The former soldier tasked with keeping the Metro safe
Paul Harris is not fazed by his new job. The 48-year-old is running security on the Metro but it's safe to say it's not the most dangerous assignment he's undertaken. Paul joined the army in 1988 and served with the Coldstream Guards in Bosnia and Northern Ireland before joining the Royal Military Police.
During that time, he worked on terror suspect recognition in Omagh, the scene of the deadliest attack during the Troubles. From 2004, he spent a decade working with civilian contractors, primarily providing close protection to senior diplomats and military figures in both Iraq and Afghanistan and had a stint running security at embassies in Kabul. He has worked in some of the most dangerous places in the world, lived with the constant threat of terrorism and developed expertise in identifying deadly threats.
So, again, Paul is not fazed by the challenge that lies ahead. He said: "I was living in the Middle East for months at a time during periods where those countries were going through terrible things and liaising with local security and the America military machine. "You were exposed to situations which were as bad as it gets so working here is a very different environment, but the same aspects of security can be applied anywhere in the world.Paul Harris, Metro's new security manager, during his time in the army
"It's all about looking for patterns and making sure people are staying on the right side of the law.
"Security is just about preparation - if it gets exciting, you're doing it wrong. "The same concepts are at play in terms of keeping the Metro safe, just in far less hostile circumstances - I'd like to think there are fewer people here who want to kill me." With friends and family still working in the Middle East, he follows developments there closely but has been out of the region for a few years now and is settling into life in a more docile setting.
He recently completed a masters degree in security management and is focused on security on the Metro system and life in the North East. Originally from Plymouth, Paul has called the region his UK home since 2004.
But, while most of his time in the job is spent dealing with low level threats and offending, he is keenly aware of the national terror threat. He said: "I had exposure to terrorist attacks in the Middle East and, having met people who had been in the Taliban in similar groups, I understand a lot about the issues around it.
"We were in the vicinity of attacks working out there and we had to learn from that and improve our operations. "I've got to be aware of national threat levels with regard to terrorism in this country as part of this job. "I don't feel it's a particular problem for us in the North East right now but I want to keep it that way.
"The Government sets standards and issues guidelines about particular threats and what to look out for and staff are trained to look out for any signs."Paul Harris the new chief of security on the Metro (Image: newcastle chronicle)
Although the Metro is generally considered safe and secure, it's not without its problems. In December 2017, the network was brought to a standstill at rush-hour after cable thieves targeted a section of the line in Gateshead. Paul intends to be "very proactive about protecting against cable theft" and is hoping to make significant progress soon.
But it's persistent, low-level offending which concerns him the most. "Anti-social behaviour is my primary concern - the Metro is the main mode of transport for a lot of people so it's inevitable that localised problems will sometimes move on to the Metro," he said. "Having a more visible security presence on the Metro is certainly something I'm considering to make sure customers and staff are safe at all times."
Another peculiar problem is a scam involving ticket machines.
Paul said: "We've had cases of people sealing the slots where notes come out of on the ticket machines with Blue Tack so people don't get their change. "They'll then return and remove it so they can steal the note.Paul Harris, Metro's new security manager, during his time in the army
"It's something we're taking very seriously - we successfully had someone convicted of the offence around Christmas and we are working with the manufacturers to find a solution we can apply to all the machines. "We'll catch anybody doing it eventually because there is CCTV on all the stations."
He also pointed to action he has already taken to prevent graffiti, the introduction of new radio technology to improve responses to problems and plans for high visibility patrols with police officers in the near future. "For the most part, the Metro is a safe system but there are elements I want to improve, especially around dealing with anti-social behaviour," said Paul. "One idea we're exploring is having a mobile security unit who move around the system throughout the day, meaning we have a constant presence identifying problem behaviour.
"We have around 100 staff working in security in some way but everyone who works on the system plays a role.
"Our employees have an immense sense of pride in this service and are trained and serious about making sure it's safe for everyone."