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‘I’ve had death threats’: Real Happy Valley writer vilified in tweets by police

<span>Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Lookout Point</span>
Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Lookout Point

When Alice Vinten wrote The Real Happy Valley, she intended the book to be a celebration of women in the police force, the real-life accounts of those who served as inspiration for protagonist Sgt Catherine Cawood in Sally Wainwright’s acclaimed BBC drama. Vinten interviewed women officers across Yorkshire who told of their careers on the frontline of policing, as depicted by Sarah Lancashire in the series that was set in the Calder Valley around Halifax.

Instead, the book has prompted a campaign of abuse against Vinten, 42, a former Metropolitan police officer herself, on Twitter, now known as X, including what the author calls an orchestrated campaign of leaving bad reviews and even threats. Worse, she says, they’re from police.

When Vinten was told she ought to be “deep-sixed”, she had to look it up on Google. “Basically, it means that I should be got rid of,” she says. “In other words, it was a death threat.”

Though the bile came mostly from anonymous accounts, they were all, says Vinten, operated by serving or retired police officers.

Vinten served for 10 years with the Met, mainly around the London borough of Islington, as a uniformed constable responding to 999 calls. She left the force in 2015, not long after the birth of her two sons, and after becoming “disheartened” with policing. She now works for the NHS in Southend, where she lives and writes – The Real Happy Valley was published last month by Penguin.

Since publication, Vinten says the abuse against her online has ramped up. There was a call on social media for people to leave one-star reviews on Amazon for her book. She says: “They did, and you can see they’re not verified purchases. They’re not about the book, they’re about me, and they’re from male police officers who have a problem with me.”

One review says: “The author needs to be researched for you to determine if this is a work or [sic] fact or fiction and the motivation for the work. Save your time and money if you want real police stories [from those] who have actually policed the streets for longer than 5 minutes.”

Another adds: “I am all for sexual equality but this author isn’t!”. A third says: “Those however who know Ms Vinted [sic] and her social media posts will see she is actually very anti police, especially male officers for some reason.”

Vinten says she can live with bad reviewsh. What’s more disturbing is the torrent of abuse she gets, on public social media and in private messages. She says: “On what I call police Twitter, there’s a hardcore of accounts that are all anonymous usernames but all identify as police, either currently serving or having retired or left the force. I’ve had these accounts tell me I’m a vile harridan, and I’ve had my home address published online.

“One account posted the name of my street and told me I should be very careful when I cross the road, and someone actually tweeted a photo of my house. It turned out to be from Google Street View, not someone standing outside, thank God, but they knew the exact address.”

She says she has had “six or seven” bogus complaints made about her work to her current employer. “My bosses are now used to it, and can spot them,” she says. “Then I got told, along with another woman, that I should be deep-sixed. That was quite disturbing.”

Vinten first started to receive abuse when she began tweeting about the death of Sarah Everard at the hands of off-duty Met police constable Wayne Couzens in 2021. She says: “With a bit of distance from working in the Met, and becoming less institutionalised, I realised there were a lot of things from my time that troubled me.”

She began calling out what she saw as misogyny, racism and sexism from Twitter accounts she believed were operated by police officers, resulting in her making a complaint against one Met officer, PC Thomas Karlsen.

My book is not an attack on men. But I can’t stand by and watch men in the police tweet sexist and racist comments.

Alice Vinten

Vinten says she was told her complaint would be investigated, and Karlsen resigned from the force in July this year, ahead of a trial which saw him convicted of actual bodily harm. That resulted from Karslen attending a domestic incident in New Malden in November 2022 where he punched and kicked a man at the house in what Detective Chief Superintendent Clair Kelland later called a “shocking” and “completely disproportionate” incident.

“After I complained about Karlsen, that’s when things really ramped up,” says Vinten. “I had made the cardinal sin of turning against the team, the family. It shows why it’s so difficult for women in the police to speak out.”

How does she know the accounts that target her actually belong to police? “I’ve had private messages from women officers telling me exactly who these men are. They’re too scared to speak publicly though.”

Vinten has been called a man-hater and a misandrist. Not true, she says. “Police officers, both men and women, do a very difficult job in very demanding circumstances. I know that first hand. My book is a celebration of women in the police force, not an attack on men.

“But I can’t stand by and watch men who talk about their jobs in the police and at the same time tweet sexist and racist comments. The abuse can be upsetting, and sometimes very sinister, but I suppose that having worked as a police officer does make you a bit stoic about it all.”