Andrew Copley

Veteran Royal Engineer and former Police Officer credits the support he received from SSAFA as helping him forge a new career later in his life.

Andrew Copley

Veteran Royal Engineer and former Police Officer credits the support he received from SSAFA as helping him forge a new career later in his life.

When Andy was forced to leave his job in the police, and was left at rock bottom, it was his family from his previous career in the Armed Forces that rallied round him.

He found huge support at SSAFA in Southend, Essex, at a time he was most alone, and the branch helped him forge a new career.

Now working in security for high profile celebrities, Andy is thriving, and uses his spare time to give back to the charity that once helped him.

Army Career

Andrew Copley (Andy), joined the Army in 1987, but despite a successful career, he decided to leave in 2001 and join Essex police, so he could be more available for his family.

“I was in the Royal Engineers, as a Corporal, doing combat engineering as well as an artisan tradesman role as a carpenter and joiner.

“I started off in Old Park Barracks in Dover and I then went on to Gibraltar Barracks where I learnt my combat engineering skills. Once I passed my combat engineering qualifications, I went to Osnabruck with 12 Field Squadron, a Royal Engineer Regiment. I was there for a couple of years and then I came back to the UK and I then did my carpentry and joinery course, which I’ve been leaning on a lot now. Once I passed my chippy course, I went to 34 Field Squadron, which was an air support squadron in Waterbeach Barracks, and that’s where I started to progress my skills, both as a carpenter and joiner and also a Combat Engineer.

“At the time there were a lot of air support roles around the world to maintain airports, which is a really important thing strategically. While I was there, I did an Advanced Trade Carpentry Course, I then went to EOD (Explosive Ordnance Company) and I spent about two years there. I was with a bomb disposal unit and a team called “Battlefield Area Clearance" - it was clearing mines and other munitions in the UK from the Second World War and also munitions from various exercise areas. My job was to support a whole squadron ensuring all the equipment used by the searchers was maintained at all times. I also supported the guys on the ground. I mainly looked after the all the technical equipment and managed the admin. I also used to drive the bosses and the officers around. It was a lovely little job.

“From there, I did three years as a training NCO at The Army Training Regiments, Bassingbourn. We’d teach basic First Aid, Nuclear Biological Chemical Warfare, Rifle Drill and Weapons. I then went back to 53 Field Squadron. I was very lucky with what I did in the Army.

“I was also a High-Altitude Mountaineer and I climbed many mountains and spent a lot of time away. I was very fortunate to be part of a multinational Army expedition to the Himalayas to climb a mountain named “Nilkant” named after Shiva in the Hindu religion. I was part of a three-man team from the British Army; there was me from the Royal Engineers, Captain Bushby from the Black Watch and Sergeant Steve Higgins from the Army Physical Training Corps. We climbed with soldiers from around the world, including the French, American, Italian, Nepalese and Indian Armies. I was able to make the summit of 21,996 Feet, it wasn’t the highest mountain, but had not previously been summited. My bucket list included climbing Mount Everest, but that sadly never happened!

“In 2000, I decided to leave the British Army, as I was always away from the UK. I started to think of my future and wanted to start a family. I decided to leave the Army to become a Police Officer. It was probably the biggest mistake of my life.”

Police Career

Andy had a varied career in the police including spending time in the tactical firearms unit, anti-terrorism and surveillance, eventually becoming a detective with CID.

“The day I was accepted into the police, the 8th February 2001, was the same day I handed my Army ID card in. It was a sweet and bitter day both added together.

“It was good that I’d passed, but I was sad to give back part of my military identity. It hurt because I knew what I was leaving behind. I was a good soldier and was told on multiple occasions that if I wanted to return I could. But I made the decision to stay in the police.

“I served in the police for almost 19 years. My military skills came in handy, especially during the first couple of years when I was a Divisional Response Officer. I also spent nine years on the Tactical Firearms Team, where I was also a Rural Surveillance Officer, I spent a lot of time doing surveillance, which I enjoyed. I also transferred my military skills and worked on the Marine Unit working on boats operating around the coast of Essex.

“I went on to become an accredited detective where I started in front-line CID, specialising in domestic violence investigations, which was a real eye opener, but I really enjoyed making a difference to many abused and vulnerable survivors. I was even told by one survivor ‘Thank you for saving my life’.

“Then it all came to a head and on the 1st February 2019, I was dismissed.”

Leaving the Police

On the 1st February 2019, at a gross misconduct tribunal, Andy was accused of selling specialist police equipment on eBay. The items were actually sold by his wife: Andy had told her he didn’t need the items that belonged to him, anymore and they could be disposed with. Professional standards believed the items belonged to Essex Police.

Despite not be charged for any criminal offences, Andy was dismissed from the police force following an investigation by Professional Standards. He lost his income, his full pension, and a job he loved.

“I was accused of selling specialist police equipment; it was a camouflaged leaf suit, a pair of boots and a yachting jacket. There were five items over a five-year period, out of 400 items my wife had sold online. It happened because when we cleared the loft out, she’d ask, 'Do you want that?' and I’d say 'Nah'. There was no intent, it is my genuine belief that all items sold were mine – it was old equipment I had at home and none of it was sold for much money, I would never have put my police career in jeopardy if I had any thoughts it was Police-issued equipment.

