Historian hopes the story of a mixed-race policeman in Victorian Southwark will inspire new generation of black officers

Katherine Johnston (07 October, 2020)

Robert Branford (1817-1869) was well-respected officer who rose to the rank of Superintendent despite the widespread racism of his time

39424Stephen Bourne at the graveside of Robert Branford

A mixed-race Victorian police officer is the inspiration behind a new short film recorded at New Scotland Yard by Southwark-based historian Stephen Bourne.

Robert Branford (1817-1869), rose through the ranks to become a well-respected Superintendent in 1856.

The video, which tells his life story and examines his career in the early days of the force, has been made in honour of Black History Month and will be shown to all Met officers and staff.

During his research into Superintendent Branford’s life, Stephen located his grave in a Suffolk village – Little Waldingfield – where he moved after retiring in 1866.

In 2017 Stephen visited the village to attend a Met memorial service for the officer.

The project is of special significance given Stephen’s other role as an independent police adviser.

He is currently deputy chair of Southwark’s independent advisory group and is believed to be the longest-serving independent adviser in London.

These bodies were created in 1999 in every London borough in response to the recommendations of the McPherson report after the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

He told the News that now, more than ever, it is not just about continuing efforts to recruit more black officers and those from other underrepresented backgrounds, but also about retention.

As reported last week, Camberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman had criticised the Met for being unable to share an exact breakdown of the number of black officers, by rank, in each borough.

Southwark’s top cop, Chief Superintendent Colin Wingrove, said as soon as that information was available he would share it with the MP and public.

Stephen said: “The recruitment of black officers has improved in recent years, but keeping them in post is a problem for the Met.

“The Met has an ‘exit interview in which officers who leave the service are given an opportunity to explain their reasons.

“In response to Harriet Harman’s concerns about how many black officers we have in Southwark, I would suggest that she asks the Met to look closely at what officers are saying in their exit interviews.

“In the Southwark community we want to keep our officers, not lose them.

“We need to welcome new recruits and make them feel they are part of the Southwark family.

“The Met should have us on their side with this, and those of us who work with them are always willing to assist.

“I hope I am helping in a small way by drawing attention to historical figures like Superintendent Branford who did not allow the racist attitudes of the Victorian era to prevent him from rising through the ranks in Southwark.”

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