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John Dickson

Former Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police and head of police operations at the Lockerbie disaster;

Born: October 23, 1932; Died: October 25, 2012.

John Thomson Dickson, better known as John T, who has died aged 80, was a policeman's policeman who led from the front.

A tenacious, considerate and courteous man, he was in charge of police operations during the Lockerbie disaster and, after his handling of the Barlinnie riot in 1987, brokered reforms of procedure and training that are still in place today.

His ambition had always been to join the police but he did not have a great start in life. His mother died when he was seven and he was brought up by his grandmother after his father remarried.

To be eligible to join the police, he had to first complete his national service, so he quit his job as a trainee optician and joined the RAF for two years, spending his time mainly in Egypt. He left holding the rank of corporal and was always regarded as the smartest on parade.

This pride in his appearance was to continue throughout his police service and he demanded high standards of others.

As a uniformed, operational officer he was involved in most major incidents and events in Glasgow and Strathclyde up to his retirement in 1990.

His service started in the Glasgow Eastern Division in 1954 and his early career was spent on some of the toughest beats in the city. This led him to being appointed as a plainclothes officer taking part in operations against shebeens, brothels and illegal bookmakers.

He was promoted to sergeant in the old marine division covering the west end of the city and then inspector in the central division. It was here his leadership qualities were recognised.

The first time I served with Mr Dickson was during the first miners' strike in 1974 when as Chief Inspectors we co-ordinated the police response to flying pickets. Mr Dickson was Chief Inspector in charge of the support unit.

Support units are a major component of policing today but then it was a new concept. Under Mr Dickson, it developed into a formidable force supporting both the uniform branch and the CID.

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Glasgow in 1982 was the largest public gathering in the city's history. It gave Mr Dickson, then Chief Superintendent in traffic, the opportunity to demonstrate his talent for planning, co-ordination and sensitive crowd control. The arrangements were an outstanding success and Mr Dickson was awarded the Papal Medal, only one of two policemen to get this award.

In 1985 he was appointed Assistant Chief Constable. Initially he was in command of personnel and later in the post he relished, operations.

In 1987 a riot broke out in Barlinnie Prison with prison officers taken hostage and great destruction caused over six days. He was involved in containing the riot and attempts to bring it to an end.

Later in the year, riots occurred in Peterhead and then at the new Shotts Prison. Mr Dickson realised prison officers were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to deal with any riot and as a result brokered an accord between the police and the prison authorities to train and equip prison officers to contain and resolve these incidents with the police providing back-up. That is the position to this day.

His leadership and planning skills were put to the ultimate test when Pan Am Flight 103 fell from the skies above Lockerbie, just after 7pm on December 22, 1988.

Mr Dickson was sent to Dumfries and Galloway to take charge of operations under the command of the Dumfries and Galloway Chief Constable, John Boyd.

He arrived in Lockerbie at 10pm while the plane and parts of the town were still ablaze. He and a team of officers worked through the night and devised a seven-sector search plan.

As dawn broke the grim reality was obvious and Mr Dickson and his team briefed search teams that poured into the area from all Scottish police forces and numerous volunteer agencies.

By Christmas Eve over 1000 officers plus volunteers were searching the hills, rivers and lochs for bodies, luggage and aircraft parts. All of the dead and luggage were recovered and identified in what remains to this day the most successful search and recovery operation of its type in the world.

Mr Dickson was awarded the OBE in 1989 for his service to policing. On retirement in 1990 he joined British Aerospace, Prestwick, as head of security and administration. He was a dedicated and accomplished fly fisher and passed his knowledge and skills on to many.

When he was told in February that he had terminal stomach cancer, Mr Dickson typically met the issue head on. He resolved to live long enough to get one more fly fishing season at the Brother Loch so he reluctantly agreed to take a course of debilitating chemotherapy.

On his last visit, just two weeks before he died, he managed to fish for an hour, caught two beautiful trout and again out-fished his two companions. A fitting finale and a typical John T shot.

He is survived by his wife Rita, his son Gordon, daughters Lesley and Gillian, and six grandchildren.

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