Gerry Farrell: Back from the brink with help of Pc Watt

It's a beautiful spot, but the Crags carry an air of menace. Picture: contributed
It's a beautiful spot, but the Crags carry an air of menace. Picture: contributed
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The red basalt cliffs of Salisbury Crags rise 150 feet above Holyrood Park, sloping off to the west of Arthur’s Seat. It’s a beautiful spot but it carries an air of menace like many of Scotland’s high places.

In 1972, a failed Dutch insurance advisor called Ernst Dumoulin took out half a million pounds worth of insurance cover on his new bride’s life. The day after their wedding he pushed her off the top of the crags then rang the insurance company the next day to claim the money. He told the police they were enjoying a romantic stroll along Salisbury Ridge when she lost her footing and plunged to her death. The police didn’t believe his story and he was tried and convicted of murder.

A still from the Portobello High School campaign animation. Picture: contributed

A still from the Portobello High School campaign animation. Picture: contributed

Leith-based police constable Neill Watt wasn’t even born when the crime was committed but he will never forget the shift he put in on the Crags one night in June this year, that has just earned him a special police award for bravery. He’s a reluctant hero, keen to give the credit to all his colleagues in the emergency services but I twisted his arm and he told me his story:

“We got a call from a member of the public to say there was a man trying to climb up Arthurs Seat, towards Salisbury Crags.

“When we arrived at the scene he was already at a very dangerous height. He wasn’t in full control of his actions. He kept falling, tripping and sliding. He had a rucksack on his back that wasn’t helping his balance. We radioed for more units.

“My colleague stayed below and I reckoned I could probably climb up next to him. I started making my way up the loose scree, slipping a bit myself and scrambling round rocky projections.

“After a few hairy moments, I got myself within talking distance of him but he didn’t want me to come any closer. He was extremely upset and was threatening to just give up and let himself fall.

“I can honestly say I wasn’t frightened for myself. Any of my colleagues would have done what I did. But it was very tense. I tried to build a rapport, asking him what was upsetting him and letting him talk. But every so often he would stop engaging with me and stand up, swaying and facing down the slope.

“By this time, the fire brigade had arrived up at the top. They saw the danger we were both in. A fireman came down and harnessed me but the guy refused a harness.”

I interrupted Pc Watt to ask him what thoughts were running through his mind at this point. “Well I knew there were special police negotiators on the way but I felt like time was running out. They teach you certain tactics at police college but you can’t really train for something like this. You’re worried you might say the wrong thing. It was a pretty big moment in this poor guy’s life and mine too. Luckily, there was a whole team of professionals around us, working to resolve it safely. Eventually we coaxed him gently to the top, got a hold of him and got him help. A few days later – and this is very unusual – he phoned in to the control room. He said he wanted to thank everyone who had helped him off the Crags and just let us know he was getting the help he needed.”

The suicide rate has been coming down steadily thanks to Scotland’s ten-year suicide prevention strategy. But suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under 45. Whatever you’re going through, you can call The Samaritans free of charge from any phone at any time of the day or night by dialing 116 123.

Call in the Ad-Team, not the A-Team

In just over three weeks’ time, Portobello High School will move from its wobbly old building into a spanking-new, purpose-built high school just off Milton Road. It will be the culmination of a ten-year campaign to get a new school built on its controversial greenfield site at what was the old “Porty Park”. My two advertising creative pals Gareth Howells and Colin Thomson are proud of the small but significant part they played in the campaign’s success.

The old school was built in the 60s but it didn’t stand the test of time.

When the wind blew like the wind blows in Edinburgh (pretty much all the time), the pupils could feel their classrooms swaying from side to side. Great if you’re planning a career in the navy. Not much use at stopping your pencil rolling off your jotter.

When the council earmarked Portobello Park as the ideal place to build the new school there was a storm of opposition. Much of it from dog-walkers, as well as golfers who feared the building would encroach on the local golf course.

Supporters of the school and its new site got together and formed PFANS, Portobello For A New School, to combat SPP, Save Porty Park. The battle for hearts and minds had begun.

Getting the site approved was no done deal and PFANS weren’t sure everyone concerned had a full grasp of the facts. So they called in the A-Team (well, two award-winning advertising blokes with a track record for doing good ideas fast).

Gareth wrote the script in 24 hours, inspired by drawings and interviews with the pupils. A few tweaks later he handed it over to Colin, famous for his “wobbly line” style of animation – perfect for a wobbly school. There was no money to pay them for Gareth’s idea or Colin’s animation. And not a penny to get the production done and the film broadcast on TV.

But with the internet, you don’t always need a million-pound media spend to tell your story. Just a catchy idea, well executed.

The video got shared online by PFANS and their friends and there’s no doubt it helped dispel some of the public’s fears. The pupils are getting a fantastic £42.5 million school. The dog-walkers are getting a new park. And the golfers will be keeping their golf course. You can watch the film online here:

Poets’ corner

Tomorrow is National Poetry Day. Here’s one I prepared earlier.

I haven’t the time

To make this verse rhyme

Would it be such a crime

If it didn’t?

I have no excuse

For this wilful abuse

I’ve just run out of juice

Duh-duh duh-duh.