End of an era as Debs leaves Sidmouth police station

Sidmouth Police Station’s inquiry officer loses job after more than 17 years as town’s public face of police

A PART of Sidmouth has disappeared following the closure of the Temple Street police station’s front office and loss of Debbie Hollamby, its inquiry officer, the station’s public face for 17 years.

Debbie, or Debs (never Deborah), received scores of best wishes from the public when she said farewell last week and there is no doubt her friendly face will be missed.

Debbie, nee Saunders, was a bank clerk aged 19 when she decided she wanted to give the long arm of the law a helping hand. In her spare time she became a Special Constable, tackling all kinds of difficult situations.

In 1989, aged 22, in an interview with Kingsley Squire, Debbie said: “I’ve never regretted the day I joined. Since I’m hoping to join the regular force, being a special helps you make up your mind about policing as a career, because it gives you a good insight into what the job is all about.”

Then she was one of 180 specials in the Exeter ‘D’ Division, carrying out duties in Exmouth, Exeter, Devon County Show and various carnivals, including Sidmouth’s.

“She’s also been hit over the head with beer bottles and cans, though fortunately, that is very much the exception rather than the rule,” wrote Kingsley.

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She also received letters of thanks from the public, including a victim of a burglary who she had looked after at the time.

Sergeant Gerry Moore, now employed by East Devon District Council as Anti-Social Behaviour and Community Safety Co-ordinator, was one of the officers on Debbie’s interview panel.

He said: “She showed true potential and convinced the panel that she was the right person for the job. History has proven this to be a wise decision in employing her.”

Then the station enquiry office was open 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

She moved to Sidmouth after working part-time at Exmouth Police Station and also did a spell in the Coroner’s Office.

Debbie, 45, was educated at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary, has lived in Newton Poppleford nearly all her life.

In the 1990’s, when Sidmouth International Folk Festival attracted some 90,000 visitors to enjoy seven days of music, song and dance, she was often the first person a bemused officer, sent from afar, met when they arrived for duty.

Then, the policing operation was huge and Debbie was on hand for the entire seven days, often working 12-hour shifts each day.

A previous Inspector at Sidmouth Police Station used to take great delight in winding Debbie up. In his words he describes this: “After she took on the SEO post I used to ring from time to time and speak in French.

“At first she was a bit shy and tried her best to be helpful, after a while she just used to tell me to ‘Bugger off’.”

Sidmouth’s Sergeant Andy Turner has said what a great loss she will be, both personally and professionally, to Sidmouth, and adds: “She has been a very good friend, we have known each other as children.

“Debbie was the real commander in chief at Sidmouth, the station has run smoothly for years because of her steady hand at the wheel.

“Many people thought she just answered the phone and dealt with the people who came through the front door. Her responsibilities went much further, she was responsible for all firearms handed to the police…sometimes having control of more than a dozen lethal weapons.

“She ran the vast seized property store which housed exhibits from crimes of car theft to murder.

“An officer’s life can be stressful. The station rarely saw the need for professional help. A cuppa with Debs would lead to a kind word, a smile, some friendly banter, or ‘pull yourself together’. I know those chats saved me from some very depressive days.”

When MSC Napoli grounded off Branscombe beach, Sidmouth Police Station became the command centre for the policing operation.

Debbie was heavily involved in providing admin support to visiting senior officers and the Neighbourhood police team.

Says Andy: “As the operation grew bigger and bigger, the demand on Debbie’s time grew with it. She never ever let the pressures get to her.”

Debbie’s reputation goes before her with officers from Calgary Police, Canada, joining those sending best wishes for her future.