High-flying former RAF man stands down as Doncaster top cop after 30 years

A former RAF man who became a high-flying Doncaster police officer is set to step down after 30 years with South Yorkshire Police.
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Doncaster Superintendent Neil Thomas will step down at the end of this week after three decades on the beat.

Neil joined the force back in 1993 after leaving the Royal Air Force.

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Rather than fulfilling a life-long dream, Neil admits policing was initially more of a stopgap while he worked out his long-term plans. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Neil Thomas is stepping down from the police after 30 years.Neil Thomas is stepping down from the police after 30 years.
Neil Thomas is stepping down from the police after 30 years.

“I really had no idea what I wanted to do after leaving the air force,” said Neil. “So I decided to join the police until I worked out what career I wanted to pursue. At the time I didn’t realise that I had found it.”

After completing his training in Durham, Neil’s first posting was to Ecclesfield in Sheffield.

On completing his probation, he put his RAF background to good use by joined the newly formed Air Support Unit as an observer on the force helicopter.

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Neil went on to spend the next seven years flying not only in the UK, but also with the New York Police and New Zealand Police Air Support Units. He was the first South Yorkshire officer to fly more than 1,000 hours, clocking up 1,337 hours flying time.

In 2003, Neil became a Sergeant and was posted to response at Attercliffe, before moving on to the Doncaster district in 2004, first in Edlington then at College Road.

Neil remembers being ‘really grateful’ for the way his colleagues at Attercliffe rallied round him when he first started.

“I had completed my probation and then gone straight into a specialist area in Air Support, so my grasp of response policing was rusty to say the least,” he explained. “But the team looked after me during that steep learning curve.

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“After a year in Sheffield I moved over to Doncaster, which meant a lot to me. It’s where I grew up and where my parents still live.”

In 2005, Neil moved to Rossington, onto one of the newly created Safer Neighbourhood Teams. It was there that he applied to become a Hostage and Crisis Negotiator, which he served as for 15 years.

While working as a negotiator, Neil’s day job continued.

In 2007, he became an Inspector in Doncaster, securing a promotion to Chief Inspector in 2009. During this time, Neil was responsible for the Doncaster leg of the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

In 2012, Neil was seconded to lead the Specials Expansion Plan, overseeing the number of Specials rising from 100 to 450. This led to Neil becoming the force lead for Citizens in Policing overseeing Specials, Cadets, Volunteers and Mini Police.

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“I have always been incredibly impressed by the dedication of those who volunteer to work alongside the regular side of the force as well as the staff at Lifewise who support them. I admire all that they do and they have my upmost respect,” he said.

Neil was promoted to Superintendent in 2014, and took up the role of Regional Collaboration Lead, which saw him responsible for advising the Chief Constable and PCC on collaboration programmes across the region.

In 2016, Neil returned to Doncaster, both as a Superintendent and as Chair of the local Youth Offending Service Management Board, a role Neil will continue as in an independent capacity when he retires.

After such a long and varied policing career, what will Neil remember most? The people.

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“I can honestly say that I have had an amazing career across a wide range of roles but most importantly I have worked alongside some brilliant people,” he added.

Neil’s last day is on Friday and he officially leaves the force in January.