Meet the new High Sheriff of West Sussex, who will base his year in office on the theme of recovery
Retired solicitor Neil Hart is the new High Sheriff of West Sussex and he has begun his year in office with a formal online Declaration Ceremony, continuing a tradition that stretches back for more than 1,000 years, but in a very modern way.
Mr Hart DL, from Bepton, a village near Midhurst, will serve as The Queen’s representative for law and order in the county, lending active support to the judiciary, the police and other emergency services. He will also take an active part in supporting and promoting local voluntary organisations.
Due to Covid restrictions, the ceremony today (Friday) was held virtually. The High Sheriff was joined online by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex Sir Richard Kleinwort, Sussex Chief Constable Jo Shiner, West Sussex chief fire officer Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, senior judge Christine Laing, the outgoing High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, the current High Sheriff of East Sussex Mr Miles Jenner, and the Rev Derek Welsman from Easebourne, who the High Sheriff’s has appointed as chaplain.
Mr Hart delivered his Oath of Declaration in front of the Hon Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, the Presiding High Court Judge for the South Eastern Circuit, and the ceremony was viewed by more than 100 guests.
The office of High Sheriff is an independent royal appointment for a year. The origins date back to Saxon times, when the Shire Reeves were responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order, and for the collection of taxes. Today, there are 55 High Sheriffs serving the counties of England and Wales.
Mr Hart said: “It is a great honour and a privilege to be selected. This will be a difficult but interesting year as we emerge from lockdown and organisations and businesses, professional and voluntary, and their respective employees, volunteers, clients and customers, gradually get to grips with what we hope will be business as normal.
“I hope I can support and encourage them in this process. It will be a fascinating and rewarding year.”
Mr Hart said his theme for the year would be ‘recovery’ as people begin to re-establish their various activities after the lifting of Covid restrictions.
Mr Hart was born and brought up in Hong Kong, and practised there as a solicitor. He met his wife Ros at Exeter University and the couple lived and worked in London for four years before going out to Hong Kong in 1979. They moved back to England five years later, arriving in West Sussex with their two young children in 1984.
Mr Hart was a partner of Thomas Eggar, a regional firm of solicitors, for many years and chairman for ten years. He started in the Chichester office, then moved to Horsham and ended with 15 years at the Crawley office before he retired in 2016.
Mr Hart and his wife have lived in Bepton for 36 years and have two grown-up children and three grandchildren.
He was a trustee of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, is a past chairman of the Federation of Sussex Industries and a former trustee of the Sussex Community Foundation.
Mr and Mrs Hart are keen sailors and have for many years been active members of Itchenor Sailing Club, where Neil was commodore until last year. They also enjoy walking on the South Downs.
Mr Hart is currently a director of the Midhurst Community Land Trust and has been a Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex since 2012.
The High Sheriff wears Court Dress for ceremonial duties, including a velvet coat, wig bag, tunic shirt with lace ruffles, waistcoat, black velvet breeches, black hose, or silk tights, and a sword.
Mr Hart said he managed to get most of it secondhand from a former High Sheriff of Surrey who was a similar size but he had to source ‘one or two bits’ separately, including the black silk tights.
Amused by where that got him, Mr Hart said: “Being the simple man that I am, I went on to Google and put in ‘gentleman’s black silk tights’ and the sites I was invited to search were mind boggling.”
Luckily, he found a sensible solution and was proud to wear the full Court Dress outfit for the ceremony.
Looking ahead, although we remain with some restrictions for now, Mr Hart is pleased to have some events in the diary for after June 21.
He said: “We seem to be going down the government’s roadmap reasonably well but one thing we have learned is that nothing is as planned in this pandemic.
“I am hoping for a more normal year and one where I will be able to go out and meet people. We are all coming out of this nightmare and as part of that process, everyone will be facing different challenges and having different fears as a result of the lockdown.
“People have found different ways of doing things and we are all going to be finding our way, myself included.
“We haven’t been able to do things for some time and there are a large number of people who are very keen to see me.”
The High Sheriff can be contacted through his PA, Mrs Julia Mansergh, by email to [email protected] or call 07966 105513.
Mr Kevin Smyth from Ditchling has been appointed Under Sheriff for the year, to assist the High Sheriffs of West Sussex and East Sussex. He is a solicitor, trustee of the Martlets Hospice in Hove and a former chairman of governors of Worth School.