High Sheriffs Awards
Not only has it been a great privilege to hold such an ancient office, but it has been an honour to follow in family footsteps. The first Lopes to become High Sheriff was in 1810; he was subsequently imprisoned in Exeter jail for two years from 1819 for bribing his constituents, but went straight back into Parliament on his release! My father was High Sheriff of Sussex in 1955, and I have a letter from his Under Sheriff instructing him of the time and place of a hanging to which he was to attend. Pencilled in my father’s writing is, “Reprieved by the Home Secretary”, obviously much to my father’s relief. He also wrote the first booklet on ‘the origins and duties of The High Sheriff’, which became indispensable to many High Sheriffs until the publication of the present one by the Association.
The role of High Sheriff carries such a wide remit. I have learnt so much about many different areas of Devon life from the judicial, police, clergy, military, civic and statutory services.And a little about the innumerable charities who do such amazing work for our communities. We have done so many memorable things during the year that it is difficult to pick out just a few.
Knowing very little about the justice system, I was much looking forward to being involved with the High Court judges on their circuit. We have entertained five and it has been so interesting. Our visits to the High Court were curtailed in October as thankfully there were no more murders or rapes to be tried in Devon.
I have been so impressed with the work of the magistrates, probation service and all the other organisations involved with the courts. I would like to do more to help CASS – Community Advice Support Service which directs defendants and their families to community resources, such as housing and aid with alcohol abuse, and I am sure helps stop reoffending.
Colyton, the winning school in the Magistrates' Mock Trial event organised by Mrs Judith Kauntze JP.
We have visited the three prisons in Devon. In Dartmoor, I had particularly wanted to see the ‘Storybook Dads’ project where the prisoners record bedtime stories for their children. This has expanded to the Forces and is being copied overseas. It is now employing two ex-offenders amongst its five full-time staff.
I have enjoyed the support of Stephen Otter, our Chief Constable, and the Police, and all they organized for me to do with them, my favourite being able to watch the sniffer spaniels training to detect explosives. I am especially grateful that I was allowed to give the High Sheriff’s Awards at their Award ceremonies, which were so moving. We heard stories of many brave unsung police heroes. I do not know if it happens in all counties, but Devon and Cornwall are allotted a Police Cadet to support them at events, although I am afraid I was not able to involve mine, Charlotte O’Toole, nearly as much as she deserved. These cadets are such a credit to themselves and the Police Force.
As well as Devon Crimebeat, my charity of the year was the Royal British Legion 90th Anniversary, as my grandfather Earl Haig was its founding President. This involved me in many military events. I was proud to launch the Poppy Appeal and went to Services and Festivals of Remembrance. I was privileged to meet members of the Military Wives’ choir, and through the RBL I visited homeless charities particularly in Plymouth, and through Crimebeat gave funding to Plymouth Foyer supporting homeless teenagers – an ever-increasing group.
The High Sheriff launches the Devon Poppy Appeal at the Citadel, Plymouth.
We were invited to Homecoming parades and I think the most memorable day I spent was at Operation HERRICK 14, Task ForceHelmand Homecoming in Exeter where all the highest ranking members of the Military had come down from London in support. We processed into Exeter Cathedral which was just full of men in desert camouflage. I was so proud to walk down the aisle amongst them.
They had lost 23 men. Candles for each of them were carried down the length of the Cathedral by a fellow comrade and placed on the altar. An unforgettably moving occasion.
Another moving event for another reason was my visit to the Coroner’s court. It was the inquests of a Rifleman and a Royal Marine killed in Helmand Province – seven months later. To hear the accounts of the events and injuries, in front of the widow, comrades and families, I found just too harrowing an experience.
We have had Royal visits – HRH The Duke of Edinburgh three times, HRH The Princess Royal twice, HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, HRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex and HRH Prince Michael, who took the salute and inspected the cadets at the Lord High Admiral’s Division Passing Out Parade at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
I have visited many wonderful charities. There are just so many unsung heroes and I have enjoyed meeting some of them. My evening with the Street Pastors in Torquay was a revelation. The British Red Cross, with which I have been involved for many years, look after the ‘safe place’, a vehicle where those rather the worse for alcohol are administered first aid and can sit to recover. As you walk the streets with the Pastors they give off such an aura of peace and wellbeing – as well as flip flops and bottles of water!
The Street Pastors with John Saunders of the Red Cross at the 'Safe Place'.
I have yet to see the South West Ambulance Service headquarters, and there were one or two other engagements I was unfortunately not able to fulfil as I broke my leg four days before handing over to my successor, Robin Barlow, and was unable to make his Declaration either. Quite an end to a very fulfilling year!
The Hon Mrs S V Lopes
High Sheriff of Devon 2011/2012