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Q&A With John Sutherland

John Sutherland is a hero of mine, and I don’t use the word hero lightly. He is a former Borough Commander with the Metropolitan Police retiring in 2018. He has dealt with and has an understanding of some of the most invasive and damaging issues that we face as a society. His books act as a vital bridge between the police and public, they offer an insight, and his latest book Crossing the Line which is published on 14th May 2020, offers answers. His blog pieces strike a chord, and when he speaks in public you can see and feel people intently listening, learning, appreciating. I’ve heard him speak on several occasions, always inspiring, but I will never forget attending the Chiddingstone Literary Festival in 2018. He was up on stage with Erwin James (journalist, author, and trustee of the Prison Reform Trust), and John mentions this meeting in Crossing the Line, two years later and I can still feel their connection and hear their words. While what John has to say is hard-hitting, he has true empathy, and is also wonderfully balanced. I believe that everyone in our country (including our politicians) would learn something if they read Crossing the Line, for me, this book really is that important. John very kindly agreed to answer some questions for LoveReading, and for those of you who have read or will go on to read his books, the last question reveals a humdinger of an answer!

John Sutherland is a married father of three, who lives with his wife and children in South London. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1992, serving for more than 25 years until his retirement in 2018. Having won the Baton of Honour as the outstanding recruit in his training-school intake, he rose through the ranks to become a highly respected senior officer. During his career, he worked in a variety of roles across the Capital, both in uniform and as a detective. He is an experienced Hostage & Crisis Negotiator and Premier League Football Match Commander. His last operational posting was as the Borough Commander for Southwark. 

John is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller, Blue: A Memoir, which tells the remarkable stories of his policing life and describes his battle with crippling depression. His second book, Crossing the Line will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in May 2020.


Twitter: @policecommander

Congratulations on your second book, it is a book that I feel everyone should read. How important was it for you to act as a bridge between the public, the police, and the issues we all, as a society, face?

You’re kind… I suppose the book is really a cry of the heart. The painful privilege of policing is to see all of life and all of death - and everything in between. It’s a job that offers a singular, shattering perspective on the world around us. As a serving officer, I realised that - on a daily basis - I was seeing things and hearing things and being called upon to deal with things that most of the rest of the world remained largely unaware of: knife crime and domestic violence and child abuse and extremism and all the rest. It wasn’t that people didn’t care about those things, it was simply that they didn’t know about the reality. And it left me wondering whether I had some sort of responsibility - a duty even - to tell the world beyond policing about the world that policing inhabits and reveals. The book is an invitation to people to cross the line from one side of the blue and white cordon tape to the other, and to stay for a while in the places where police officers spend their working lives.

You have the ability to look beyond the problem, to not only what the cause may be, but how that could be solved. Is it something you do naturally or is it a skill you’ve developed over your years in the police?

I’m still very much a learner - but I don’t think it does much good to point out a problem unless you are also prepared to suggest what ought to be done about it. The world is full of armchair critics who are remarkably quick to find fault in almost anything, but we need to do a whole lot better than that. We need to understand what's happening out there in the real world and, just as importantly, we need to understand why it’s happening. Why are so many boys and young men dying on our streets? Why are so many women being murdered in their own homes? What is extremism on the rise? These are some of the most urgent questions of our time and I wrote the book in an attempt to answer them.

If you hadn’t become a police officer, is there another job you think you could have settled into?

From about the age of about sixteen, all I ever really wanted to do was become a police officer. It was the only application form I ever filled out and the only interview I ever went for. And it set me off on the adventure of a lifetime. I still think that it’s the finest thing any of us could ever choose to do with our working lives.

You wrote Blue: A Memoir before you retired, when did you start to think about writing Crossing the Line, and did writing after you’d left make a difference to your voice?

