‘No change since 1997: it’s still about providing the best service’, says Hong Kong’s last expat police officer
Briton Timothy Worrall reflects on his career in the force, and says he hasn’t given much thought to the fact his retirement will mark a major milestone
Cantonese colleagues call him dai lo, meaning “big brother”. A golden statue of the ancient Chinese god Guan Yu stands tall on his office desk.
No expat lives as a local like Timothy Worrall – the youngest serving foreign police officer in Hong Kong. Worrall is proud to call the city home, and it is the place he plans to retire.
“Where else can you go for siu yeh [late night meals] and wonton min [wonton noodles] at 11pm?” says the 44-year-old British superintendent from the force’s small boat division.
He is expected to be the last foreign officer to retire from Hong Kong’s police force, 10 years from now – a milestone that will mark the end of the era of expatriate officers in the 173-year history of the force.
The Worrall family came to Hong Kong before the second world war. His grandfather worked on coastal trading vessels and was interned by the Japanese at Stanley Internment Camp.
Watch: Hong Kong’s youngest expat police officer
His father, Dick Worrall, was even born in that camp, but when the war came to an end he also went on to a career in the police force.
Growing up seeing his father undertake such exciting work, Timothy soon developed a boyhood dream to follow in the footsteps of his dad, who served in the Police Tactical Unit, Emergency Unit and Small Boat Division.
“I was born in Hong Kong. But after going to boarding school and university in the UK, I applied from the UK to join the Hong Kong force in 1994,” Worrall says. “I was very lucky to get in as overseas recruitment was ending.”
His father retired from the marine police in 1997 after 30 years of service, and passed on to him his statue of Guan Yu – the mighty Chinese warrior known for his strength, bravery and loyalty. The god of war has been worshipped by police officers for decades.
Today, Worrall has fulfilled his dream and has worked for all the police units he had targeted. Over the years he has been involved in many high-profile police operations, from dealing with the disturbances in 1996 at the Whitehead refugee detention centre, to repatriation of refugees to Vietnam, chasing smugglers in the dark of night, and even going to sea in a typhoon. He has also hosted the police force’s English television programme, Police Report.
Throughout it all he has frequently turned to his father for advice.
“The most precious thing ... is the close relationship I have formed with my fellow officers who are now friends and family,” Worrall says. “As much as I am their boss, I can also take the boss hat off and be a colleague and friend.”
He recalls not knowing a word of Cantonese when he first came to the force at age 21, but language was never a problem during his service as the force was largely bilingual.
He was provided with Cantonese training and then learned most of his language skills by walking the beat listening to the radio and spending time with his men.
In the past, when foreign officers graduated from the city’s police training school, they were put in a unit with local colleagues.
“They would be the only Western person in the unit. So it depended on you to make an effort to master Cantonese so you could converse with your guys,” he says.
When Hong Kong transformed from a British colony to a Chinese special administrative region in 1997, the younger Worrall was working in the Emergency Unit. When the clock struck midnight on July 1, he removed his silver Royal Hong Kong Police badges, which featured opium boats in Victoria Harbour, and attached the shiny insignia of the new Hong Kong, before getting straight back on patrol.
“There has been no change ever since. It’s about doing the job and providing people with the best service possible,” he says.
Although Worrall is likely to be the last foreign officer to retire, he claims he has not given it much thought, as there are many more things he would like to achieve in his remaining 10 years.
Looking further ahead, he hopes to help his fiancée with humanitarian work in retirement, as well as hike, bike, dive and barbecue.
“I have a 20-year-old daughter now who is studying at university,” he says. “I would like her to follow her dreams. If that is to join the force, I will do everything I can to help her.”