“I was given legal advice by the Police Federation and a Barrister to give a silent interview when I was under criminal investigation. There was no evidence, so the CPS dropped the case, but the Professional Standards body dismissed me because I had not said anything during the interview. It’s called an Adverse Inference. They assumed I was guilty because I didn’t cooperate.

“They found me guilty and dismissed me with immediate effect on the Friday. I went home and I had no clue what to do.

“I was disappointed, upset, angry. I went through every emotion; I was having pains where I’d never had pains before. I went to the doctors and they said, “it’s anxiety”. It’s brought on other mental health conditions and I was given Sertraline to help me through."

[Sertraline is a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It's often used to treat depression, sometimes panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)].

“Everything I’ve done in my life I’ve been a law-abiding citizen. If there was anyone in trouble, I’d always run towards danger to help them. After everything I’ve done, put my life on the line for, for that to then happen, it really hurt.

“Afterwards I wanted to break rules. I wanted to purposely go through red lights, or park on double yellows. I wanted to rebel, if I saw a police car, I wanted to smash the windows, I couldn’t even stomach looking at a police car with the Essex police emblem on. I think it was the hurt about everything that had happened in my life. It changed my life and my thinking as a law abiding citizen.

“On the Monday after I was fired, I just wanted to give up, I’d had enough. It all felt so unjust, I sadly had considered every option, including ending my life.

“Fortunately, I’ve got two little girls and I knew I had to get myself in gear.

“I’m 50 now. I would have retired this year. Because of this I’ve lost the lump sum of my pension. It amounted to about £140,000, which I was going to use to pay off my mortgage and my car loans. But it’s not even about the money.”

Relationship with SSAFA

Andy knew SSAFA from his time in the police. He’d worked with the charity regularly to support a number of veterans and offer advice. He hadn’t dreamed that one day, they’d be there for him.

“I know Chel Turner-Everett (Divisional Secretary) from the SSAFA Breakfast Club she runs. When I was a police officer, if there were certain problems amongst veterans I gave legal advice. Through work I often helped veterans too.

“Chel was one of the first people to know that I’d been dismissed from work because I’d been telling her what was happening. She was there for me all that time….and I mean ALL the time. She would phone me up daily just to make sure I was okay.

“After I was dismissed, I told her that I needed work. I was doing a bit of everything to earn money, from washing cars to fixing plug sockets. Then I heard from somebody that I could use my skills to get surveillance work, but I needed to invest in a decent camera which cost £750. I started to save and mentioned the opportunity in passing to Chel.

“She told me she wanted to help. She checked all my service records and looked at all my bank accounts and saw I had no money or other funds that I could use to buy any equipment. So, she submitted a case for me. Within four days the Royal British Legion and The Royal Engineers Association had agreed to pay for the equipment I needed. I was absolutely amazed and humbled that there were people and organisations out there that are committed to helping veterans. Chel explained that SSAFA would help ALL veterans however long it has been since they left the forces.

“The same day I received the camera, I reached out to contacts in the surveillance world to say I was ready to deploy. Within hours, while I was taking my daughters swimming, I was called asking if I wanted work. We had to rush home, so I could start my first job at 7pm that night. Work kept coming after that.

“Chel also put me in contact with The Poppy Factory and they give me guidance on writing my CV.

“I started saving the money I was earning doing private investigating so I could do a medical course and a close protection course, and eventually I got security work for A-list celebrities. I’m really proud of where I have come, from the bottom, and it’s all because SSAFA and Chel had faith in me and helped me to get started.”

Life after leaving the Police

Andy is proud to have been part of the Army, and believes his military family are responsible for getting him through his toughest times.

“Having mates that I’ve known for thirty years, in my time of trouble they all came back to me and gently pushed me along.

“I have had the honour of marching for SSAFA on Remembrance Sunday – it’s the military family that look after each other.

“Now I’m doing alright. What I have been through does hurt, it really hurts. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it, that’s why I don’t talk about it at home because I don’t want my girls to see me upset. But everything I’ve been taught in the Army and the Police allowed me to survive.”

Volunteering with SSAFA

Now in his spare time, Andy helps Chel out at SSAFA in Southend.

“There was a gentlemen suffering with dementia and he put his hand through the glass in his front door. I went to fix it for him.

“I do bits and bobs, for example I recently fitted a handle on a door for a veteran with mobility issues.

“Eventually I want to be a SSAFA caseworker. I do try and help and there’s definitely a bond there with other veterans. If someone says to me that they’ve served, it doesn’t matter how long it was for, or whether it’s Army, Royal Air Force or Navy – I want to support them. I’ve got their back and so does SSAFA.

“SSAFA is about getting the job done to help service men and women across the Forces. Chel helps serving military persons too, she really goes above and beyond and is an amazing lady. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week she is prepared to put a veteran before herself to help them.

“To SSAFA, thank you for saving my life.

“SSAFA is the unsung hero, they look after the veterans of the country. I know that because of what I’ve seen and experienced. Chel goes above and beyond and from my experience, all the other caseworkers are the same.

“I’m really pleased that SSAFA found me. Things happen for a reason and I’m not sure I’d be here today without SSAFA.”