John Casson was born and raised in Coventry.
At the age of 18 he joined the West Midlands Police. He served for four years as a special constable (police reservist) before joining the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary as a regular police officer in 1979.
During his police service he received a Chief Constable’s Commendation for the number of arrests he made and crimes detected. John was also a finalist for the annual Ada Murran Cup for community policing and received a St John Ambulance meritorious first aid award for saving the life of an extremely fit and violent man who had slashed his wrists.
Further details relating to this aspect of his life can be found at Police career and law enforcement.
Wishing to fulfil an ambition to operate his own local security company, John left the police to the surprise of his colleagues in 1987 to form Securewest.
With a concept of providing nothing short of a professional security service employing ex-police, armed forces and prison officers who had left their respective service with exemplary references, his UK operation quickly expanded into one of the largest owner-managed independent security companies in the country, with many prestigious clients.
In the mid-1990s, the standards set by Securewest were recognised when John was invited to give evidence at the House of Commons to the Home Affairs Select Committee, which was examining the unregulated UK security industry. Following that he was regularly consulted on security industry regulation issues by the (UK) Home Office and the (UK) Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
This very successful company was sold at its peak in 2000.
With regard to John’s international business activities, in 1988 four United States Navy Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships visited Torbay (in South West England), and Securewest was awarded the contract to provide security. This was the start of a close association with MSC that lasted for over twenty-five years.
In 1995 these ships were redeployed from the USA to Europe, and the renamed Securewest International provided permanent security teams on board. This service expanded to similar ships in Guam and Saipan in the Pacific in 1996, which also saw the start of the company’s successful land-based operations on the islands. Operations in the United Arab Emirates followed shortly afterwards.
Realising a need for quality and reliable manpower, and with the downsizing of the (British) Brigade of Gurkhas as a result of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, John opened a Gurkha recruiting centre in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, in the same year.
These brave and loyal men, together with former British and American armed forces personnel, have been a huge asset to Securewest International and helped the company to expand into what is now one of the world’s largest specialist maritime security companies, which provides a full range of security services to many well-known maritime companies, supported by its offices in the UK, USA, Singapore and Nigeria.
One of John’s greatest business challenges was to provide an additional 200 Gurkha and former British armed forces personnel within a very short space of time to over 25 MSC vessels worldwide after 9/11.
John considers it a huge privilege to serve MSC and the United States. He has been publicly recognised for his services to MSC during important events in Washington, at one of which the United States Joint Chief of Staff was present.
After the tsunami in 2005, John arranged, through Securewest International, for four teams of former Gurkha and Indian armed forces personnel to be sent to Sri Lanka. Arriving well before international aid agencies, these hard-working and dedicated teams remained in the country for between one and two months, helping with the fair and disciplined distribution of food and restoration of life support to many coastal villages.
Semi-retired from the business since 2007, John dedicates a considerable amount of his time to raising money and supporting charities and worthwhile causes both as an individual and through the John Casson Foundation, which he formed in 2012.
Since 2001 John has been the primary sponsor of St Mary’s School, in the remote Indian Himalayas near Darjeeling, firstly through his company Securewest International and now through the John Casson Foundation.
When he first became involved with the school, it had 210 pupils and was almost bankrupt. At the time the sponsorship ended, after fifteen years, in 2016 almost every child in the area, 540 in all, receives a good education and a chance in life, with many going on to higher education.
For almost ten years, from 2004 until August 2013, John was the chairman of the Exercise Tiger Memorial, a Sherman tank memorial dedicated to the Second World War tragedy off the coast of Devon in which almost 1,000 American servicemen lost their lives.
In 2013 he organised a weekend to commemorate the start of the year that marked the 70th anniversary of Exercise Tiger: the mass evacuation of the Slapton Sands area that took place in 1943, and the practice landings that followed in 1944. Over 2,500 guests attended this three-day event, including the United States of America’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and a large group of Americans, including two veterans of Exercise Tiger. To find out more, please visit News and Photo Gallery.
To mark the 70th anniversary, John organised a memorial service at the tank. The service was attended by 500 guests, including local dignitaries, the United States Navy’s Chief Naval Attaché from their embassy in London, and local children. This very moving service was covered and broadcast by the BBC, ITV, Sky News, CBS from New York and British Forces Broadcasting.
Between 2011 and 2016, John has been honoured to be a trustee on the board of Sandy Gall’s Afghanistan Appeal, which helps injured, sick and disabled Afghans, particularly children, in this war-torn country.
Every year since 2006, John has organised at his own expense and in his own time a fundraising lunch or dinner, at either Gidleigh Park, which was then Michael Caines MBE’s two-Michelin-star restaurant on Dartmoor, Cliveden House hotel at Taplow, where André Garrett was the executive chef and more recently The Idle Rocks Hotel in St Mawes, Cornwall with the talented chef Guy Owen.
Benefactors have included the adoption agency Families for Children, the Greater London Fund for the Blind, the Royal Marines Charitable Trust, Sandy Gall’s Afghanistan Appeal, St Luke’s Hospice and Cornwall Air Ambulance.
The impressive list of guest speakers (who have donated their time) include Lord Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey; veteran journalist and presenter of ITN’s News at Ten, Sandy Gall; Oscar-winning actor Hayley Mills; Sir Michael Parkinson (three times); General Sir David Richards, the then former Chief of the Defence Staff; and Falklands War veteran Simon Weston. In total, these events have raised just under £200,000.
For Devon Air Ambulance, John took over two pubs (literally!) for the weekend in South Devon, one in 2007, and the other in 2008. These events featured Devon bands, musicians and singers, who donated their time, as did a large team of volunteers who served local food and drink. The weekends raised a total of £27,500. They involved a lot of very hard work by everyone, but it was also a lot of fun to support this life-saving charity.
His other interests include, but are not limited to, wine (for both enjoyment and investment), current and international affairs, Sir Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, politics, Tibet, India, USA, policing, terrorism, watching old British black-and-white films, and last but not least observing life and meeting interesting people from all walks of life.
John is a member of the Travellers Club, Pall Mall, London; Chatham House; the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an independent policy institute; and the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals.
The highlights of his life include a private and fascinating audience with the Dalai Lama; having the friendship of the great actor Sir John Mills; meeting Margaret Thatcher over lunch; visiting Afghanistan with the highly respected reporter and former presenter of News at Ten, Sandy Gall, who is also a friend; and for four years having Police Horse 142 Jupiter from the Metropolitan Police for Jupiter’s well-deserved retirement.
John published his first book, Afghan Faces, in November 2010. This book, from which a photograph was nominated for a prestigious award and displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, reflects on the lives of Afghan people through their faces. He donates profits from the book (£35,000 so far) to the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund, which is helping injured British armed forces personnel who have returned from Afghanistan, and Sandy Gall’s Afghanistan Appeal.
His second book, his autobiography A Bored Casson is a Dangerous Person, was published in December 2016 to excellent reviews. The title of his book says it all: John leads a very active life!