Obituary – William Robertson QPM

It is with deep regret that we inform you of the sudden death of retired Chief Constable, William Archibald Robertson, known as ‘Bill’, 74 years of age, on Thursday afternoon, 23 November 2017.

Bill was born in Motherwell, the son of Labour MP for Paisley, John Robertson, Bill opted for the police rather than politics as his way of public service and joined Lanarkshire Constabulary on 29 October 1962. He was initially posted to Lanark.

On 1st June 1965, he became a Trainee Detective Constable at Lanark and in January1966, he transferred to the Chief Constables Office, Force Administration, at the then Headquarters in Hamilton. He was later promoted Patrol Sergeant at Hamilton.

He became involved in the Police Federation and was the Secretary of the Lanarkshire Joint Branch Board, later becoming the Secretary of the Federation Joint Central Committee.

He was promoted to Inspector, in October 1974, and he went to Glasgow University where he obtained an LLB. He later obtained a Masters Degree in Business Administration at Strathclyde University.

On 24 June 1975, he was transferred to Patrol Inspector at ‘Q’ Division, Hamilton.

In June 1977, he was promoted to Chief Inspector to the Personnel Department at FHQ, Pitt Street, Glasgow and in September 1980, he was promoted to Detective Superintendent, Head of the Fraud Squad.

In September 1981, he was further promoted to Chief Superintendent at Personnel and just over a year later on 1st October 1982, he was appointed Assistant Chief Constable Personnel

On 28 May 1984, he transferred to ACC Community Services, then, in March 1986 he was appointed the Deputy Commandant at the Scottish Police College, Tulliallan for a two-year period.

He returned to Strathclyde Police as ACC Community Services in April 1988.

On 17 June 1989, he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) for distinguished Police Service.

On 11 October 1992, Bill was appointed Deputy Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, England’s most densely populated authority and a heavily industrialised area. He moved his home to Sedgefield.

In 1996, he returned to Scotland as the Chief Constable of Northern Constabulary until his retirement in 2001.

On retirement he settled in Nairn, close to one of the town’s famed golf courses, which was very handy for a golfing couple like the Robertsons.

The following is an extract from an article written in the Inverness Courier in 2006, five years after his retirement: When you read this you will perhaps agree that Bill was a very astute man!

The job at Northern Constabulary came with a fixed five year contract and though Bill ponders whether five years is enough to stamp your authority on an organisation, his years in charge of the force did see some major changes take place, including the creation of a new headquarters at ‘Inshes’ and a new city police station at Burnett Road.

However, his greatest legacy could be the force itself. “When I came to Northern Constabulary, the biggest issue was to deliver the kind of policing Highland was used to, and the biggest threat to that was amalgamation,”.

Bill explained. “I think reorganisation in such a way can only have one outcome and that is the detriment of policing in the Highlands. What you would get is policing at arm’s length. “That threat to the force was looming large and the excuse that Government always has for amalgamation is that something is badly run. My challenge was how can we show people that we are policing better than everybody else.” In that respect, Northern Constabulary had a big advantage, the lowest crime rates in the UK, making it the country’s most successful force on that criterion, one he believes could appeal to businesses concerned about the vulnerability of their factories and warehouses to potential thieves.

“I lived in Motherwell for the first 50 years of my life and when I go back I’m aware of the level of precaution that people have to take in their lives compared with the relative freedom and safety of this part of the country,” he said.

“Safety is a marketable commodity. You can come to the Highlands and be safe. Safe on the roads and safe on the streets.” But though that side of the business is very successful, there are other issues, which affect the police. “Is it being managed well? Are we spending money the right way? A lot of policemen don’t want to think about that. They just want to go out and catch thieves,” he said.

Another major influence in the way he ran Northern Constabulary was Bill’s belief that the people of the region were entitled to know who he was and that he should be answerable to them, which was one reason behind the creation of a senior liaison officer post with Highland Council.

It also saw him using the local media, especially local newspapers, as a means of keeping the public informed of what their force was doing or planning. Since then he has kept a much lower profile and quite deliberately so. “I had my time. I don’t have any great ambitions to set the heather on fire and change the world. I had my time. Let somebody else get on with it,” he said.

Contrary to popular belief, he added, former chief constables did not have lots of people knocking on his doors with offers of employment, paid or unpaid. One exception was being asked to chair ‘Inverness New Start’, a city churches initiative to help vulnerable people into their own homes and now is a partner in recycling with Highland Council and has a contract to carry out unwanted furniture collections.

The other is his recent appointment as president of Inverness Rotary Club, the largest and oldest of the four local clubs. It is an office he is glad to take up. “I joined Rotary in 1988 and one of its virtues, as I always tell people, is that as I moved to Middlesborough and then to the Highlands, Rotary gave me an instant group of friends and acquaintances,” he explained.

“The Inverness club is very special. It’s a very old club, one of the first 50 clubs in the UK, founded in 1921, while Rotary itself is 100 years old last year. To celebrate, last year the four Inverness clubs commissioned a clock to go up on the wall of the Eastgate Centre. It cost around £50,000, so it’s not an insignificant piece of furniture.” The sale of the centre delayed the clock’s installation, but the clock is expected to go on display in time for the 2007 celebration of Highland Culture.

While some people regard Rotary clubs as almost a secret society, perhaps because membership is through invitation only, Bill says this is far from the truth. Instead the club exists to help local and international charities. “The tsunami appeal last year was very well supported, while polio has almost been eradicated worldwide by the steps Rotary has taken.

But it is not all international. Last year Rotary raised £20,000 for good causes in Inverness,” he pointed out. “We have a very wide range of social activities as well and most weeks there is a speaker. If you want to know what’s happening in Inverness, come to Rotary. We have people from business and tourism and so on, so they keep members informed of what’s going on.” Taking on the role of president emphasises Bill’s commitment to his new home area. “I’m an incomer, and as an incomer I’m able to stand back a bit and look at things differently, but I never contemplated going back,” he said. “With all due respect, home is home, but once you have tasted Highland life you have difficulty finding a reason not to stay here.”

Bill is survived by his wife and three sons.Two of Bill’s sons followed their father’s example and joined the police service. 

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