Reflecting on 30 years of service

Pictured in dress tunic, Iain MacNicol is looking forward to retirement. 51_a23IainMacNicol04

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Three decades of experience left Lochgilphead police station with the retirement of Sergeant Iain MacNicol.

Just before he headed out the door for the final time as a full-time police officer, he took time to chat to us about his time in the force.

Iain was brought up on the family Turnalt Farm, Barbreck, near Lochgilphead, and started his working life on farms in Perthshire and latterly as a cattleman in Fife. Enjoyable as the work was, he was looking for something different, so applied to join the police.

In 1991, at the age of 23 – and married to Morag the year before – he joined Tayside Police after a lengthy recruitment process.

He will officially retire on June 30 at the age of 53, though annual leave meant that he effectively finished on Thursday June 3.

Except, not quite.

‘I’m planning to go into work on June 30,’ he explained, ‘just so that I can walk out the door on my last day. I didn’t want to watch the clock and just drift away.’

Constable Iain MacNicol’s first posting was in Perth for a two-year probationary period, during which time he and Morag lived in police accommodation in Auchterarder before later building a house in Muthill.

Probation over, he was posted to Crieff, also covering Auchterarder.

He said: ‘That was a good area to work. It was a rural area, but it also has the A9 running through it, with the volume of traffic.’

An interest in the traffic side of policing saw him spend eight years as a road policing officer in Tayside Police from 1998.

Promoted to sergeant out of road traffic in 2006, he worked in Crieff and Perth for three years before moving ‘home’ to Lochgilphead in 2009.

Coming back to Argyll, he says, ‘felt fine’.

He continued: ‘It was the same job, but because Tayside and Strathclyde were separate forces, the office systems were different, so that took a bit of getting used to.

‘And I also had to resign from Tayside to join Strathclyde. I remember, on the Sunday before I started, hoping that nothing happened before I joined on the Monday!’

Policing, like society, has changed greatly over the past 30 years.

In a world of diminishing resources for issues such as mental health, officers these days have to deal with many more welfare incidents than would have been the case in the past.

‘As a service which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a lot of the people who find themselves in difficulty fall to the police to deal with,’ he said.

The growth of the internet and social media have generated new challenges to the police, often linked to mental health.

Then there’s the increase in telephone, text and online fraud.

‘That is the crime of the current time,’ said Sergeant MacNicol.

‘These crimes have developed and the criminals could be anywhere in the world, so it’s difficult to detect.’

The past year has been dominated by Covid, something which brought its own hurdles for the police.

He said: ‘The pandemic has been a big factor over the past 14 months. There have been new Covid rules to understand and apply on the ground, with a light touch approach generally being taken.

‘We’ve had to carry on doing the same jobs, obviously taking precautions.’

Variety, the spice of life, is never lacking in the police.

‘You never know what’s round the corner,’ he said.

One day, he and a Tayside traffic colleague were sitting in their patrol car waiting for the end of their shift when they received a call about a car travelling very slowly on the A9.

Tracing the vehicle they asked the driver to pull over but he carried on. After forcing the car to a halt, it turned out the car was packed with cannabis.

The two officers received a commendation from Tayside Police and the drugs mule was jailed – all because his car let him down on the dual carriageway.

Sergeant MacNicol continued: ‘It’s been a good career for me and I can certainly recommend it. I’ve enjoyed meeting and working with people from all walks of life.

‘But it’s the right time. I’ve done my bit.’

He (half) joked: ‘Nobody ever came to me with solutions – just problems.’

Life beyond the police certainly won’t be idle.

He and Morag are members of Mid Argyll Tri and Cycle Club, and plenty of fitness events are on the horizon.

He added: ‘I’ll also be helping out on the farm in busy periods, and we have a holiday cottage in Cairnbaan to look after.

‘And as far as jobs are concerned, I’m just going to take it as it comes, but at this point I’m looking to have a wee break.’

Contemplating retirement, he said: ‘It feels strange and it’s come up quickly. I’m not one of these folk who marks off the calendar – that’s just wishing your life away.’

Paying tribute, fellow Lochgilphead sergeant Martin Balkeen said: ‘Iain has been a good friend and colleague, and we’ve worked well together.

‘He’s got a huge amount of experience and is someone who is very good at the details. And there is his farming knowledge too, which has been useful.’

He added: ‘Iain will be missed around the office.’

Lochgilphead Inspector Paul Collins said: ‘Lochgilphead Police Office will certainly miss Iain.

‘Not only is he an experienced and extremely knowledgable officer, but he is very well liked and respected by everyone here.

‘From the day I arrived he has been invaluable and has done absolutely everything possible to help me settle in.

‘We all wish him every happiness in his retirement; it is certainly well deserved.’