Blue was very much my story. Crossing the Line tells a much bigger story - about policing and what it reveals about the world we live in. I started writing it just over 18 months ago, but much of the content of the finished book is a reflection of concerns that I have held for many, many years. By way of example, I have been writing and speaking about knife crime for more than a decade. Likewise, Domestic Violence, which I continue to regard as the single greatest cause of harm in society. 

Retirement perhaps offers a little more freedom to talk about these things, but I have always wanted to remain constructive in what I write and I hope that what I have said in Crossing the Line is consistent with the things I was saying as a serving officer.

How has the transition from police officer to member of the public been for you, or do you forever wear blue?

When I retired, my wife and daughters gave me a small silver band that I wear on my wrist. It’s engraved with the words ‘Always a boy in blue’. Policing is like a family to me: I still love the job and I still love the people who do the job. I might not be able to do it any more, but I will always be fiercely proud of the fact that I was a boy in blue.

You've got a young family. What's it like trying to balance writing and home-schooling during lockdown? 

Like everyone else I suspect, we’re making up as we go along. Our girls are all of secondary school age and they’re pretty good at just getting on with things - which is just as well, because I haven’t got a clue about most of what is being asked and expected of them! My wife Bear is - as ever - being completely amazing. Home school is based in the sitting room and Bear and I do most of our writing and other work in the kitchen. So far, we seem to be doing alright!

What has been the most unexpected thing to happen since becoming an author.

I still haven’t quite got used to the idea of being an author - it seems too grown up a word to use! If people ask me what I do, I tend to say that I "write a bit and talk a bit”… And I love doing both (though all my speaking work has all been cancelled since the virus hit). The most unexpected things have all been delightful things: being invited to literary festivals, meeting other authors, finding myself in a world that I had never previously imagined being part of. And I still haven’t got used to seeing my name printed on the front of a book.

What was your favourite childhood book and which author do you turn to now?

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I loved reading them as a child and I loved reading them to my own children. I still find them completely captivating.

These days, I turn to all sorts of different authors - but the stories I love most are the ones that bring hope. In the last year or two, I have loved books like Becoming by Michelle Obama, Spitfire by John Nichol and Sevens Heaven by Ben Ryan: three very different kinds of book, but all with hope at the heart of them.

Much of the media coverage of policing during the virus lockdown has seemed to focus on the negative. Why do you think that is?

To some extent, I think it's always been that way, particularly in the last ten years, when the public narrative about policing - led by certain politicians and certain newspapers - has been remarkably hostile. The focus has been relentlessly on the negative: the police are racist; the police are corrupt; the police are incompetent; the police are misusing their powers. And so it goes on.

I feel a mixture of anger and sadness when I read the latest headline confecting rage at a job I love with all my heart and soul. So much of the reason why I write - whether on Twitter, on my blog, or in the books - is to try to tell a different kind of story.

I’m absolutely not a blind apologist for policing. Sometimes police officers - individually and collectively - get things terribly wrong and the consequences can be devastating when they do. I think that society has every right to expect higher standards of police officers than they do of anyone else - and we must never tire of holding policing up to the light. But there has got to be balance. For every negative story about policing, I could tell you a hundred extraordinary ones. For more than twenty-five years, I worked with heroes - and theirs are tales that demand to be told.

And finally, of course we’d like to know what’s next? 

I’m looking forward to going wherever the adventure takes me. First up is my first attempt at writing fiction!

We have a Signed Copy of Crossing the Line and a Copy of Blue: A Memoir to giveaway.

If you enjoyed this, check out our other Author Q&As!

Comments (36)

Andy L - 13th September 2020

John, I was fortunate to meet you at an Ethics conference near Bath in 2017 at which you were a speaker. I listened to you intently, every word you said resonated. I am a serving officer, I joined the same time as you and after this event I was compelled to buy your book, ‘Blue’. I was not in a good place when I read your book, you described my life through your experiences, I fell apart, I got help, I got better. I should have written to you before to thank you, reading your book was a turning point in my life and without being melodramatic I owe you a debt of gratitude which I’ll never be able to repay. You are the voice of reason, I hope people are listening, they really should.

