JOHN Geden refers to himself cheerily as ‘John the Beekeeper’ in his answerphone message.
The 53-year-old runs a beekeeping business, which sees him making a variety of honey and bee wax products for country shows and farmers’ markets, as well as supporting children at Mill Rythe Junior School to manage a bee hive.
But for John, the bees are more than a business – they provide a catharsis for a condition that is increasingly common in his former profession.
Before he spent his days making honey, John was a Detective Chief Inspector in Hampshire police, managing the county’s Child Abuse Investigation Team.
Across his 22 years in the police, John has attended the post-mortems of children, countless road traffic accidents that have destroyed families, and interviews with the victims of child sex abuse.
He didn’t realise the toll his work was taking until he suffered a nervous breakdown in 2014.
The father-of-two said: ‘I still get the same nightmare: I have a flashback to the post-mortems of children, and my mind puts the faces of my children on to those bodies.
‘I used to wake up sweating and crying, feeling like I was going to vomit.
‘I would have to get dressed and check on my daughters, standing in their doorway, watching them sleep.
‘And as a child abuse investigator, that made me think – what if they wake up in the middle of the night and see dad there, in his pyjamas, watching them sleep? What would they think?
‘So I used to wake up my wife and ask can you check on the girls.
‘My wife didn’t get any sleep for three years.’
John eventually went to his GP – and was surprised by his reaction.
The former police officer said: ‘My GP said he was going to sign me off work, and I remember my words to him.
‘I said, “thank you, I could do with a couple of weeks.”
‘He said, “a couple of weeks? I’m giving you six months”.’
John is not alone in battling with mental health issues brought on by their role in the police.
Earlier this year, research from the University of Cambridge surveyed more than 17,000 police officers, finding 20 per cent of them have symptoms consistent with PTSD.
In John’s experience, there is not enough support for members of the police.
He said: ‘Most of my trauma came from my work in the police, and I got no help. Which is really sad because there are boys and girls out there in the police doing brilliant work every day and they deserve more support.’
John doesn’t ‘blame any one individual’ in Hampshire police – but instead points to a lack of leadership from those at a ‘strategic level.’
‘No one at a strategic level has picked this up and run with it in the same way they have in the military.’
John was able to get support thanks to his 11 years serving as part of the military police in the army.
Three years ago, Help For Heroes gave John £3,500 to launch his beekeeping business, turning a hobby into an award-winning livelihood.
In April, John was awarded the Business of the Year for Community Impact at the Soldiering On awards.
And the former DCI is still receiving recognition for his work to tackle child abuse.
Last month, John and retired Detective Sergeant Nigel Lee were honoured for their work with the Child Protection Unit (CPU), which was set up in 2013 by a Cambodian charity to investigate crimes against children.
The award – Commander of the Royal Order of Sahametrei – is one of the highest honours available for non-Cambodian nationals, bestowed on the pair for their voluntary work to train Cambodian police to catch child abusers.
Since 2009, the CPU has investigated more than 1,500 crimes.
John said: ‘It is amazing – but I see it as recognition of the whole team of volunteers that have worked in Cambodia.’
Now, John supports the CPU intermittently from his home on Hayling Island, close to his bee hives.
He said: ‘Working with bees is completely cathartic.
‘And I love honey.’