Loss of Sally adds urgency to police unit merger plan

Children from Belarus meet police horse Sally. Picture: Neil Hanna

Children from Belarus meet police horse Sally. Picture: Neil Hanna

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THE death of a police horse and illness which struck two other animals has sped up plans to close the Lothian force’s mounted section.

Police horse Sally passed away after suffering complications following surgery on an injury to a leg joint.

Two other horses in the section also suffered recent bad health due to mobility problems prompting police chiefs to move ahead with a three-month pilot project between Lothian and Borders Police and colleagues at Strathclyde Police.

In January, it was revealed that the force was set to lose its mounted section after more than 130 years. The unit has been recommended for closure, with the horses transferred to Strathclyde Police as part of plans to save £52,000 a year.

Under the pilot which started earlier this month, the mounted units of both forces have been merged to allow the police board to evaluate whether the move will become permanent.

In a report to the board, Chief Constable David Strang said: “The decision to move ahead with a three-month pilot project between Lothian and Borders Police and Strathclyde Police was taken as a result of a series of unforeseen circumstances, which could not have been planned for or prevented.”

Mr Strang said that the horses’ ill-health had “compounded” the need for a pilot scheme. He added: “This has impacted adversely on the resilience and capacity of our mounted resources to be able to provide an appropriate level of service.”

A police spokesman said: “Lothian and Borders Police can confirm that a serving police horse has sadly died.

“Police horse Sally, who was nine years old, was on two weeks’ respite when she suffered an injury to her leg joint.

“She underwent an operation but passed away following post-operative complications.”

As well as carrying out regular policing duties, Sally endeared herself to children from the Hoiniki area of Belarus who visited her at the mounted section, based at Fettes HQ, last summer.

The visit was set up by Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline, Edinburgh, a charity that arranges for youngsters affected by the Chernobyl disaster to stay with families in the UK.

The two horses who were also poorly had been suffering with joint problems, but recovered after being treated with rest and recuperation.

The police spokesman added: “The recent death of a serving Lothian and Borders Police horse and health concerns for two more horses within the mounted section threatened to put considerable demand on the unit. However, this has been alleviated as a result of our access to Strathclyde’s resources.

“Further discussion will be held following evaluation of the pilot to establish whether there is merit in adopting this model going forward.”

Councillor Iain Whyte, police board convener, said: “It was very sad news that the horse passed away so suddenly. That has left the force without a full police horse team. Obviously the board would have preferred to wait until a full agreement with Strathclyde Police had been reached.”

The mounted section now has fewer horses, along with seven officers who are sent out on regular patrols as well as policing events.

Under the merger 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.

alan.mcewen@edinburghnews.com