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I went from the Shopping Squad to Super Nintendo to first female Assistant Chief Constable; JUDITH'S HISTORIC RISE TO TOP PSNI POST.

Byline: JILLY BEATTIE

JUDITH Gillespie made history yesterday when she was appointed Northern Ireland's first female Assistant Chief Constable.

Now the 41-year-old, who was accepted into the police on her third attempt, is leading a new multi- million pound project to speed up Ulster's criminal justice system.

And she hopes her promotion to the EUR9.,000-a-year post will encourage other women into the PSNI.

She said: "When I realised that my promotion was in fact historic, I felt very humble. I have had fantastic support and encouragement from my family and my colleagues and friends.

"The highest rank women held in the RUC and the PSNI before we broke through the ceiling was Chief Superintendent, and the changes I've seen during my service have been immense.

"I think the real move towards gender equality came about on April 1, 1994, when women officers were allowed to carry firearms." Mrs Gillespie said before that she and her female colleagues were referred to as the "shopping squad".

She said: "When the men went for their firearms training, the women were sent off elsewhere. They called us the shopping squad.

"No police officer wants to have to carry a firearm, especially, I believe, women but it was the introduction of guns across the service that knocked down the last gender barriers in the job.

"I would encourage any woman interested in joining the police to make that move, and if you fail like I did a few times, just keep trying."

But Mrs Gillespie, who has two daughters aged nine and 12, said being a mother is still her most important role.

She explained: "When I made Superintendent, the girls thought I'd become a Super Nintendo. It certainly helps keep your feet on the ground.

"But it's hugely important to have the balance that family gives you. There are dates such as the kids' school plays and sport days that are put in my diary and are non-negotiable.

"Working as an ACC is like being on a rollercoaster but it is brilliant and the job has been very good to me.

"It has been tough getting where I am today and it has required a lot of help and support from other people.

"I give everything to my job and I give everything to my family who have helped me be the police officer I am."

And while her home life is being organised by her retired police officer husband, Mrs Gillespie will continue to forge changes in Northern Ireland's society.

She is now leading the police team creating Causeway, a computerised integrated data system.

It will cost millions to implement, but will ensure the police, the DPP, courts, Probation Services, prisons and forensic experts will be in constant contact via cyberspace, saving time and money and mountains of unnecessary paperwork.

Mrs Gillespie, who heads the PSNI's new Criminal Justice Department dealing with victims, witnesses and hate crimes, said: "We hope by 2006 Causeway will make a huge impact."

And she has vowed to hunt down the thugs behind rising levels of homophobic attacks.

She said: "This is possibly a bigger problem than we were ever aware of.

"A number of attacks have happened in recent days and weeks which are absolutely horrific.

"Clearly there's an element that is very prejudiced towards the gay community.

"It's our job to seek out that element and deal with them through the courts."

CAPTION(S):

EARLY SUCCESS: Judith in 2000; ROLE MODEL: Judith wants to encourage other women into the PSNI
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 20, 2004
Words:585
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