In 1968, Sislin Fay Allen, a nurse at Croydon’s Queens Hospital, became Britain’s first Black policewoman. She came across a newspaper advertisement recruiting male and female police officers, and despite the absence of any Black female officers at the time, she applied. Her application led to an interview and eventual acceptance, surprising her husband and family.
During the selection day, Allen noticed that she was the only Black woman among ten women and numerous young men. After passing exams and a rigorous medical evaluation, she started to work at Croydon’s Fell Road Police Station. Allen remembers her friends being sceptical about her acceptance into the force due to her race, but she proudly showed them her acceptance letter.
“I can remember one friend said, `Oh they wouldn’t accept you, they don’t accept Black people in the force’, and so I said `Well my dear, I’ve got news for you’ and I showed her the letter.”
Following her training and passing-out ceremony, Allen was stationed in Croydon. On her first day on duty, she experienced a mix of stares and congratulations from the public. Her early days as a Black policewoman drew significant media attention, but those initial stares dissipated over time.
Allen recalled: “The first day on the beat in Croydon was daunting, but it wasn’t too bad because I went out with an officer. People were curious to see a Black woman there in uniform walking up and down, but I had no problem at all, not even from the public. On the day I joined I nearly broke a leg trying to run away from reporters. I realised then that I was a history maker. But I didn’t set out to make history; I just wanted a change of direction.”
Allen’s colleagues at Croydon were accepting, and after about a year, she was posted to Scotland Yard. The prejudices she encountered primarily came from her own community for joining the police force. Although Allen received some hate mail due to her role as the Met’s first Black female officer, her supervisors only showed her supportive letters to shield her from distress.
In 1972, Allen left the Metropolitan Police due to family commitments and moved with her children to Jamaica – her husband’s birth country. She joined the Jamaican police force and received a welcoming letter from then-Prime Minister Michael Manley. Eventually, she returned to the UK with her family and settled in south London.