull over in your mind.

“I believe police officers are a special bunch, I really do. There are so many unbelievable people who work in this Force, who put their blood, sweat and tears into the job to try and make Northumbria a safer place.

“I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to have worked here for the best part of four decades. It is a bit surreal now it’s coming to an end – but it’s been an incredible journey.”

Mr Sproates initially joined Durham’s police cadets in 1969 where he underwent his training before joining the Force as a PC in 1972.

His policing career began in Jarrow – and took him on a journey that included everything from low-level anti-social behaviour to infamous murder enquiries.

When Northumbria Police was formed following the merge of Northumberland Constabulary and part of Durham Constabulary in 1974, Mr Sproates moved to South Shields CID – and it was there when he was involved in one of his most high-profile cases.

It came in 1979 when a woman’s body was found in a petrol storage tank at Velva Liquids, South Shields – an investigation that became known as ‘The Torso in the Tank’.

“The detectives who worked on that case still keep in touch and it bonded us forever,” Mr Sproates said. “The team managed to bring the murderer to court and he was found guilty of the most serious of offences.”

After a stint in South Shields, Mr Sproates was deployed in the west end of Newcastle and then Gateshead – where he was promoted to Detective Sergeant.

Impressing as he went through the ranks, Mr Sproates was promoted to Inspector while operating in Byker before he moved to Sunderland in 1986, where he served as a Detective Inspector working with the Force’s major crime teams.

After 31 years’ service at Durham and Northumbria, Mr Sproates retired for a short spell in 2003 and became a security manager for banknote manufacturer De La Rue.

But the thrills of the Force soon took their hold of him again, as he returned to Northumbria five years later to become a licensing officer in Sunderland, the role in which he ended his career.

It saw him provide valuable advice and support to senior police officers on licensing issues, as well as carry out routine inspections and visits to all of the city’s night-time economy venues.

He also set up the Sunderland and Washington pub watch schemes, and became Sunderland’s regional representative for the National Pubwatch initiative.

Chief Superintendent Sarah Pitt, of Northumbria Police, was quick to pay tribute to her outgoing colleague.

“I have worked with Bill for a number of years and even with 44 years’ service he has continued to show his commitment to protecting and supporting the public,” Ch Supt Pitt said.

“He has a tremendous amount of energy and has managed to establish strong links with local licences in Sunderland in his role as a licencing officer.

“Bill established the Sunderland and Washington Pub watch schemes which continue to grow from strength to strength.

“I wish Bill well in his retirement and no doubt he will spend much more of his time on the golf course reducing his handicap.”