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Two police officers murdered during most violent period in Scotland’s modern history...

...finally look set to be honoured

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” So said anthropologist Margaret Mead, and she could have added that you need leadership and bloody-mindedness as well.

Just recently I saw a prime example that gladdened my heart: a demonstration of determination to right a historic injustice. We seem to take a perverse comfort from believing we live in the most violent of times. In general, it’s not true. By any objective measurement, the period from the mid-70s to the mid-80s was the most violent in Scotland’s modern history.

That decade also saw two of the most dreadful crimes against emergency services workers, before or since: the brutal murder of two Scottish police officers.

In late 1976, Constable George Taylor was on duty with a colleague near Carstairs, when they were attacked by two convicted murderers who had escaped from the nearby state mental hospital and already killed two men. Armed only with a 12-inch police baton George Taylor fought gallantly against overwhelming odds before falling to numerous axe and knife wounds. His colleague, although injured, managed to summon help and the two murderers were arrested.

The second incident, seven years later, was equally brutal. In 1983, Detective Sergeant Ross Hunt attended the scene of a serious assault in Larkhall, with a notorious family suspected. Strictly speaking, Sergeant Hunt had no need to go, but given the violent reputation of the suspects, he answered the call to show leadership.

What followed was a brutal attack on several police officers. Sergeant Hunt, being the leader, was the focus and though he defended himself bravely, he eventually fell under a barrage of axe and knife blows. Three other officers were seriously injured.

It’s incomprehensible but Constable Taylor and Detective Sergeant Hunt were never formerly recognised for their gallantry and sacrifice. Both died bravely in the line of duty. Had they been in the military their families would have received the Elizabeth Cross but, for our emergency services, nothing. For years, this obvious injustice rankled with their families and police colleagues. Numerous appeals were made and rebuffed.

But all was not lost, step forward George Barnsley, a well-known former officer, and leader of the Lanarkshire Police Historical Society. Incensed by the injustice, he and his colleagues waged a relentless campaign to right the wrong, all the time keeping the officers’ families involved. He petitioned politicians, confronted bureaucracy, and wrote an excellent book. ‘The Lanarkshire Police Chronicles’ covers much ground but is dedicated to the two fallen officers, with a comprehensive account of both appalling crimes.

Still there was no movement from officialdom but George Barnsley kept going, all the time gathering support. Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain took up the cause. A former police officer and daughter of a policeman, she’s a formidable operator. At Holyrood, Graham Simpson MSP provided assistance – the ground was shifting.

Gradually the immovable bureaucracy began to budge, and when Wendy Chamberlain led a debate in Parliament, the government promised that action would be taken. It’s not done yet, but the tide has surely turned. As Margaret Mead predicted, this small group of determined people have indeed brought about change and will right a historic injustice.

My Scotsman column can also be viewed at

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