From illegal immigrants in Peterborough to cutting-edge science - it’s all in a day’s work

Special constable Martin Dougherty

Special constable Martin Dougherty

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It’s 2am on a Sunday morning and constable Martin Dougherty, on patrol in Peterborough, gets deployed to intercept a suspected illegal immigrant.

The immigrant is a 15-year-old boy from Afghanistan with no money or possessions, apart from a mobile phone which he’s used to call police after speaking to his mother back home.

Dr Martin Dougherty, Chief Operating Officer of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Dr Martin Dougherty, Chief Operating Officer of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Martin has no choice but to arrest the boy and then helps find a place for him in social care.

Nothing out of the ordinary, you would think, for a Peterborough officer.

But for 49-year-old Martin this is exceptional - for during the week he is Dr Martin Dougherty, Chief Operating Officer of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Hinxton, Cambridge.

Martin, a father of two who lives near Peterborough, graduated as a Special constable in the summer.

Martin was awarded his PhD from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1994, and since then has occupied senior roles at several scientific organisations including the Royal Statistical Society and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

In his current role, which he’s held since 2014, Martin is accountable for leadership across functions including HR, organisation development, finance and areas such as capital projects and research administration.

The world-renowned Institute, funded by a charity The Wellcome Trust, is at the cutting-edge of genome and bioinformatics research. It was founded in 1992 and played a key role in the landmark sequencing of the first human genome.

So what motivated Martin to begin voluntary police work?

“For a couple of years I have wanted to do some professional development – but I didn’t want to do another stuffy course and I have a very good friend who is a Special Inspector in Shropshire and he’d been mentioning it for about 10 years.

“I also wanted to give something back to the community and I had considered working on the board of a charity too but I chose being a Special.

“It’s so completely different from my day job, which is full of board and committee meetings - it’s more of a leadership function. I enjoy being a Special because it’s about making those real life decisions that are going to have an impact and help people on the spot.

“My boss has been very supportive and we’ve signed up the organisation to employer supported policing (ESP).”

ESP is a scheme in which any employer can support their staff in volunteering as a Special constable. It is a partnership between employers, their staff and the police service to support Special constables in their duties to increase public safety and confidence.

Martin, who is originally from Stockport, carried out his first duties in September and works on reactive shifts from Thorpe Wood Police Station, often on night-time economy patrols in the city centre.

And he’s already facing the challenges of the frontline, including the aforementioned boy, who was found in London Road and could speak no English.

Martin said: “He had arrived two days before, on his own, and had nothing at all. He’d been in the back of a lorry and his journey had been traumatic. He was a vulnerable person but we were able to sort him out a place in a secure social care unit so he was cared for.”

On another occasion, Martin intervened in a fight between a young couple in central Peterborough, making sure the situation was safe and calm before sending them both home.

Martin now has nothing but praise for the role of Special and is promoting it among his work colleagues.

“The time and effort that you put in as a Special is rewarded 10-fold by the sense of well-being that you’re making a contribution to society”, he added.

“If you do your job well, the regulars are very welcoming and you feel like you’re making a difference supporting them.

“The voluntary sector in the UK is key to community cohesion - coaching at sports clubs or getting involved in parish councils - these are important roles in society with great benefits and being a Special is no different.”

Find out more about becoming a special here