PC Karen Giles, 60, is the Met’s longest-serving female police officer, with numerous commendations and a lifetime achievement award. She grew up in Cumberland and Cornwall and moved to London in 1976 to join the Met. She has two children, one of whom is PC Jennifer Sharpling.
When I joined, female officers had only just been fully integrated into the Met. It was new and the men seemed really against us.
I think a lot of them found it difficult to cope with all these young girls around. I didn’t really care what they thought. At times it was difficult and there was one old man who wouldn’t even speak to me – he just looked at me like I was an alien being!
There was a huge influx of women at that time, which the male instructors at Hendon were generally scathing about. The sergeant there said to me: “I realise you’ve worked hard but I don’t think you’ll last very long.”
The time I felt I achieved the most was on the Community Safety Unit.
My first four years were at Greenwich on response, murder squad and crime squad. Then I was at Peckham for 18 years, which I absolutely loved. I did a variety of jobs there: response team, beat crime, schools officer and the Community Safety Unit. I worked with domestic abuse victims and vulnerable people, and was also the race liaison officer, and I felt so motivated and learned so much.
I came back to work 10 weeks after I had my daughter.
I had to, I had no money. When I got pregnant the first time in the early eighties, the rules were that as soon as you told work they sent you home. I had 14 weeks with pay and then no money at all.
Things have changed a lot for women – but old attitudes haven’t completely died.
“Women can never be in traffic because they can’t hold the bike up.” “Women will never be dog handlers because they’re not strong enough.” I’ve heard it all – and some of it not that long ago.
I’m really pleased my daughter joined the police – she’s a cracking officer, much better than me.
I don’t give her advice unless she asks for it. But the advice I have given her – and it’s the same I’d give to anyone – is to set your own standard, stick with it and don’t be swayed by others.