LONE ARM OF THE LAW; Life on the Beat

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), October 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

LONE ARM OF THE LAW; Life on the Beat


Byline: ANDREW WALKER EXCLUSIVE

The Record has gone on patrol with frontline

officers the length and breadth of Scotland.

Leaving no stone unturned, we travelled to the UK's most northerly point to find out what frontier life has to throw at Scotland's most remote cop

MEET the chief constable of Unst. Darren Williams is Scotland's most remote policeman - a cop who swapped life in the fast lane for patrolling the country's most remote frontier.

PC Williams' daily routine used to consist of drug busts, high-speed pursuits and three-hour traffic jams in some of the most powerful wheels available on England's south coast.

But he opted to leave the rat race behind in favour of a more back-to- basics style of policing - in the most northerly tip of the UK.

The Record made the epic journey to see what this harsh frontier beat has to throw at him.

Darren is responsible for policing the tiny island of Unst, the furthest north of the Shetland Islands, with a population of 600.

One local says: "Darren is THE cop on Unst. He deals with everything. I suppose he's a bit like our own chief constable."

He is the only cop for miles around - his chief constable Ian Latimer is 300 miles away in Inverness and even the main police station in the Shetlands is in Lerwick, which is a three- hour car journey involving two ferries, away.

The nearest train station is in Bergen, Norway, and the closest cashpoint is in Lerwick.

Unst used to be a thriving community, with an economy built on fishing and the oil industry. The airstrip on the island used to handle 1.5 million passengers a year until it was shut down and the main airport for the Shetland Islands moved to Sumburgh Head.

Even the RAF Saxa Vord radar post - a vital link in NATO's defences - operates on minimum personnel, although the base has five RAF cops on permanent duty.

But this isn't sleepy hollow - at least not all of the time.

Ten years ago, two Australian tourists were blown to their deaths from cliffs above Muckle Flugga lighthouse in 180mph winds.

BUT Unst is a place where crimes which would barely cause a ripple in bigger communities send shockwaves through this tiny community.

And the geography means help can be hours away if a flashpoint erupts.

But the residents of Unst are lucky to have even a single police officer.

Police chiefs at Inverness-based Northern Constabulary had been looking at all their options when the last cop moved on to a new posting in Orkney last year.

One choice under consideration was not to replace him - a prospect which led to questions being asked in Westminster and fierce lobbying.

Finally, it was agreed that a new bobby should be put on the beat - and Darren jumped at the chance.

The 36-year-old, from Poole, Dorset, has been a cop for 12 years.

He started in Dorset Police and worked in the traffic department.

But after six years, he decided to make a break from the hustle and bustle of urban living.

Dad-of-three Darren reveals: "It was a parking ticket that broke the camel's back. I decided I'd had enough - the ticket really ticked me off - and I applied for a transfer to Northern for something a bit different.

"That came through and I moved with my family to Inverness, where I worked for two years.

"Then this posting came up and I thought `Why not?'. It doesn't get more different than this."

Darren moved to Unst with wife Nicki, 37, and kids Abbie, 17, son Sam 14, and younger daughter Emily, 10, in February.

They moved into the police house in the tiny settlement of Baltasound - a house which comes complete with office, public counter and its very own custody cell.

Unst isn't the easiest place to get to. Once you arrive by air at Sumburgh on the southern tip of Shetland's main island, it's a 130-mile car journey involving two ferries to reach Unst. …

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