He had to choose between returning to Somalia or running for Wiltshire Police Commissioner
After more than three decades in the British Army, Philip Wilkinson has worked in some of the world’s most dangerous countries trying to improve their police, military, security services and counter-terrorism tactics. But after the lockdowns ended, he had to choose between returning to Somalia or running for Wiltshire police and crime commissioner.
The 73-year-old, who was elected last August, said: ‘The choice was whether to return to Somalia or use the same skills in Wiltshire – a no-brainer.
It meant he was trading 31 years of military service and 20 years of government work in some of the most volatile countries, for police surveillance in the west of the country.
Wiltshire has traditionally been a low crime area, however, that peace was shattered by the Novichok attacks on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018.
His main concern now is likely to be the disgruntled locals serving the boys in blue.
Last month it emerged that the force had been placed in ‘special measures’ by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary over concerns that its ability to respond to the public, protect the vulnerable and strategic planning was “inadequate”. It also needs improvements in the management of offenders and suspects and in the investigation of crimes.
Mr Wilkinson said he became aware of the force’s failure while campaigning for election and, once in office, his inbox filled with more complaints.
He conducted a major survey of residents and uncovered similar issues reported by HMIC months later, including 999 and 101 calls not being answered on time, and prepared a report for Police Chief Kier Pritchard on what had to be done.
He said: “If you think the job of a CCP is to hold the Chief Constable to account, to scrutinize, to support and to challenge, that’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years with the UK Government which sends me to a country to see if I can improve its security services.
AT THE POINTED END: Philip in Iraq in 2003
“I would scrutinize them and challenge them and say what’s wrong and then help develop a plan and support its implementation.
“In many ways, I couldn’t be better qualified. Defeating crime, like terrorism, requires a comprehensive strategy.”
A month ago Mr Wilkinson told the Sunday Express he was working well with Mr Pritchard and was confident that in September they could convince a police watchdog group they had the right plan in place to reverse the force.
Now he is less confident and thinks it might need a top management overhaul.
He said: “I’ll fix it and I don’t mind putting my head above the parapet and getting shot.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and with real bullets.”
Mr Wilkinson served in the army from 1969, with the Royal Artillery, Commando and Parachute Brigades and Special Forces, which included six years in Northern Ireland, including undercover work when ‘he pushed his hair out and affected a
Irish accent. He said: “I always knew I was good at lifting heavy weights and pumping people up. I’ve been in commandos, paras and I’ve been a special forces hooligan, but I’ve discovered that I also had a brain”.
In his last army job, he was lead author of the first British joint warfare publication on peace support operations before working as a senior researcher at the Center for Defense Studies at King’s College London.
Then he had deployments as international advisers to Bosnia, Rwanda and Sri Lanka.
In 2003, he was helping the United States plan the reconstruction of Iraq after the coalition invasion when a plan was drawn up to remove all Iraqi dinars bearing the head of Saddam Hussein and replace them with a new currency .
He said: “It was crazy. The US military said it was too dangerous so they gave it to a private security company and I ran the operation.
“I recruited 650 mercenaries to take delivery of 29 jumbo jets of $4.5 billion in new silver that were stored in a hangar at Baghdad airport.”
The money was printed in the UK and flown to Iraq before Mr Wilkinson and his crew convoyed it while being shot almost daily by al-Qaeda terrorists as Saddam Hussein remained hidden. It was then taken to the banks to be exchanged with the old money which was to be destroyed.
He said: “Because it was a private security company, there was no manual, no military law and no code of practice.
“I had to drive it by force of character by threatening to shoot them or beat them to make it happen.
“I should have been an academic, but I ended up shooting people and getting shot while driving convoys in Iraq and we did it with only five people injured and one killed in action. “
After that, he wrote a grand plan to demobilize 105,000 Sons of Iraq troops who helped the Coalition defeat Saddam’s regime, but it fell through after the new Iraqi government failed to deliver on its promises.
Wilkinson on the throne of Saddam Hussein
From 2004 to 2006, he spent two years advising then-President Karzai at his palace in Afghanistan, then spent 15 months in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In Somalia, Mr. Wilkinson was shot several times and identified as a deadly target by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
He worked with two of Somalia’s presidents and helped end its piracy epidemic.
Much of this has been done by wiping out an illegal tuna fishing industry and creating real fishing jobs for young people, he said.
“A few years ago, piracy and Somalia were synonymous and we solved most of those problems.”
After Mr Wilkinson put his impressive resume in the ring for the post of PCC, nine other candidates stood down and he was elected last August.
A Wiltshire Police spokesperson said: “Chief Constable Kier Pritchard remains fully committed to his role as Wiltshire Police Chief and has full confidence in the force’s leadership team, as well as in its officers and staff, to make the necessary improvements.”
Philip Wilkinson’s book, Sharpening The Weapons Of Peace, is now available