Rhiwbina’s Derrick Hassan was the first serving black police officer in the South Wales Police. This is his remarkable story
There’s an old saying that reads:
‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.’
Back in 1972, Derrick Hassan was walking many a mile around the streets of Cardiff – and getting judged in the process for doing the job he’d only just started.
But Derrick wasn’t the sort of man to let the small voices of others deter him from his life goals. His voice was the one he listened to and by doing so, he not only helped keep the communities of Cardiff safe, but he also stepped in the history books forever.
Derrick’s story started in 1947 during the worst winter snows for a generation – he had to be dug from his house before he could meet the world. The family was based in the docks area of Cardiff but they soon moved to Ely, where Derrick and his two younger brothers grew up.
Wife Ceri recalls Derrick’s early years as he tried to figure out what he wanted to do with his life:
“He was very sporty and liked to play cricket and rugby. After leaving school, he joined the Merchant Navy, travelling all over the world and visiting places like Africa and Asia. When he returned, he started a carpentry job, repairing houses for the council. He was 23 years old.”
But it was 1972 when Derrick decided to join the police force that changed his life and the lives of countless others who have followed in his footsteps forever.
“Dad Moses was a leading member of the Somali community in Cardiff docklands,” says Ceri. “Moses was on the Watch Committee, that also included some police officers and they were keen to recruit a broader diversity of officers.”
Moses asked Derrick and his two younger brothers if they would like to join the police force. Derrick agreed and on October 6th 1972, Derrick pulled on the famous uniform for the first time.
“The early days were tough for him,” says Ceri. “He did get a lot of abuse. Derrick was the first black officer to serve in the South Wales Police and as such, he had no one else to speak to about his worries or concerns. He had colleagues of course but insomuch as his situation, he was completely on his own – no one else had been in that position before.”
But Derrick took it all in his stride.
“He had flak from the criminals and dare I say it, some of his own work colleagues at the time. But he stood up for himself.
“In those days, things were a little different to the way they are now. If an offender was being sent to prison for a while, they’d turn to Derrick and say ‘Can you keep an eye on the wife and kids while I’m away?’ Police officers were respected by the crooks, even if they were breaking the law.”
Within the force, and even within Cardiff’s criminal underbelly, Derrick quickly became liked and respected. He went on to join the CID, where he spent most of his police career, and where he made some long-lasting memories.
“He was out on the beat one day undertaking door-to-door enquiries when a woman opened the door, clutched her hand to her chest and let out a big gasp of shock,” recalls Ceri.
“Derrick asked her what the matter was and the woman explained that only a few months earlier, she had been to see a psychic medium who told her that she’d soon have a black policeman knocking on her door. At that point in time, there were no black policemen, which is why the woman thought that it was such a strange thing for a medium to say.”
While Derrick was building a solid reputation within policing circles, he also set about building his own family – a family he was always proud of.
“Derrick and I were introduced at the police club that used to be situated up the stairs on Queen Street,” says Ceri. “It was called the Blue Lamp and we never looked back.”
Derrick and Ceri married and had a son and a daughter together – Andrew and Aimee, who both attended Whitchurch High School.
“We moved to Rhiwbina in 1995 and have been here ever since. We quickly became integrated into village life and Derrick enjoyed company of friends, especially on the nearby golf courses.”
During his tenure with the police, Derrick became a leading figure in the Black Police Association (BPA) in the South Wales area, encouraging others from minority groups to become officers.
“He also enjoyed playing cricket and was a member of the force’s cricket team. He enjoyed that game for many years,” adds Ceri.
Derrick rose through the ranks to detective constable and through the years, became an icon for young ethnic officers.
“Derrick loved his work. He was firm but fair, even allowing one man to finish his pint before he arrested him!”
When Derrick picked up his Long Service medal, dad Moses told him that at first, he didn’t think Derrick would stick it out. In fact, Derrick remained in the force for 30 years.
In March 2002, Derrick formally retired from the police but continued to work at the Coroner’s Office until he was 62. He then moved to the Crown Court, where he finally retired altogether in 2015.
After he retired, Derrick enjoyed his beloved game of golf and socialising with friends and family.
“We sold the family house, downsized in Rhiwbina and bought a property in Spain where we spent a lot of time together before Derrick fell ill,” says Ceri.
Sadly, Derrick passed away in April this year. Although he had been ill, it still came as a shock to his loved ones.
His children were deservedly proud of the man they called Dad.
“To us, he was just dad and it’s only recently that we’ve started to understand the significance of his place in the world,” says Aimee.
“After Dad had gone, we had neighbours and friends telling us that they had no idea that Derrick was the first black policeman in South Wales. He achieved a lot.”
Derrick was laid to rest in May, with full police honours. Friends and family attended the funeral but it was also livestreamed so that those who he had influenced further afield could pay their respects and say goodbye.
But that’s not where Derrick’s story ends. Derrick’s life paved the way for so many other black police officers, not just here in Cardiff, but across the UK and beyond.
In later life, Derrick would say that it was the disillusionment of his young, black friends with the police that first inspired him to join the force in the first place.
“They were telling me stories about being harassed. We thought a black person should join the police and break down the barriers from within,” he once said.
It is then perhaps, testament to Derrick’s tenacity and attitude that we now live in a fairer place than we did when he took his first steps on Cardiff’s streets as PC Hassan – a time when race relations were practically unheard of.
Today, there is positive talk about a blue plaque in honour of Derrick.
“We are currently in talks with the right people. It’d be a lovely thing to do but it just means that I won’t be able to live elsewhere!” laughs Ceri.
Derrick leaves behind a legacy that will have positive implications for generations to come. During his life, he was encouraging and advisory, a mentor to many. But his pioneering work and attitude will serve to help countless others, both in their careers, and in their lives.