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Introducing our High Sheriff of Devon, Gerald Hine-Haycock

15th November 2020

For me, one of the very real delights (and insights) of being a member of our club, is that you never know who you might be sat next to…

I was reminded of this when Captain Pete and I attended this year’s Trafalgar Night dinner and found ourselves to be dining with Gerald and Judy Hine-Haycock.

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Already aware of Gerald’s career as a broadcaster, latterly working at BBC Bristol, and as former Editor of our very own “Masthead” magazine, I was intrigued to hear about his appointment as the 2020/21 High Sheriff of Devon. Although I wonder how I hardly dared to suggest an interview to find out more about this special office (with a view to sharing with other curious members). But he agreed. Perhaps because of his interviewing experience as a TV presenter and correspondent, Gerald would know how to answer the questions.

For those Robin Hood devotees in our midst, you might suppose that you already have some understanding of this 1,000-year-old unbroken tradition…the oldest Royal appointment that now has its own website (yes really, www.HighSheriffs.com). Or maybe, like me, you wanted to find out more...

With its origins dating back to Saxon times, the High Sheriff or ‘Shire Reeve’ (as it was then known) was responsible to the King for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county; and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown. So far, so Robin Hood. It has existed in an unbroken line in Devon for 1,100 years.

One of 55 appointees across England and Wales, the High Sheriff nowadays is the Queen's representative for the county of Devon (also known as the “bailiwick”) with responsibility for judicial, ceremonial and administrative functions. The High Sheriff executes High Court Writs, is the returning officer for elections in Devon, and a more gruesome, than glamorous responsibility – he/she would’ve had to attend executions. But the main purpose of the role is to lend support for all the judicial matters in Devon, including the work of the “blue light” services.

As you might expect for such a time-honoured tradition, there’s more to the appointment than a tap on the shoulder and a meaningful wink. Correct. But wonderfully true to the adage: behind every great man there’s a great woman, Judy was approached before Gerald when she was asked hypothetically if she thought he wouldaccept the post.

Nominations to the Office of High Sheriff are overseen by the most senior judges in the country and the Privy Council for consideration personally by the Sovereign - a very organised four years before the term of office. The annual nominations of three prospectives for each county are then made in a meeting of the Lords of the Council in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice and the Queen’s Remembrancer – which happens to be around this time of year. Musts are that the potential candidates live in the county of Devon: are not an MP, in legal service or in uniformed office for this non-political appointment. You also have to be of good character!

A Devonian to his core, Gerald is steeped in the history of Kingswear and the Royal Dart Yacht Club. His paternal Grandfather was Commodore of RDYC and the family home, Kittery Court, is next door - scene of many a party and family gatherings. Gerald’s Aunt Anne was secretary of the club for 25 years and his father, the distinguished Brigadier William Hine-Haycock of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, was Deputy Lieutenant for Devon and involved in Enterprise Neptune in the mission to save the coastline around Kingswear. Reinforcing this fond connection, woodland was planted at Froward Point in the Brigadier‘s honour.

As a young boy, Gerald attended St Michael’s prep school in North Devon and later met Judy (born in Totnes) in Plymouth whilst working as a journalist for Westward TV (the early ITV). Two of their four children graduated from Exeter University and Gerald’s sisters Rozanthe and Daphne live in Kingswear and Ogwell.

When Gerald got the call about his nomination he admits he was initially nervous. Mainly because he didn’t know much about the role. But conversations with predecessors soon filled him in. “Build your year” was the key advice and expect around 250 events. Interestingly, a condition for the year of office is that Gerald shouldn’t be out of the country or at least should guarantee a return within 24 hours (prompting careful consideration about trips with Boys in Boats!). Why indeed…? Because it would fall to him as High Sheriff to announce to the county the new monarch in the event of the Queen’s passing.

Gerald knew of his selection a year in advance, but had to keep hush-hush whilst background checks were underway at the highest policing level (cue thoughts of James Bond and MI6). High Sheriffs shouldn’t be an embarrassment to Queen, country – or Devon.

A meeting followed two years prior at Burleigh House in Lincolnshire for all the High Sheriffs in Nomination; then another a few months later at Athelhampton House in Dorset for another getting-to-know-you session. A rather long-drawn-out tap on the shoulder, you might say.

Announced in March, the appointment of the new High Sheriff is marked by the tradition of the Queen ‘pricking’ the appointee’s name written on vellum with a bodkin and is the only formal ceremony for which she sits down. But then tradition unravelled this year and had to bow to our exceptionally unusual times when Gerald’s nomination was announced two days before the first lockdown, putting a stop to the grand ceremony at Littlehempston on the outskirts of Totnes before county leaders and family friends.

You would think that our very own High Sheriff of the Club would be slightly…well, miffed to put it mildly, with not one lockdown during his year of office, but two. But no, not all. Well, he’s disappointed the Mayflower 400 celebrations were a tiny drop in the ocean; the Passing Out Parade at the Royal Naval College was cancelled, that he wouldn’t see the Ten Tors and the cancellation of the Queen’s Garden Party due to the pandemic. Personable as Gerald is, he’d much rather be out and about attending his engagements in person. But he’ll have his memories - including to date, laying a wreath for VJ Day in Plymouth, attending a murder trial and spending the day with the Coastwatch team at East Prawle. He’s also visited all three of Devon’s prisons.

