'Age five I could only make five sounds': Shropshire top cop reveals daily battle to speak

Shropshire's top police officer has spoken about a hidden disability that he has battled with since he was a child.

Superintendent Stuart Bill
Superintendent Stuart Bill

Superintendent Stuart Bill, is the 6ft 7in tall local policing area commander for the county, a tactical firearms commander, a post incident manager and a high ranking public order official.

Supt Bill sometimes speaks to rooms full of hundreds of officers, and even critical members of the public.

But in a Safer West Mercia podcast interview this week, Supt Bill revealed he has battled with a debilitating speech impediment all his life.

"At the age of five I could only make five sounds," Supt Bill told West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion in the PCC's regular podcast. "Only my family could communicate for me and my journey has been a challenge.

"I still struggle to speak - even this conversation with you now I have to focus on every single word I am saying. If I don't I will become very difficult to understand and it is that constant challenge."

Supt Bill, who transferred to Shropshire in May from the West Midlands, says he has never classified his speech impediment as a hidden disability because it is part of who he is but he recognised that his challenge was an issue to talk about. He joined the police in 1997-98 as a special constable in the West Midlands.

Now Supt Bill said he recognises that he is perfectly clearly understood but people "won't really realise the internal battle that's going on through every moment of the words that I am saying."

Mr Campion, the PCC, revealed that he is dyslexic but like Supt Bill doesn't see that as a disability.

Supt Bill said until about five years ago he had never felt comfortable about his "elephant in the room".

But now he says he feels he has to talk about it and to encourage people to be open about who they are.

"It's ok to have some weaknesses or traits that I maybe wouldn't have chosen to have but makes me who I am," he said.

Supt Bill said he thinks some people especially on the "very dark" side of social media will "mock" him for his impediment.

But he has a "thick skin" through his police career.

"I fully expect that some people will mock me but most will be supportive," he said. "I have had some colleagues mock me but far more are supportive and welcoming."

He said he would like to see the police do more to bring their diversity, equality and inclusion strategy to life and to embrace it.

His message to others is for them to "go for it" and be open and honest in talking to people.

"On day one at school I couldn't make a sound and now I'll stand and brief hundreds of officers," he said.

"I still get those nerves - they'll never go away but you learn to live with them and cope and I think that's the important thing."

Mr Campion encouraged other people with hidden disabilities to consider joining West Mercia Police.

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