FOR nine years he has held one of the most high-profile jobs in Hampshire.

Commanding a police force with more than 3,000 officers and charged with the safety of more than 1,276,800 residents, he has set his place in the history books as the county’s, and indeed the country’s, longest-serving Chief Constable.

But next Thursday morning 52- year-old Paul Kernaghan CBE will wake up with little more to worry about than walking his dog that day and thinking ahead to a luxurious four-week holiday in South Africa with his wife Mary.

It will be the first time he has ever had so much time off work since joining up with the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1978. Mr Kernaghan has never before, since his days as a junior officer, used all of his annual leave.

Speaking to the Daily Echo he said: “It will be a strange feeling waking up on October 16 and wondering ‘what can I do now?’ This has been my life.”

Taking charge in Hampshire on September 21, 1999, Mr Kernaghan signed a seven-year contract that was extended by two years with the blessing of the Home Secretary.

He says his decision to retire – far from a well-kept secret before he announced it earlier this year – is not in question, despite him previously being tipped by many to become Britain’s top cop and the timely resignation of Sir Ian Blair.

“I think my reaction to that is that you need someone who is politically adept and I am not. And just for the avoidance of doubt that is arrogance speaking and not humility. I am not prepared to align myself with politicians of any colour,” he said.

“It is the best-paid job in British policing, so it has some attractions, but after being the chief of Hampshire I can’t think of many other jobs that would excite me.

“I came here not knowing much about Hampshire and quickly found a place with a sense of identity.

I like the people and I have no complaints,” said Mr Kernaghan, who plans to stay living in the county in his retirement.

Asked what quality he felt was needed to run the county’s police force, he said: “It has to be resilience, to keep on coming in day after day.”

His pride in his officers and staff is also part of what has driven him, as Mr Kernaghan talks fondly about the huge effort that went in to policing Trafalgar 200, adding: “My people were brilliant.”

And it is them whom he is quick to defend when he feels passionately about an issue – no matter what the consequences.

He said: “I still remain very despondent at the way the Home Secretary dealt with police pay last year. Police officers all share the same quality in having a sense of fairness. Her refusal to recognise arbitration was an illogical and indefensible decision.

“It was pathetic, dishonest and unprofessional and a mistake which I can only hope the Home Secretary has learned from.”

And as for his hopes for the future of the force – there is just one.

Mr Kernaghan said: “I have argued publicly for a radical restructure of policing and think we should move to a national police force for England. It is simply illogical to have 43 different forces and I feel there are huge economies to be made. It’s the great debate still to be had and it disappoints me that politicians of all parties shy away from that. I am sure that within five years it will come back on the agenda – it has got to. It has to be the right way forward.”

But while he will watch with interest what happens to the future of policing, it will, from midnight onWednesday, no longer be a prime concern for Mr Kernaghan.

He said: “I have nothing planned for my retirement but will be keen to take on new challenges in the security and international security field. I want to continue working intellectually – without that I will go mad!”