However, when we spoke, within the last week, Gerald and Judy had been at a murder trial in Plymouth; the National Coastwatch Institution at East Prawle, and he was recently filmed in his full High Sheriff attire reading the lesson for the Remembrance Service at Exeter Cathedral streamed on social media because of social distancing. Later that day, he was due to have Zoom video conference calls with the Head of the Ambulance Service and Devon Air Ambulance.

“Oh, and Gerald…what about the other week that you told us about over dinner?”

“Oh yes, I was on a ride along in the back of a police car: we’d helped to release someone in an extreme domestic violence situation, then we rescued a 96-year old woman who’d fallen in her flat with her door locked; then we went to an attempted suicide and then we found an 86-year-old Alzheimer’s man on the bus with £100… All within three hours.”

Clearly, lockdowns 1 and 2 haven’t been an excuse for inactivity for this High Sheriff. Quite the opposite. By adapting to online communications, Gerald has been as busy, if perhaps more so virtually, and on top of his job description, he’s become an expert in video conferencing. Every month, Gerald writes a prisons brief for the other West Country High Sheriffs and attends Devon crime updates with the Police and Crime Commissioner. If you’re learning like me…the Lord Lieutenant of Devon is the Queen’s permanent number 1 representative of the county to Gerald’s number 2. Whilst the High Sheriff is a one-year post, the Lord Lieutenant, with whom Gerald works closely, keeps the top job until the ripe age of 75.

Working to support him, Gerald speaks highly of his team of an Under Sheriff, a High Sheriff's Chaplain, a Shrieval Clerk and two High Sheriff Police Cadets. He’s also taken the opportunity to bond with his nine West Country counterparts; which might possibly not have had quite the same impetus without the lockdown.

Is there no way they could give you “another go” next year because of the impact of the lockdowns?

No, because of the four-year nomination cycle, there are already three other people behind Gerald in the queue and believe it or not, it would need an Act of Parliament to change the tradition. Gerald’s hopeful that come early 2021, life will have opened up again and he and Judy will have a flurry of face-to-face Sheriff and “Sheriffina” invitations to end his Shrieval year on a rewarding high. All of which is being dutifully documented in his High Sheriff diary and Gerald has the last eight to look back on – which he’ll hand over at the Declaration Service of the incoming High Sheriff at the end of his year.

Apart from his boundless enthusiasm and energy you can see why Gerald got the call. Previously a Trustee of the Citizens Advice in South Devon, he was also the Chair of his home village, Littlehempston’s Parish Council, which can boast of the successful purchase of their local pub!

A committed volunteer in the prison service, Gerald has served as Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Channings Wood on the outskirts of Newton Abbot. Call-out at 3am in response to a rooftop protest or a death in custody. Monitoring the prison policy from close-up has prompted some deep thinking about the effectiveness of prisons, justice and fairness. Gerald regularly visits Exeter Prison and Channings Wood and one of his hopes as High Sheriff is to ensure that prisons get the recognition they deserve.

With obvious pride he tells of the rehabilitation work of independent charity, LandWorks based at Dartington; enthusing about their “incredible nurturing of the individual…so that they feel valued,” by engaging former prisoners in practical activities like woodwork and growing vegetables. Did I know that on average 60% of prisoners re-offend in the first year, but after attending LandWorks, it’s only 4%?

Being a High Sheriff has all the hallmarks of a modern-day influencer. Gerald is often approached by local charities about fundraising suggestions, buying fridges for food banks, organising food for heroes - ambulance men and staff on long shifts, and is asked to write letters of support, issue certificates, attend ceremonies (where possible), to facilitate positive outcomes that make a difference to the people and businesses of Devon. Above all, to say thank you to those who go “above and beyond” what might be expected of them.

High Sheriffs receive no remuneration and no part of the expense of a High Sheriff’s year is allowed falls on the public purse. Yet hospitality is a key part of the job description and the High Sheriff and Sheriffina are expected to look after the Judges in the county: be it entertaining them in their home, bringing meals to the courthouse, and holding a huge garden party to say thank you to those people who will have helped during the year, and Devon’s unsung heroes. Good job Judy’s a foodie and likes cooking; even if social distancing has halted homely hospitality for the time-being.

Further evidence that Gerald takes seriously his responsibilities as High Sheriff, he and Judy have taken it upon themselves to go for day trips to explore our lovely and sprawling county, visiting previously undiscovered towns – Crediton, Okehampton, Sidmouth, Teignmouth, to meet local people and the mayor. As an interesting geographical aside, Devon is the only county where the High Sheriff revolves every four years to represent the four corners; and next year will be the turn of East Devon.

We could’ve talked all day and I would’ve still learned more and been even more in admiration of our very own High Sheriff of Devon at RDYC.

Thank you, Gerald, for these insights into your role and for all your good deeds as High Sheriff of Devon.

We wish you every continued success and fulfilment.

Much more real than Robin Hood.

Interview by Jude Owens

See here some more information about The Shrievalty Association.

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