The former police officers inspiring the detectives of the future

A team of hot-shot detectives are on the trail of a shoplifter.

Thursday, 27th December 2018, 4:27 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 1:47 am
David Jackson of the LED Community Foundation chats to junior detective Tomas Robinson, aged nine, of Farsley Springbank School.
David Jackson of the LED Community Foundation chats to junior detective Tomas Robinson, aged nine, of Farsley Springbank School.

The thief has been stealing from a local convenience store and the race is on to gather the evidence from eyewitnesses, CCTV cameras and good old-fashioned sleuthing to ensure justice is done.

No, it’s not a script from a cop show, but the premise to an educational workshop being delivered across primary schools in West Yorkshire.

And the leader of the class certainly knows a thing or two about being a detective.

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John Thornton and Dave Jackson, founders of the LED Community Foundation, with Richard McCann (centre), its ambassador.

Dave Jackson served with West Yorkshire Police for nearly 18 years, working his way through burglary and vice teams before spending more than 12 years tackling illegal drugs and firearms.

His award-winning career included work on Operation Stalebank, an intensive project tackling Bradford’s drugs trade which resulted in more than 100 successful prosecutions.

But he then left the job, in 2015, and began a business providing sports training to young people.

“I didn’t want anything to do with the police. I wanted to do my sports coaching,” he says.

Despite this, teachers kept suggesting his police background meant he could help children in other ways.

He says: “So I started to do drug awareness talks and realised I was helping children.

“You see how they are hanging on every word and listening to you. I got a lot of enjoyment out of it.”

The idea really got off the ground when he teamed up with another former West Yorkshire Police officer, John Thornton, whom he had met not on the beat but by the football field - their children played sports together in west Leeds.

John left West Yorkshire Police earlier this year, having spent 15 years as a Police Constable, mainly in Bradford.

For the last two to three years of his career he had worked at HMP Leeds on its Offender Management Team, dealing with prolific offenders and trying to find ways of stopping them from reoffending.

There, as a keen rugby league fan, he had been instrumental in the creation of Onside, a sports-themed project bringing together local prisons and the Leeds Rhinos Foundation, teaching key skills to help prisoners build better lives once they are released.

John says: “I have a fondness for sport.

“I have always tried to use it as an engagement tool and discuss ways sport is like life. You need teamwork, respect, all these kinds of things.”

John and Dave teamed up to form the LED Community Foundation, a Bramley-based community interest company combining educational workshops and sports coaching, whose initials stand for Learning, Education and Development.

The foundation is keen to instil in young people a passion for policework - and this is where the junior detective workshop comes in.

Dave says: “They learn about how a police investigation is run and learn the difficulties the police face but also how it is fun.”

John has also been piloting a six-week educational course on knives, violence and gangs in a Leeds secondary school. But he believes even children of primary-school age should be learning about the perils of carrying knives.

“I think there’s a gap,” he says.

“Lots of stuff goes on in high schools but not a lot of education goes on in primary schools.

"We don’t have to frighten people, it’s just making them aware of the things they are going to come across. Planting the seed, so to speak.

"We are never going to be able to solve it overnight but if you put one person off, or two people off…”

“...that is potentially one life saved,” Dave adds.

The pair have also enlisted an ambassador for their work.

Richard McCann was just five years old when his mother Wilma was killed at the hands of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe in 1975.

Richard later spent time in prison, but went on to overcome his difficult past to become a motivational speaker.

His role as an ambassador for LED has so far included coming back to Bramley, the area of Leeds where he spent the rest of his childhood following his mother’s death, to speak to today’s young people about how to overcome adversity.

He says: “When they invited me to become an ambassador, I said yes straight away. I loved Bramley.

“That’s where my soul is and if I can help people in Bramley, who are probably the kids of friends of mine from school, why wouldn’t I?”

For foundation co-founders John Thornton and Dave Jackson, helping young people make something of their lives is a key part of their work.

Dave says a visit to Wetherby Young Offenders Institute really hammered home the importance of this.

He says: “When I went round Wetherby, my son was about 10.

“I remember thinking, this place is awful.

“In six years’ time, if my son makes one mistake, yes, quite a big mistake, but if he ended up in here I would be absolutely mortified.

“It broke my heart and I thought, we have got to stop people getting here.”