Devon and Cornwall Police saw the arrival of its first black officer in 1967.
As highlighted by the @DCPoliceHistory Twitter account, PC Paul Sooben came to Devon from Mauritius with his family in the 1960s.
He joined the force in 1967 and served in Torbay. He was a founding member of the Torbay Police Choir, formed in 1972, which saw police officers, Specials, retired officers and police staff sing together and foster good relations with the general public. The choir’s positive ethos also saw them raise money for local charities.
On May 25, 1967 the Torbay Express and South Devon Echo, alongside reports about the number of US servicemen killed during a week of heavy fighting in the Vietnam War, and a report about Sir Francis Chichester encountering rough seas and storms in the Atlantic during his solo solo circumnavigation of the globe, announced “P.C. Sooben for Paignton”
It went on to reveal: “Devon’s first coloured policeman will start at his first station, Paignton on Monday.
“He is 25-year-old Paul Sooben form Mauritius, who is now at the county headquarters at Middlemoor, Exeter, on a local procedure course.
“He came to England in 1960 on holiday with his parents and liked it so much that he decided to stay. He worked first for a plastics firm in London.
“He has completed three months’ training at the police school at Chantmarle, Dorset, finishing third of 40 in the final examination.
“Police-cons. Sooben is already ‘extremely popular with his fellow officers,’ a senior officer said today.
“His wife, Patricia, comes form Stockport and they have a two-year-old son, Philip.”
For some unknown reason, Pc Sooben’s arrival in Devon also made the front page of the following day’s Coventry Evening Telegraph.
Black History Month 2020
Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month.
It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.
It is celebrated in February in the United States and Canada, while in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom it is observed in October.
The only other mentions of Pc Sooben was Torbay Express and South Devon Echo’s 1972 reports on the Torbay Table Tennis league matches and a report of a trial in 1969 of a Torquay United player accused of driving while banned where Pc Sooben was a key witness.
PlymouthLive understands Paul is still alive and well and enjoying his retirement, even still singing with the Torbay Police Choir.
John Kent was the first black police officer in Britain.
Born in 1805 in Kent, he joined Maryport as a parish constable before joining Carlisle City Police force as a supernumerary Constable in 1837.
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John Kent was the son of Thomas Kent, a seaman who worked on the estate of a Cumberland colonial civil service worker in the West Indies.
Thomas Kent is believed to have originally arrived at Whitehaven, West Cumbria, where he worked at Abbey House as a slave for the Senhouse family. He was later granted freedom and went to sea, going on to marry and have nine child, though some died.
John Kent was known as ‘Black Kent’ during is service in the police force.
He was later dismissed for drinking on duty in 1844, though it was normal in that era as clean drinking water was so rare.