Ardoyne to Paradise: PSNI's Amanda takes over as top cop on Caribbean island of Anguilla...
...but it's not all fun in the sun.
A former senior PSNI officer has become chief of police on a beautiful Caribbean island.
Amanda Stewart has just taken over as head of the police force on the tropical British island of Anguilla.
After 30 years pounding the beat on the streets of north and west Belfast — ending up as detective superintendent — Amanda now leads the paradise island’s force of 120 police officers.
It’s a world away from her previous job which included heading up the PSNI’s response to riots in the Ardoyne flashpoint three years ago.
“I’m very excited about the role, it’s a five-year contract,” Amanda told Sunday Life.
“I was a bit worried coming in. I’m the first female and the first white police commissioner in the Caribbean.”
Amanda was sworn in as Commissioner of the Royal Anguilla Police Force on July 11 after moving to the former Crown colony with her husband, Donald.
“I was up for retirement in June after 30 years in the PSNI and I started looking around for police jobs and this one came up,” she explained.
“There were 17 applicants from all over the world and I managed to get it. I was really over the moon.”
She added: “In 2005 I did a six month secondment in Basra in Iraq. When I finished I knew I wanted to do something else in policing, not in a war zone, but somewhere I could bring my husband with me.”
The island has been under British control for over 350 years — the Queen is the head of state and a Governor appointed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London administers the island.
Speaking from her office on the island, Amanda explained: “Policing wise I have 120 on the force. Anguilla is only 16 miles long by three miles wide with a population of 14,000. So everybody knows everybody. It’s a village trying to be a country.”
But it’s not all fun in the sun for Amanda and her local officers as drugs and gang crime are becoming more of a problem in the colonial backwater.
“Unfortunately over the last few years there has been a bit of a gang culture built up on the island and people have brought in guns,” said Amanda.
“There have been two murders this year and three last year. Since 2007 there have been 14 gun-related murders.”
She added: “My first week in office, on the Friday night, we had a shooting.”
She’s not without help when it comes to tackling the drug problem on the island as passing Royal Navy patrols are happy to lend a hand.
“I went up in the helicopter from RFA Lyme Bay and did a recce of the island to see if there were any illegal (cannabis) grows. Since then we have done searches and recovered quite a bit of stuff,” said Amanda.
“Cannabis is the main drug, there doesn’t seem to be anything higher. Back home we would have talked about serious and organised crime, they don’t have that at all. It’s wee bits of cannabis for people’s own use.”
Amanda added: “My main worry is gun crime. They are trying to emulate the gangs in the US, it really is a youth culture thing. But they are using guns for robberies and they’re shooting rivals.
“People are telling me they want it nipped in the bud so that’s a good help for me.”
The Belfast woman should soon have the criminals on the run with her considerable experience of policing some of the most violent areas of Belfast during the darkest days of the Troubles.
“My main background is in community policing in north and west Belfast. I’ve seen everything throughout my service from 1985, mostly in uniform roles, until the last four years which were in Crime Operations Branch at headquarters,” said Amanda.
“I had command during the Ardoyne riots three years in a row, so if there’s anything here I should be able to deal with it.”
Located in the Leeward Islands beside the Dutch and French territories of Saint Martin, Anguilla’s white sand beaches and coral reefs make it a popular tourist destination.
The economy relies heavily on the tourist trade but offshore banking is also a big money spinner and the island has a reputation as a popular tax haven.
“The island is sort of split in two, there’s the big five star resorts which the Americans mainly come to as it’s deadly expensive to come here from the UK,” explained Amanda.
“The ordinary people of Anguilla don’t have that much to be truthful, it’s a real typical Caribbean island.”
The white tunics, pith helmets and Lee Enfield rifles seen in the pictures of Amanda’s swearing in ceremony give the impression that the island is trapped in a time warp between the end of Empire and the modern day.
“The island feels stuck in the 1960s, even the way the people act, and their culture is very respectful. They are lovely, friendly people, you have to say “good morning and good afternoon” to everyone or they think you’re cheeky,” said Amanda.
Feeling homesick won’t be an issue for Amanda and her
husband Donald, also a retired cop, as they were happy to leave the daily anxieties of being a police officer in Northern Ireland far behind.
“I’m not having to get up every morning and look under my car. I come and go from work in my uniform, everybody beeps their horn and waves. Instead of hiding what I do, people are actually proud of what I do,” said Amanda.
“My first day in the office was July 13 and I was watching what was going on back home.
A couple of friends had got injured and I thought to myself: I’m sitting out here in the sunshine and those poor beggars are still getting their heads beat in.
“We do have guns and we sign them out as we need them. If we were going to do a search on a gang member’s house the officers will take guns with them but we are not routinely armed. I have a task force which are trained by UK TSG officers.
“The rest of us just walk about with nothing at all and we would like to keep it that way because it does help interaction with the community,” she added.
Ironically, opposition to British rule is practically non-existent compared to the nationalism and violent republicanism in Northern Ireland.
“I didn’t know what it was going to be like, I knew there had been a bit of an uprising in the 1960s but that was actually to get British rule back.
“The truth is the people
here think the island couldn’t survive without Britain,” said Amanda.
“The Governor Christina Scott basically rules the place, they have their own internal government but I think British rule is accepted and it’s the way it needs to run.”
She added: “The respect people have shown me is wonderful, they say it’s great to see someone bringing the UK ideas here, so I’ve been well accepted.”
The only upset for Amanda and her husband has turned out to be the local wildlife.
“Both Donald and I have been eaten alive by the mosquitoes but apparently after you’ve been here a while they get used to you,” she joked.