Budget cuts set for mounted unit is sad day for Borders

Mounted policewoman Karen Scott at the 2010 Braw Lads Gatherin
Mounted policewoman Karen Scott at the 2010 Braw Lads Gatherin

THE decision to axe Lothian & Borders Police’s mounted section after more than 130 years, has cast doubts over whether officers on horseback will ever be seen again at local events in this region, such as the common ridings.

The unit has been recommended for closure, with the horses being transferred to Strathclyde Police as part of plans to save £52,000 a year.

The Edinburgh-based unit stables its five horses at the force’s Fettes headquarters and the seven officers – including ex-Braw Lass Karen Scott from Galashiels – are sent out on regular patrols as well as policing events such as city football matches.

Once the Edinburgh horses have been transfered to their counterparts at Strathclyde, they will only return to Lothians and Borders for specific duties, while the officers will be deployed elsewhere.

The move is meant to help the force meet its tight budget, as well as restructuring for the single Scottish police force expected to come into existence as early as April.

As well as saving the £52,000 a year that goes on food, care and equipment for the horses, the change will mean Lothian & Borders Police will no longer have to fork out £100,000 for a replacement horsebox.

Councillor John Paton-Day (Leaderdale & Melrose LD), speaking at last week’s full session of Scottish Borders Council on the topic of police reforms, said he did not expect to see any mounted officers in the Borders again as a result of the changes to a single Scottish force.

Lothian & Borders and Strathclyde are the only Scottish police forces with mounted sections.

Superintendent Douglas Lynch, branch commander for special operations, which includes the mounted section, recently stated there had been an option to disband the section, but it was decided to transfer the horses to Strathclyde which boasts a mounted set-up four times the size of Lothian & Borders.

“ A lot of people have a great affection for seeing the officers and horses out and about, but our overriding responsibility is to deliver services while making savings,” he said.

However, it is expected the police stables at Fettes will be retained so that horses could be kept there if needed in the Lothians or Borders areas. While the mounted officers will be deployed to other specialist policing duties, a number will maintain their riding skills.

A police spokesperson told TheSouthern that police horses could still be deployed in the Borders if there was an operational requirement and did not rule out the possibility of a mounted police presence at events such as Borders festivals and common ridings – operational requirements permitting.

Braw Lads’ Gathering chairman, David Houston, said it would be a sad day if mounted officers are no longer able to lend their presence to festival and common riding cavalcades.

“It was fantastic that Karen was able to take part in the Gathering in 2010 in her role as a mounted officer, as it saw her celebrating her 10th aniversary as Braw Lass,” Mr Houston told TheSouthern this week.

“We have been able to request mounted officers in the past to take part and they have always been very smartly turned out and its been really nice to see them.”