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About Trevor

by msecadm4921

Mark Rowe visited Trevor Barton before the May opening of his new offices – attended by Labour ministers and the Greater Manchester Police chief constable.

Trevor Barton was driving me around the streets of Atherton, Tyldesley, Astley – great, solid northern names. The man is after all a council member of the Association of Security Consultants, co-opted, as the ASC website rather quaintly puts it ‘for northern issues’.

He was driving round with a purpose, and we were chatting about various things. I was recalling the email system in Westminster I wrote about a few years ago, sent by a Met Police officer to central London businesses, about crime prevention and related matters, quick and easy, for building and security and other managers. I might have added Mark Hanna’s LISTEN email group. What is there to stop every supermarket chain, every town and city, having the same? Only lack of organisation, or willpower. I had visited Trevor Barton’s new larger offices in his part of Greater Manchester, so new the lift wasn’t in the lift shaft yet.

Among the things Trevor had to show was Grapevine, whereby post offices can sign up – and thousands have signed already – to receive text or email alerts about crime. Any post office can ring if they have suspicions about vehicles or customers; the call comes to the control room on the top floor of the building, where among the staff is a Post Office secondee. It’s logged, and the control room staff can – according to protocols signed with police – check that a vehicle, say, is not stolen, and can call the post office back and reassure the caller. Or if it is stolen, the control room can tell the police. Among the people in Trevor’s building are seconded police officers, have been for years.

This article may seem back to front. A reason is that to understand Trevor Barton and what he has achieved, at least so it seemed to me as I said to him, it’s a journey, symbolised by the car journey that Trevor took me on after the tour of his new site. He retired from Greater Manchester Police after 32 years, at the rank of chief superintendent, and set up for himself. It’s a journey that has led to him employing about 40 people; and it’s a journey not finished yet.

To make this story even more back to front, it began and ended at Atherton railway station one wet spring weekday; it was after all Manchester. Trevor picked me up in his car and drove me a short way then parked at the front of gates and a high industrial fence. The only sign said vehicle repairs. Trevor made sense of it by pointing to a building now without glass in the windows that was about to be knocked down to make way for a supermarket. Nearby, we passed the next home of his business; then, around the corner, the new home. The buildings are unmarked, by the way, and when you ring Trevor’s office they don’t say the name of the company, GCHQ-style (or at least it was more than a dozen years ago, the last time I rang Cheltenham).

Trevor’s business progress, for a fleeting time, then, until the bulldozers moved in, was all laid out. But there is even more to his journey, because as he recalls he set up for himself, a desk and a chair in a converted garage. When I met Trevor at a meeting of Ex-Police in Commerce (EPIC), he told the story – I did not take it down in shorthand, so here it is from memory – of how he wrote his first letter, and was ready to send it, when he realised that there was no-one else to put it in the envelope … he would have to put a stamp on it himself … and take it to a postbox himself! The little story neatly explains how the retired police officer no longer has the force with him, pardon the Star Wars reference. But lots of coppers retire, lots of chief supers even; but not many set up on their own. As Trevor says, chiefs have settled relationships and are happy to pursue hobbies, whether walking sailing, or whatever, ‘and good luck to them’. Trevor separated and has lately been going through divorce. This conversation, incidentally, is going on in the downstairs training room, where most of the floorspace is taken with objects in cardboard boxes and tables that before long will have police and other trainees sat behind, but for now they have yet to be unstacked. Trevor is leaning on the top of a table that’s on its side near the door. His cup of tea stands undrunk. "I have got that type of personality, and energy, that has to have an outlet somewhere." And the outlet, or one of them, is Professional Witnesses Limited, doing observations of the proverbial neighbours from hell, and giving evidence.

Earlier, some members of staff were eating a cold lunch around a large desk. In the first floor office, a shredder plugged into a socket in the corner, laptops, paperwork, framed pictures and notice boards yet to be fitted onto the wall. A BSIA award for Operation Hawkeye stands on a filing cabinet. Professional Witnesses were a part of the police operation to overtly monitor cash and transit deliveries in Manchester, sharing the intelligence with the police.

Professional Witnesses are no longer part of the project, which is now BSIA-based in Worcester.

