Yesterday I met up with a good friend of mine for a coffee and after the usual Hearts and Hibs banter we went on to discuss more serious matters regarding recent events in his life and his reaction to them. His name is Kevin Woodburn, the father of Shaun who was brutally killed outside a pub where he had been celebrating New Year with his friends.
The second anniversary of Shaun’s death will be on this January 1 and Kevin told me that it will obviously be a difficult time for the family, as will every New Year’s Day, as it will rekindle memories of the time Shaun was felled by a single punch which caused his tragic and untimely death.
Kevin recounted his ordeal at the time and his campaign to seek changes to a legal process which caused so much anguish and despair for him and his family. I attended Shaun’s funeral on 28 January that year, some four weeks after his death which Kevin attributes to the time it took for some legal issues to be concluded in what was a long drawn-out process.
Kevin told me that at that time a defendant in a case such as this had a right to demand a second post-mortem and did not have to rely on the one carried out by the state.
As there were three accused at the time each and every one could exercise the same right. Although Kevin did not specifically ask how many had been conducted, as he would find that too distressing, he is in no doubt that it must have contributed to the delay in Shaun’s body being released to the family.
Determined that he should try his best to ensure that other families of victims should not be subjected to the same treatment, he campaigned, successfully, for a change to the procedure. Now a defendant can be represented at the official post-mortem but can only request a second post-mortem in special circumstances, which should speed up the release of the body to the family and allow them to proceed with funeral arrangements.
Another issue that concerned Kevin was that there was nowhere for him to go to get specific legal advice in cases such as this and he was left to his own devices which, given that he was at his lowest ebb, was unreasonable and inconsiderate.
While advice and counselling on welfare matters was readily available and effective, there was little or no assistance on offer through official channels. So Kevin decided to take matters into his own hands and press for a Victims Commissioner to be appointed for Scotland as there is for London, England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
With the unstinting support of Kezia Dugdale MSP and Ben Macpherson MSP he has succeeded in addressing Nicola Sturgeon and the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf MSP, on the issue, both of whom were sympathetic and promised to consider the matter further.
A Victims Taskforce has been set up by the Scottish Government and is due to meet for the first time on December 12 in Edinburgh. Its view will be sought on the appointment of a commissioner by the Justice Secretary, who has assured Kevin that his “compelling argument” will be taken into account.
In England and Wales the official website states that “the role of the Commissioner is to promote the interests of victims and witnesses, encouraging good practice in their treatment, and regularly review the Code of Practice for Victims which sets out the services victims can expect to receive.
“The Commissioner is here to listen to the views of victims and witnesses, understand the criminal justice system from their point of view and try to help improve the services and support available.”
Kevin thinks that the argument for such an appointment is irrefutable and, given his experiences, cannot come a minute too soon.
Snapshots of Capital culture deserve to have more exposure
In my column last week I reflected on the recent campaign to retain the St Johns Primary School building at Portobello and suggested that it was doomed to fail as the council was determined to proceed with the formation a a new public park once the building was demolished.
When I was on the council I voted for the proposed park as that was the loud and clear message coming from the local community. Ricky Demarco, who is a major figure in the Edinburgh arts world, joined the campaign to save the building and suggested that it could be used to house his huge photography archive, compiled over decades, which chronicled the city’s cultural scene.
There is no doubt whatsoever that his archive should be preserved and be available to view for generations to come so it was great to see that it will feature in the new £75 million National Galleries of Scotland as part of their National Collections Facility.
I have been in Ricky’s company more times than I care to remember but I do recall that he was seldom seen without his wee camera hanging around his neck which he used to good effect snapping away at sometimes what appeared to be unlikely subjects.
But Ricky knew what he was doing and his photographic archive bears testimony to that.
So congratulations on finding a permanent home for your work Ricky – the city and the country will undoubtedly be enriched by your endeavours.
Roller-mania scarred me for life
All the recent publicity surrounding The Bay City Rollers reminded me of an all-day event at Frisco’s in Chalmers Close many moons ago.
A number of bands were performing live throughout the day and into the night. If you wanted to leave and come back one of the bouncers (for that is what they were in those days) would stamp the back of your hand after which you immediately went out and pressed it against the back of your mate’s hand thereby fooling the bouncers (which admittedly was not difficult) into thinking that he had been in already and that no admission charge was necessary.
One afternoon the Bay City Rollers featured with Nobby Clark as lead singer. The sight of girls with outstretched hands screaming “Nobby! Nobby!” at the top of their voices will live with me forever.
Spot the skiver
My mate Keith was in the Territorial Army, where he had a reputation as a right skiver. One weekend when he was away at camp his Commanding Officer called him over and said: “I didn’t see you at camouflage practice this morning Smith.” “Thank you very much sir”