Copshawholm’s fair cop hangs up his cap

Special Police Constable of Newcastleton, Keith Brough who is retiring from Lothian & Borders Police.
Special Police Constable of Newcastleton, Keith Brough who is retiring from Lothian & Borders Police.

LURKING in the pitch darkness outside a row of farm cottages to arrest a burglar, Special Constable Keith Brough can’t have expected to hear the immortal words so beloved of television police dramas: “It’s a fair cop!”

But he did – just one of the many incidents, some humorous, some tragic, which Keith can recount from his 22-year career as a special constable with Lothian and Borders Police.

When Keith hung up his uniform at the weekend, he called time on a career during which he was made an MBE for his service to Newcastleton and the surrounding area.

According to fellow officers in the Borders G Division, no words can describe how highly regarded Keith is held by his colleagues.

“His dedication to his community and the force is above and beyond the call of duty, and he is an example to all members of the service,” said a statement issued to announce his retirement.

Keith’s attendance record as a special constable over more than two decades has been outstanding. But it has been his willingness to attend routine calls from the public, at any time of the day or night, that has set him apart.

In the remotest, southern-most area of the Lothian and Borders force area, Newcastleton is at the end of a single-track road from divisional headquarters in Hawick, and the journey between the two is long.

Keith therefore has often represented the public face of the division within the village and has been relied upon to work independently of other officers.

He has routinely acted as a “host” during festival events, making all police staff welcome at his home and catering for all.

Keith is known throughout the village and surrounding area and his retirement means a huge loss, not only to the local community, but also to the wider police force.

He has been honoured a number of times during his service. In 2000, he received the Citizen of the Year Award from the Cumberland Newspaper Group. In July 2001 he was awarded his long service medal and two years ago he received a bar. In 2008, Keith was presented with Lothian and Borders Police Force’s Excellence Award for Community Policing.

And, to top it all, his MBE came three years ago in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Lothian and Borders Police say those achievements, all within an eight-year window, paint a picture of a truly exceptional individual whose self-sacrifice and sense of community spirit has been acknowledged by all.

Keith has made some notable arrests in his time. As well as the aforementioned cottage burglar, he was acknowledged for his efforts in assisting a community officer in detecting and apprehending four members of a criminal gang responsible for a spate of thefts.

Working alone on one occasion, he apprehended four males in a stolen car. Again, working alone, he apprehended three males for stealing a bike in the village.

Now aged 56 and with recurring back trouble, Keith has decided it is time to put his uniform away.

“I work as a process manager in Carlisle and our company has been getting busier and busier in recent times. Coupled with my back problems, I have decided this is the right time to call it a day,” he told TheSouthern this week.

“Work has been getting busier and busier and I’ve been there 40 years and have only three-and-half years to go until my retirement.”

A native of Carlisle, Keith, who has lived in Newcastleton since 1983, once considered applying to become a full-time regular police officer, as he had enjoyed his involvement with the specials so much.

“But I could not have afforded to go full-time with the police, although obviously I thought about it very carefully. To be honest though, I feel I have had the best of both worlds.”

Although Keith’s service as a special has been mainly spent in the Newcastleton area, he has often been called to assist in other parts of the Borders, including Hawick on a Friday and Saturday night.

“I have also ended up at times in Jedburgh and Kelso, as well as helping out at such events as the Queen’s visit to Melrose, other royal visits to the region plus the G8 summit in Edinburgh. But being based here where I live has meant I can respond very quickly to incidents such as vehicle accidents.”

Times from his career which stick out in Keith’s memory include the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, as well as the recovery of 250,000 smuggled cigarettes.

As for the classic arrest, he told us: “Some cottages outside the village had been broken into and we wondered if the culprit would have the nerve to come back again.

“So we waited outside in pitch dark and jumped out and grabbed him as he climbed out of a window and, believe it or not, he actually uttered the words ‘Its a fair cop.’ I never thought I would actually hear that one!”

The village’s famous music festival also used to provide Keith and his colleagues with a fair bit of business, although times have changed in recent years. “The festival has calmed down a fair bit since I first started,” he said.

“One of the hardest things has always been dealing with the loss of someone’s loved one. That is very difficult, but something that comes with the job.”

One of Keith’s four sons has expressed interest in the police as a future career, but it is the military which seems to be the family business for three of them.

“Two of my sons and my stepson are all in the army – one is serving with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan.

“However, I cannot recommend being a special highly enough.

“I have made wonderful friends and it has felt like being part of a big family. The Borders is a large area but there is only a small number of police officers.

“I always like to have a walk round the local pubs on a Friday or Saturday night when I am on duty. Folk like to see you out and about and there’s not enough of that, but more and more officers have been getting out on the beat on foot recently

“It’s how you get to know things.”

And you can be certain that the handshakes from villagers at the weekend would be genuinely meant and the welcoming smiles sincere because Keith Brough has been much, much more than just a fair cop.