A mix of ex-police and ex-military people. Mick Fisher is for example director of investigations, until recently as a detective inspector in charge of covert operations for Greater Manchester Police. At one end of the table, Peter Aaronson, for the last 15 months director of group operations. The former GMP superintendent used to run Manchester United ground control. The company works with police forces, and towards the end of the walk-round of the offices I said innocently that it reminded me of a police station. True, there are things that you would find in a police station, from the lockers to control room to hierarchical staff structure. But it is unfair to say this is (senior and efficient) ex-police officers doing work for police. The company has grown, because, Trevor says, ‘people have asked us to do things’. Like the case of the bank that rang on a Friday evening to say that a broadcaster was doing an expose and needed some help. The company was there the next morning, which on reflection like a lot of things sounds easy if you say it fast. The job called for security people not in a high-profile uniform but in a suit to blend in with the bank. Peter Aaronson mentioned a contract with GMP to help police recover stolen assets, what in the jargon is called an ‘intelligence-led operation’. Trevor puts a question to Peter while his mouth is full of lunch and everyone around the room laughs. The question is about the wider police family. Peter answers (when he has eaten) that to keep a police presence on the streets, police have employed PCSOs as a uniformed presence, so that the public feel reassured, and as a contact to the neighbourhood policing teams: "The same applies, to a lesser extent, with the private security world." Professional Witnesses was by the way one of the earlier SIA-approved contractors, in guarding.

And then there is what Trevor calls more than once the ‘plumber’s syndrome’ – that the plumber is called in to fix one thing, and it turns out that something else, larger, needs attending to, too. Mick Fisher reports that local authorities and partners in crime reduction are more and more looking to the private sector for assistance. For instance, what he terms ‘estate infiltration’, against neighbours from hell, to lead to eviction of families, ASBOs, and sometimes criminal charges. "But the reality is," he goes on, "that the police haven’t got the resources and dare I say it the senior management don’t have the inclination to deploy the resources over the period of time to get the result the employers are looking for."

Trevor, doing my job for me, asks him: invariably the resources are pulled out, to do something else? "That’s the point I am trying to make," says Mick. "When we put some of our staff into an area following intelligence from a local authority or a housing department we will remain for as long as the intelligence case stands up and the client wants us to be there, as long as we are gathering intelligence that can stand up in a court. And the limitation that the police have now, they may well be able to serve the needs of the local authority a couple of days here and there, but they will be dragged off, because they have something more pressing somewhere else, or a perception there is something more pressing. We are not setting ourselves up as a private police force but the need for that work is out there, so that the vast majority of the community can live safely."

Andy Cotterill, an ex-military man has been with the company for a while and runs the technical, control room side. He and Trevor report that while the control room began as a support to staff in the field, now it’s more, as I learn when I go up the stairs later. It takes in and gives out ‘intel’. So that whereas, as Trevor says, lots of deployments of manned guarding are purely reactive – a client raises a problem, the guard firm sends a uniform – given intelligence about incidents, the guard provider can tell the client where a guard needs to go, for what reason.

Discreet dome cameras are in the corner of rooms, I notice, as in the control room, which like other floors is access controlled, and the control room besides has the double-doors as an airlock. Trevor tells me that I am the first visitor to the control room. Like the rest of the place, it is not as it finally will be. In a corner is a Dedicated Micros digital recorder, that allows authorised staff to dial in to view images. One software feature is People Locator, staff tracking, for health and safety purposes.

This brings us to Grapevine, which has been going since last year. The idea came from John Scott, head of security at Post Office Limited, the post offices and cash in transit side of the postal service – the other sides being the postmen and letters; and Parcelforce. Think back to Operation Hawkeye. Besides videoing CIT vans on their routes, the project found that cash in transit (CIT) crews would ring with information of suspicions, particular cars they kept seeing: "There was a lot of intelligence out there, that needed tapping," Trevor recalls. John Scott wondered if the same applied to the thousands of post offices, at risk from robberies and other crimes. Trevor says: "It took us about 12 months to get all the IT side right." It ran as a trial in Manchester and Liverpool for some months, and is now nationwide, and judging by the ‘red dot map’ of Crown post offices and sub-postmasters who have signed, takers range from northern Scotland to southern England. If any post office sees something suspicious, they can ring and the data gets inputted, whether it’s a loss of a few hundred pound through a ‘sleight of hand’ crime at a counter, or a distraction theft, when a group of criminals will lure staff out of their secure area, then attack the premises or staff. Crown post offices that have signed to Grapevine, are in the main emailed, while for sub-postmasters the Grapevine control room has found text alerts get through quicker. One sleight of hand case is, well, what it is. But as Trevor says, if the intel is that several cases are happening with the same description of the offender, across several police forces, that is more interesting. If there is footage of suspicious people in a post office, an engineer from Romec, the CCTV installation and maintainance company that does much work for the Post Office, can collect the hard drive and a working copy can go to Trevor’s control room. A still of the suspect can be sent to police field intelligence officers in neighbouring police forces. Compare this with what Trevor says, no disrespect to police, that one police basic command unit might not be very good at talking to its neighbour. "So the more people that sign up nationally, the better the data," Trevor says of Grapevine. The more chance, he adds, for police to investigate trends, and groups of offences. The possibilities, as Trevor says, could stretch to the same sort of national gathering of crime intelligence, and reassurance to non-security staff who report their suspicions, and get feed-back! for petrol stations, betting offices, banks, anywhere money or assets are changing hands.

