Alison Monica Halford (born 1940)

smiling woman

The first female Assistant Chief Constable in the country

Alison Monica Halford was born on 8 May 1940 in Norwich. On leaving Notre Dame Convent Grammar School she spent three years in the Women's Royal Air Force and then moved to London determined to start anew as a dental hygienist. A chance invite to make up the numbers at a Metropolitan Police Concert changed the course of her life. She was aware that her new career in dentistry was not living up to her expectations and so, aged 22, Alison applied to join the police force.

Alison's career began spectacularly. She was quickly promoted to Detective Constable in the CID, accepted on a 'fast track' promotion course and had reached the rank of Inspector by the age of 27. In the first 21 years of her career she had 18 jobs rising to Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police force working at Scotland Yard and Hendon Police Training School.

Alison applied for the post of Assistant Chief Constable on Merseyside because she saw it as a new challenge in her career. With her new role, Alison became the highest-ranking policewoman in the country. Her career had seen many firsts. She was the first woman to take operational charge of a police station (Tottenham Court Road), the lead instigator in setting up rape crisis centres and she helped to set the standard for abused women and children being interviewed by female police officers. Her training strategies were adopted throughout the country. A professional, articulate, independent woman, her career was a major part of her life.

Discrimination

Alison however, had a hard time fitting into the old fashioned and notoriously masculine Merseyside police force. Until that point in her career she had not really had any experience with discrimination. Her relationship with the then Chief Constable, Kenneth Oxford, was strained, and was not helped when in 1987 she wrote an article for 'Police Review' accusing police chiefs in general of sex discrimination. Alison says in the article,

"There appears to be a strong but covert resentment or mistrust of the competence of a woman who can get to the heart of a problem, shows creativity and innovation and manages to acquire a reputation for getting things done."

Working relationships with her male colleagues began to deteriorate. She felt that any wrong decisions she had made in her career were highlighted, where they would have been glossed over for one of her male counterparts and that there was a genuine move by her all-male colleagues to exclude her. Eventually she felt that she had no option but to bring discrimination charges against her boss and the force, because she felt that by not backing her promotion applications they were not allowing her the chances she deserved.

The case hit the headlines nationwide and she instantly became a household name. Automatically linked to women's issues, she often pointed out that she was not a feminist,

"I do get tired of all that men versus women stuff. I like justice. I think people should be awarded things on their own merit. Being a man or a woman should not accord anyone greater or lesser privileges."

No Way Up The Greasy Pole

The story of her fight for equality is told in her book released in 1993, 'No Way Up The Greasy Pole' in which she talks candidly about her 30 years in the police force.

The long drawn out case ended with an out of court settlement in 1992 for "not very much" money. Alison retired from the police force and became involved in local politics, joining the Labour Party. From 1999 to 2003 she was elected as a member of the Welsh assembly for Delyn. She also became involved in various committees, including being a member of the North Wales Police Authority.

Today Alison remains in the North West, is active in local politics and her opinion is often sought on political and policing issues. Following her landmark equality action the Equal Opportunities Commission participated in the development of all future police force promotion policy. The EOC said that her case had

"had a major impact in raising the profile of the issue of Sex Discrimination of women in the police and of women in top jobs generally."

A new police uniform

As the first female Assistant Chief Constable in the country, Alison had to create her unique uniform herself. She based it on those of her male counterparts, adding the skirt from a previous uniform. The cap badge was added to the hat of a lower ranking female uniform.

This unique uniform is now in the museum's collections. It was displayed at the former Museum of Liverpool Life in 2005.

Police uniform jacket next to a peaked hat

Alison Halford's police uniform. Accession number MMM.2003.107.1