Inspector Les Fry's name is remembered by criminals and victims alike - though it's more than five years since he left his role as Dorchester police inspector. Now retiring from the force after 28 years, he talks to Rachel Stretton about the career he was 'honoured and privileged' to have.

“I HAD a reputation as a bit of a terrier.”

As former Dorchester police inspector Les Fry looks back on a long career, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that it’s a nickname he’s proud of.

“I would take it as a mark of respect,” he said. “I was targeting criminals and they didn’t like it. It was a nickname gained from being tenacious and not giving up on a problem.”

It wasn’t without risks. Inspector Fry said he’s been followed home on occasion, and cars would be recovered when he was a uniformed officer in Poole which were covered in graffiti describing him as various swear words.

But the threats only made him redouble his efforts in a job he says he has always done ‘to the best of my ability’. The job in Dorchester was his dream job, the reason he joined the police force, and he took his reputation with him, aided in crime-fighting by a team he describes as ‘talented’ and ‘dedicated’.

Much has changed since Inspector Fry joined Dorset Police in August 1990 – and he is still quick to praise the hardworking men and women who are facing new challenges.

“What Dorset Police is doing with safeguarding victims is relatively new and there’s a lot of work also going on surrounding supporting those with mental health issues. The chief constable and [Dorset PCC Martyn Underhill] are leading these important pieces of work. We don’t simply lock people up and process them anymore. It will make a postive difference to people's lives.

“At the front we are firefighting to a large extent; what we need is for people to engage with services before they come into custody, so they are getting the help they need before they get arrested.

“So there is a lot of good work going on – around mental health, the alliance [with Devon and Cornwall Police], with safeguarding. But on the flip side, there is a real risk that with the pressure on officers, the pressure on systems, we are reaching breaking point.”

The issue of police funding has been raised on many occasions, with Mr Underhill and South Dorset MP Richard Drax among those to raise their voices at the highest level in protest at what is seen as underfunding by government.

Inspector Fry said the pressure means the force is losing experienced officers.

“Some people have had enough and retired at the first opportunity, or just left. A lot of experience is going. It takes a minimum of six months to train someone up, but you are looking at two years for proper training.”

It’s the ‘right time’ for his own retirement, he added. Aged 62 he is ready for fresh challenges – but has no intention of relaxing completely, instead taking a job with West Dorset District Council and volunteering with the rural police crime team. He was a key part of the project which saw Dorset Police add a tractor to their vehicles to help raise awareness of rural crime. The tractor rose to fame when it was named ‘RoboCrop’ in a competition on BBC Radio 1. He was also part of the team that brought the skate park to Dorchester. Inspector Fry is also a Dorset County Hospital governor, on the management committee of the Dorchester Youth and community club and current president of Casterbridge Rotary Club, which is currently busy organising the Dorchester Marathon and Casterbridge half marathon.

Born in Abbotsbury, Inspector Fry was a pupil at Beaminster School and worked at the 400 acre, 180 cow dairy herd family farm in Little Bredy for 17 years.

But in 1990, he decided it was time for a change of pace.

“I’m a people person, I love working with people and my greatest satisfaction is problem solving. Working on a farm for 12 to 15 hours a day can be isolating”

From the beginning, he aimed for the top job in Dorchester, starting out in a uniformed role in Poole and moving through a role in Weymouth CID, a six-month stint as a custody sergeant and a role liaising with the Prince’s Trust. He was a patrol sergeant in Weymouth and the Purbecks (“Dorset has such a beautiful coastline) before taking the reins in the county town in December 2003, being promoted to the job permanently in January 2004.

Did it live up to expectations?

“It was an absolutely great job. I was very proud the community supported me. I was in a privileged position in Dorchester because it’s a job where you can see the problems but also see the solutions. I was very honoured to have held the position for so long. I loved it there.”

Dorchester police station was such a happy place, a senior colleague used to joke it was like going to Disneyland when he visited, Inspector Fry added. "People wanted to be at work and were happy to work there," he said.

In 2012 he took up a role as neighbourhood inspector in Weymouth and Portland where he continued to lead a crackdown on drugs and anti-social behaviour.

In 2014 he began work on a Dorset-wide public CCTV scheme, moving on to supervise the Dorset Police disclosure and barring service (DBS) and his most recent role has been as an Inspector at Weymouth custody suite.

“It’s been a fantastic career, and I’ve loved every moment,” he said. “I’ve gotten to work with some fantastic people who are really committed to making people safe. It’s been a privilege to work for Dorset Police for more than 28 years. It’s a great organisation.”

Asked about his career highlights, Inspector Fry points to the start of Dorchester’s One World Festival – a positive event which grew out of a shocking racist attack.

Bangladeshi-born Khalique Miah was set upon by thugs in June 2008 in the town centre. His attackers were jailed thanks to the efforts of police and, with help from Inspector Fry and others, he went on to set up the Speak Easy Dorchester group, promoting multicultural understanding and running English lessons for foreign workers. The group started the One World Festival, which this year marks its 10th anniversary. In 2011 he won the contribution to diversity category in the Dorset Criminal Justice Awards, and paid tribute to Inspector Fry and town crier Alistair Chisholm.

He is also proud of the Dorchester police team’s work with Magna Housing and the district council in cracking down on anti-social behaviour.

“Without those partners you are on your own,” he said. “I remember a meeting with residents where it felt very much like people believed police weren’t interested and everyone went away feeling better because they can see we are working in a partnership to solve these problems.”