I ask Trevor about his role in his company. He describes it variously as chief plumber, as someone with over-arching responsibility, mentorship, choosing people who can make decisions in their field and leaving them to get on with it. He is, he says, a doer: "Let’s do it, you know? There’s others who analyse it to death." This is a man who has seen police authority committees, and who thinks if the police now think they are running a business, they are kidding themselves: "Because it isn’t real money, they can’t go bust … I have seen it both sides, the police world and the private world." As Trevor, in each job, the client wants the security provider to make themselves redundant. It’s not long-term like an alarm maintenance contract. Trevor reports he has few long-term contracts; once his company is called in about a problem, he has to solve it, maybe in the next week. The phone can ring and next week six staff could be responding to some crisis, some Buncefield. "How do you write a business plan for that?" There is, as I put to him and he acknowledges, the fact that staff mortgages depend on his company. And I quote something from (of all people! How does the brain store these things and bring them to mind decades later?) Jo Grimond, to the effect that only one or two per cent of people in a society, our society, are entrepreneurial, make businesses. Trevor answers that he is, rather, a problem solver, somebody who likes a challenge, "and what I think the police did for me over 32 years was to give me a set of skills and values that I could transfer". And, as he adds, he is a man of humour. He points to EPIC members, that ex-constables and sergeants, again with transferable skills, have founded and built successful businesses: "So I don’t think it’s anything to do with [police] rank.

One of the very first things that Trevor said, in the car from the station, was that he was a Labour supporter and a ‘Tony Blair fanatic’. I have kept that comment back because only on the last leg of this visit, as he took me to Leigh, did it make total sense. The tour by car has nothing to do with private security, in fact, and therefore has no place in the magazine, but it has everything to do with Trevor Barton. We stopped by Leigh Miners amateur junior rugby league club, with its new clubhouse and pitch after pitch with the H of posts at each end stretching into the distance. We passed the Leigh Miners adult RL club, and readers can imagine what it was like when Trevor went in there during the 1980s miners’ strike. Older readers can imagine the scene then. The six pits have gone, as they have in more or less all the old Labour-voting mining areas. Trevor is a high school governor; a Rotarian; he and others have put work into the Leigh Sports Village, an 80-acre, £83m effort ( to regenerate the town through sport and the arts. He drove me to the site. There was only so far we could drive as it’s a hard hat area. Some building look already pretty built, such as the sixth form college. There’ll be an indoor running track, that senior citizens can use for bowls. Trevor stopped in front of a flattened piece of ground that will be the town’s soccer and rugby league clubs’ 10,000-seater stadium, owned by the people, Trevor says, not some ‘benevolent despot’ businessman. Everything has been thought of, even bird boxes for the patch of woodland, and a bat roost.

In his younger days Trevor played rugby – union then league – and took a British police rugby league team to Russia; and to Australia, beating the Australian police on their home ground. Leigh is Trevor’s adopted town, where his grandchildren go to school. He is from Blackburn where his father was a borough policeman – ‘God rest his soul’. A brother – ‘God rest his soul’ – was in the police, and Trevor’s son and daughter are a GMP chief inspector and inspector respectively. Trevor puts work into EPIC, he says, ‘because it’s a massive learning curve when you leave [the police]’, leave the cocoon, have to be self-reliant. "I think that frightens a few bobbies from going back into private industry. I think that’s why a lot more enjoy working for other people, local authorities, and big companies; there’s a feeling of safety." Whereas twice, as Trevor admits, his business nearly went ‘bang’: "You have to keep your nerve."

In the Leigh Sports Village, then, sport and Leigh, two parts of Trevor Barton, have come together. Leigh has put its name forward for the Village to host a 100-strong Olympic team to train there in the weeks before London 2012. Now as I said to him, it has been difficult to think of what’s in the 2012 Olympics for the rest of the UK. Here is an answer, if only someone puts the work in. Trevor added that – and not many people appreciate it – that the early modern Olympics were also about the performing arts, and Leigh wants to encourage youths in the arts towards 2012. All this has nothing to do with private security and as I say has no place in the magazine. But as I reflected, on the train to Wigan, about all that Trevor had shown me, it struck me. Trevor has built a great deal in business – he has not put bricks on mortar, but everything short of that. I felt – and it is only my feeling, because I did not put it to Trevor, although, maybe because, it was such a very important matter – I felt that of all the things Trevor has built, it is Leigh Sports Village, not his security work, he is proudest of.

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