OBITUARIES: Sir John Orr

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The Independent Online
Resplendent in his chief constable's silver braid, with the gait of a powerful, physical, international wing forward, which is precisely what he once was, John Orr could exude authority when a public occasion required. Anyone so unwise as to try to muck him around would come off a poor second best.

Yet his day-to-day behaviour placed Orr firmly in the Dixon-of-Dock-Green school of police officer. Both as a senior policeman and as a rugby administrator, he was among the least self-important of men. He was unpompous. He was excellent to work with and deeply respected and liked by his juniors in the police force and the civilian staff. He was the antithesis of what Will Carling might define as an "old fart".

John Orr was born into a family of joiners. Orr told me that the Queen had expressed herself pleased and interested when he informed her during one of the many royal occasions in Edinburgh which he supervised as chief constable that his father had worked as a skilled cabinetmaker in reconstructing her Palace of Holyrood before the First World War. Alas, Orr's father died from the great flu epidemic in 1918 when Orr was three months old.

All schools matter in careers but none more so than for Orr in that he went as a Foundationer (a non-paying scholar) to the ancient George Heriot's School in Edinburgh with its formidable rugby tradition. Ken Scotland, a later Herioter and British Lions full back in the 1950s and 1960s, told me: "Orr had a lifetime's loyalty to Heriots and its Former Pupils rugby club, for whom he was a very physical wing forward, a good ball player and a most effective seven-a-side winger."

Orr's own international rugby career was stolen by the Second World War. In 1939 he was in the running for Scottish international sides. Albeit that he played against Wales and France in 1947, the peak years had slipped by.

His interest in rugby was on-going. He acted as chairman of the Police Athletic Association's rugby section and in 1975-76 he served as president of the Scottish Rugby Union. Gregor Nicholson, administrative secretary of the Scottish Rugby Union, described him as "a real gentleman of rugby. Hard but always fair, he was admired with the greatest respect by all those who met him in his capacity as a rugby administrator."

His sporting interests were wide. I saw him in action at first hand during the organisation of the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970 and again in 1986. The police input into the success of the games was enormous and that in turn was due to Orr's intense personal interest.

He had joined the Edinburgh City Police as a boy clerk in 1937, soon becoming a regular constable. During the war he was a navigator with Bomber Command, becoming a flying officer. It was part of him that he hated destruction, although he was ever mindful of the bravery of his colleagues who had risked and sacrificed their lives in Bomber Command.

He returned to the Edinburgh City Police, rising through the ranks to become Chief Constable of Dundee at the age of 42 in 1960. In 1968 he was promoted to be Chief Constable of the Lothians and Peebles force, all of which was grooming for the office of first chief constable of Lothians and Borders police force - formed by amalgamating three forces, Edinburgh City Police, Lothians and Peebles constabulary and Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk constabulary, so making one of the largest police forces in Britain. His contributions to police work earned him an OBE in 1972, the Queen's Police Medal in 1977 for his impeccable oversight of royal visits and a knighthood in 1979.

Orr's philosophy of policing was that the police were part of the community, accountable to them and there to serve them. For a decade and a half he was the chief constable covering the West Lothian constituency and I can testify from my weekly dealings with him that he was fastidious about getting to the root of anything which purported to be a less than frivolous complaint about the police. Nobody was more jealous of their good reputation. The Scottish Office minister with current responsibility for law and order, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton MP, rightly described him as a "policeman's policeman". Supported by his wife Isobel, also in the police force, Orr demanded that everything about the police be above board.

In my last conversation with him, at the funeral of a West Lothian officer, Supt Donald Mackinnon (Orr made a point of attending the funerals of his ex-colleagues), we discussed the idea being floated of the security services' becoming involved in police work. "I am dismayed and appalled," Orr said. "Nuisance though it may be, and terribly expensive in terms of police time, it is vitally important that the police officers should appear in courts of law, to give evidence. If undercover agents give evidence in court they do not remain undercover for long."

John Orr embodied all that was good about the police forces in Scotland, where he was the honorary secretary of the chief constables. The fact that the Scottish police are held in such high regard in and out of Scotland is due to the calibre and lives of men like him.

Tam Dalyell

John Henry Orr, police officer: born Edinburgh 13 June 1918; Chief Constable, Dundee 1960-68, Lothians and Peebles 1968-75, Lothian and Borders Police 1975-83; OBE 1972; Honorary Secretary, Association of Police Officers (Scotland) 1974-83; President, Scottish Rugby Union 1975-76; QPM 1977; Kt 1979; married 1942 Isobel Campbell (one son, one daughter); died Edinburgh 26 September 1995.

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