Deanie G - 31st May 2020

Having been in the police myself Crossing the Line is completely up street!

Susan B - 30th May 2020

Blue: A Memoir is right up my alley. A real, well written book about people.

Tracey H - 29th May 2020

I'm looking forward to reading Crossing the Line

Patricia A - 29th May 2020

Intrigued to read Crossing the Line to get an insight into modern policing especially as my grandson has set his sights on becoming a police officer when he leaves school.

Sheri D - 29th May 2020

I would love to read Blue: A Memoir

Michael O - 29th May 2020

I am looking forward to reading Crossing The Line and Blue: A Memoir.

Sonia G - 27th May 2020

Crossing the Line sounds really interesting

Gaayatri S - 27th May 2020


lynn n - 26th May 2020

this looks like a fascinating insight into being in the police force and the many things that happen that we don't usually get to hear about!

Fiona K - 25th May 2020

Very interesting interview. I am interested to read Crossing the Line to hear his take on why certain crimes have become so prevalent.

Debbie T - 25th May 2020

I'd love to read Crossing the Line, it sounds like just the type of book i'd enjoy!

Victoria J - 23rd May 2020

I'm keen to read Blue: A Memoir. Books that speak of depression are always of interest to me - it's such an important subject and is great to see it being spoken of more often.

Jo B - 23rd May 2020

Excited about the Eoin Colfer, High Fire book.

Jacqui G - 23rd May 2020

Would love to read both of these books. I agree with JS, the UK police force is much maligned by the UK press at times unfortunately.

Sharon T - 23rd May 2020

Hi, did you straight away know what the title of the book would be?

Anthea H - 23rd May 2020

I would love to read the first book to gain an insight into the workings of The Met and how it can affect its staff in so many ways.

Nancy T - 23rd May 2020

I would love to read Blue: A Memoir to see how he battled his depression.

Francesca C - 19th May 2020

Would love you learn more about John with his biography!

Ruth H - 18th May 2020

Crossing the Line looks great, full of excitement and suspense xx

Pete M - 16th May 2020

Now you've got a thirst for it, s there anything that would make you want to stop writing?

LOUISE H - 16th May 2020

Crossing The Line sounds so good! It actually reminds me of a Stephen, a friend who had enrolled with the police force, but couldn't stay in his role as he fell seriously ill, and sadly died.

Melanie P - 15th May 2020

Crossing the Line sounds a really intriguing book and it would be interesting to get an inside view of todays policing.

fiona w - 15th May 2020

I am quite interested in finding what a policemans views on our policing

Julie M - 13th May 2020

Crossing The Line sounds like an insightful look into the everyday situations that police officers face and I would be very interested to read this.

Debby B - 8th May 2020

Both of the books sound interesting and I will probably read 'Blue: A Memoir' first to get a measure of the author then 'Crossing the Line' for a better understanding of policies and decision-making during his career and the potential toll that has on personal life, feelings and famly

Sarah B - 7th May 2020

I'm looking forward to reading Crossing the Line as I really enjoyed Blue.

Charlotte W - 7th May 2020

Great Q&A! Would love to win these books.

Karen H - 7th May 2020

Blue a memoir sounds interesting

Richard U - 2nd May 2020

Love reading love these books

Annabel G - 2nd May 2020

I am looking forward to reading Crossing The Line

MARIA R - 2nd May 2020

Look forward to reading both books, Blue a memoir, & crossing the line. My dad was a policeman around the same time, I always wanted to join the force but my eyes were too bad.

DENISE W - 1st May 2020

I'd love to read House on Endless Waters

Susie W - 1st May 2020

Crossing the Line sounds really interesting

Daniel O - 1st May 2020

such a great author, would love to read some of his work

Zara K - 1st May 2020

I'm looking forward to reading this book

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