Former mounted police officer calls for section reprieve

Tom Bisset, formerly of the mounted police unit. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Tom Bisset, formerly of the mounted police unit. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A PENSIONER who served for 20 years in the mounted section of Lothian and Borders Police has called for the unit to be saved from closure.

Great-grandfather of four Tom Bisset, 83, said he was “absolutely shattered” to learn the 130-year-old section was to disappear.

Last week, the Evening News reported that the unit has been recommended for closure, with the horses transferred to Strathclyde Police as part of plans to save £52,000 a year.

Mr Bisset, who spent his last 12 years as sergeant of the section until retiring in 1980, called on force chiefs to think again.

“The people of Edinburgh deserve it,” he said. “I was absolutely shattered when I found out. There’s been mounted police in Edinburgh for 130 years and people in Edinburgh enjoy seeing the horses parading on the streets and also doing their beat work.”

Mr Bisset, who lives in Craigentinny and was awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) for his work in the stables in 1979, was in the force for a total of 30 years and trained at least 20 horses during his time.

“When I was sergeant, I was in charge of the horses and the patrols that the men did throughout the city,” he said.

“The mounted lads in Edinburgh did the grooming, mucking out and feeding the horses themselves, which was a good way of getting a good relationship with the horses.

“We did patrols throughout the city and then we had many parades, state visits and Queen visits, plus football matches and rugby matches. The Queen used to come to the opening of the Assembly and various things like that.

“When the Household Cavalry came to Edinburgh, we had to escort them up to Redford Barracks.”

The mounted section, based at the Fettes HQ, has five horses along with seven officers who are sent out on regular patrols as well as policing events such as football matches.

Under the plans, the animals would move to Strathclyde’s mounted section, based at an Ayrshire farm, and only return to the Lothians for specific duties, while the officers would be deployed elsewhere.

Police chiefs said the move was aimed at helping meet its tight budget, as well as planning ahead for a single Scottish force.

But the proposals have sparked concern that the redeployment would reduce services and lead to further centralisation of resources.

Along with saving the £52,000 a year spent on food, care and equipment for the horses, the force would no longer need to pay for a replacement horse carrier costing £100,000. Police chiefs say the proposed move makes sense as part of a “root and branch” review of the service.

Mr Bisset said: “The best method of cutting costs would be to reduce the Glasgow mounted section by six horses, thereby leaving Edinburgh with a section. By this means, at no extra travelling costs, Edinburgh mounted section would always be available.”

He added: “It was always a close-knit section and once you went in, you stayed in, because you loved doing what you were doing – working with horses. If I had my life to live over again, I would do the same again.”