Miners’ strike, Lockerbie, shootings – it was all in a day’s work for Dougie

Police Retiral.
Police Retiral.

A HAWICK policeman who was advised not to join the force because of his lack of height retired last week after 32 eventful and successful years.

Dougie Forsyth said an emotional goodbye to colleagues last Friday following a wide-ranging career.

But if he had listened to a guidance teacher at school he may have followed a completely different path.

Dougie told TheSouthern: “I remember the guidance teacher advising me I should become an engineer because she thought I was too short for the police.

“I have always wanted to see the teacher again and say ‘I did not bad’.

Originally from Cockburnspath, Dougie was posted to Hawick in 1979 as a 17-year-old cadet and was soon on the streets of the Teviotdale town as a beat cop.

“It was very varied and busy compared to the rest of the force,” the 48-year-old added.

“You were dealing with fatal road accidents, sudden deaths and armed robberies. I remember house break-ins during that time were 10 a penny.

“I don’t know if it was due to the economic situation but we did catch many of the culprits.”

Despite the various challenges in Hawick, nothing could compare to the miners’ strikes of 1984, when Dougie was part of a response team which was deployed for over two months to Bilston Glen Colliery near Edinburgh and also Fife.

Dougie said: “That was a difficult time with long hours, but fortunately I didn’t see any of my colleagues seriously injured.

“The local miners were fine but there were those on wildcat strikes that were determined to cause trouble and we had to deal with them in a different way.”

In the same year, Dougie joined the Borders traffic police department, and was on the scene at fatal accidents across the region.

But he encountered death on a much larger scale when he was called out to the Lockerbie crash of 1988, which resulted in 270 people being killed. He recalled: “I was on traffic backshift and got the call to go to Lockerbie.

“We got to Langholm and then went across past Tundergarth where the nose section of the plane was lying. When we saw it in a field, we realised something serious had happened.

“We were involved in the search for survivors but, of course, we didn’t find any.

a“That experience has remained with me ever since.”

Three years later, Dougie moved north to help train budding policemen and women from across the country at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan Castle.

But in 1994 he made his way back to Hawick as an operational sergeant before moving 11 miles north to Selkirk to become an inspector in 1999, a post which also held responsibilities for co-ordinating with Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue and the Border Search and Rescue Unit.

Dougie’s next step was to liaise with Scottish Borders Council as the region became the first in Scotland to implement new anti-social behaviour legislation.

He added: “To be the first in Scotland to have registered social landlords, housing associations, NHS and the court service all on board was quite an achievement.”

In 2004 Dougie moved to the capital as chief inspector of Howdenhall, covering wealthy areas such as Morningside to the crime-ridden estate Gracemount.

And he was in charge at the time of the Marmion shootings, which led to the conviction of James Bain for entering a Gracemount pub and killing ex-boxer Alex McKinnon.

“That was a huge, huge operation for us,” said Dougie. “There was a massive police response team because there was a huge amount of fear, with people frightened to walk on the streets.”

He added: “Edinburgh was very difference because members of the public did not feel low level crime had to be tackled, whereas, coming from the Borders, I felt it was vital. We tackled the low level crime and I think it was appreciated.”

Dougie’s travels then saw him head Lothian and Borders’ equality and diversity unit, followed up by a final return to Hawick as chief inspector in 2007, where he also spent a 12-month spell as superintendent for G Division.

Reflecting on his time in the Borders, Dougie added: “The Borders for me is second to none for community spirit and this was emphasised to me during my time in Edinburgh.

“We have around 300 crimes a month, which is 300 too many, but compared to other areas it is one of the safest places on mainland Scotland.

“The public have always been willing to help and engage with us. They are a huge part of that success.”