South West Wales

Policeman swaps Ceredigion for Caribbean in 'career break'

Matthew Thomas by a Cayman Island police car Image copyright Matthew Thomas
Image caption Matthew Thomas will spend three years with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service

The idea of swapping a beat in Ceredigion for one on a Caribbean island may sound like a dream for most police officers.

But it is the reality for one Dyfed-Powys Police traffic sergeant who is enjoying a three-year stint as a PC in the Cayman Islands.

Matthew Thomas, 35, said the Welsh force "amazingly" allowed him to take a career break after he spotted the dream job advert.

However, he said the switch - reminiscent of the plot of BBC comedy-drama, Death in Paradise - was also a "huge move and a bit of a gamble".

Mr Thomas, from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, has been an officer at the Welsh force since 2008, having joined as a special constable the year before.

"From the first shift, I knew that this was the job for me," he said.

"When I was a child my mother told me that I wanted to be an American cop driving American police cars."

He said he always wanted the chance to police abroad and "experience the different challenges it brings".

Image copyright Matthew Thomas
Image caption Matthew Thomas represented Dyfed-Powys Police at the funeral of PC Keith Palmer in London

The opportunity arose last year when he saw the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) advertising a vacancy for an experienced officer.

"It was an 'if I don't do it now, I never will' kind of moment," he said.

"I approached Dyfed-Powys Police and asked it I could take a career break and amazingly, they said yes."

Mr Thomas flew out to the Cayman Islands in April and will spend three years there as a PC before returning home to west Wales.

On his arrival, he was given two weeks to sort his accommodation in the capital George Town before reporting for duty.

Image copyright David Rogers/Getty Images
Image caption Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

He described the Cayman Islands as a "unique place to live and work", but he said the job itself was not that different to at home.

"Policing is policing, no matter where you are in the world," he said.

"I work in uniform response, so I deal with very similar calls [to] that I would deal with in the UK. The only difference is the sun actually shines here."

He said the crime rate on the islands was "pretty low" and he deals with many of the same incidents as he would in west Wales, such as domestic callouts, anti-social behaviour, thefts and criminal damage.

"I haven't had any calls yet for sheep on the road," he joked.

Cayman Islands

British overseas territory

  • Population 55,000

  • Area 260 sq km (100 sq miles)

  • Major language English

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 76 years (men), 84 years (women)

  • Currency Cayman Island dollar

Getty Images

He said the islands have a population of about 55,000 and there are four cruise ships docking a day, each carrying up to 4,000 passengers.

"You are presented with the challenges of ensuring their safety as well as serving the local community," he added.

Mr Thomas said he had "loved every minute of the experience so far" describing the islands as a "beautiful place to work" and "nearly as beautiful as west Wales".

He praised the people he has met and pointed to the professional experiences he believes will help him back in the UK.

"I work with some amazing colleagues from the Cayman Islands, as well as from Canada, Barbados and Jamaica. To watch and learn how they operate is a fantastic opportunity," he added.

"I'm sure there will be plenty of international visitors to Pembrokeshire over the next couple of years."

Image copyright Matthew Thomas
Image caption Mr Thomas enjoys snorkelling when he is not on duty
Image copyright Matthew Thomas
Image caption "Ocean life is breathtakingly beautiful"

The officer said he had earned the nickname "Sandy" among his colleagues after he went looking for a stolen car in what he thought was a 4x4 vehicle.

"It turned out very quickly that it wasn't a 4x4 and I ended up completely stuck in the sand and needing to be recovered," he explained.

When not working, Mr Thomas likes to go snorkelling, kayaking and fishing - activities not uncommon in west Wales.

However, the wildlife in Cayman could be considered a touch more exotic, with iguanas and sea turtles among the local fauna.

"The ocean life is breathtakingly beautiful and I plan to start diving to see more of it," Mr Thomas said.

He naturally misses friends and family from home, and said it was going to be "tough missing the birth of his first nephew" next month.

"Fortunately modern technology does make it easier," he added.

Image copyright Matthew Thomas
Image caption Mr Thomas said he loved meeting the local wildlife

In spite of the opportunity, Mr Thomas admitted having some hesitations about going.

"It was a huge move and a bit of a gamble, because I was leaving all my friends, family and a job that I loved behind to move to the other side of the world.

"I didn't really make my mind up until the 11th hour."

Asked if he would consider a permanent move to the Cayman Islands, Mr Thomas said he was "committed to returning to be a Dyfed-Powys officer" once his contract was up.

He said the force had been "very supportive" of his move, and he is hoping he can "bring some of the positive experiences back" when he returns.

Image copyright Matthew Thomas

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