24th September 2018
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Review of the decade: 2006

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The RAF left Unst, but Sakchai got to stay

2006

If a decade of reviewing can allow one puff of our own trumpet, we will begin with the news in January that The Shetland Times had been named Newspaper of the Year for 2005 in the Highlands and Islands Media Awards.

The judges said the paper caught their eye with its “excellent cov­erage of the Island Games”, when six daily sports editions were published, “and its all-round coverage of news and sport”.

It was the third time The Shetland Times had picked up the award since Vaila Wishart became editor in 1990, and it was also runner-up on several other occasions. Ms Wishart, who was to retire at the beginning of February, said she was delighted that high standards had been recognised. “It is all down to the hard work and professionalism of our small editorial team and everyone else who works for the paper,” she said.

One of the last tasks of the departing editor was to highlight an appeal to raise £2 million for a CT scanner for the Gilbert Bain Hospital. Lerwick Guizer Jarl Mark Manson got the ball rolling with a cheque for £500 from the Jarl’s Squad, The Shetland Times pledged an equal amount with the prize money from the media award and the Whalsay gala committee pitched in with another £300.

Over the coming months appeal chairman Peter Malcolmson would be photographed with hundreds of people making donations as the campaign rocketed. The aim was to raise the £2 million in two years, but due to the outstanding generosity of Shetlanders the target was reached in just under half that time.

A thorny issue returned to Shetland Islands Council’s agenda – less than two years after its previous appearance. With the SIC once again looking to tackle its overspend, chief executive Morgan Goodlad said the essential schools review would include “a significant rationalisation of pro­vision”. What he presumably meant was that some schools would be closing.

Education chief Neil Galbraith was given the job of carrying out the review, and the news was greeted with dismay by those schools which had so recently gone through the whole process of facing closure. Cullivoe school board chairman Phil Kennerley said: “If any small schools get closed it’s the start of the end. It doesn’t bode well for the community.”

Four years after the council moved the Shetland Library from its purpose-built headquarters on Lerwick’s Lower Hillhead to the nearby former St Ringan’s UF Church, the SIC said it was con­sidering building a new library.

The council had spent £1 million converting the church, which it paid a token £1 for in 2000, but users described it as cramped and ill-equipped, with only enough space to display half the books.

After half a century, the RAF left Saxa Vord in Unst. The camp was built in the mid-1950s and at its peak between 250 and 300 airmen were stationed there. But the end of the Cold War, and agreement between Russian and the USA on limiting strategic arms, signalled the end. Saxa Vord had been at the sharp end of the stand-off, playing an important role in the interception of Soviet aircraft.

Squadron Leader Philip Car­penter, the last of over 50 commanding officers at the station, said the closure had been the hardest job of his 19-year career, particularly with the loss of 39 civilian jobs at the base, and paid tribute to the people of Unst for the welcome they had given himself and thousands of other servicemen over the past 50 years.

Policeman Malcolm Bell was the first Shetlander to be promoted to Northern Constabulary area commander, when he became Lerwick’s new chief inspector.

Having fought back from serious knee problems, when at times he doubted whether he would ever work again, chief inspector Bell was a popular choice to lead Shetland’s police force. He told The Shetland Times how he had been inspired by a talk from police cadets while a 16-year- old the at the Anderson High School, and had never considered any other career after that, becoming a cadet himself in 1980. Prior to returning to Shetland he worked at Dornoch, Invergordon and Aviemore, as well as a previous stint in Lerwick as detective constable.

Sadly chief inspector Bell’s knee troubles were to return, however, and he was forced to take early retirement three years later.

There was no doubt who dom­inated the headlines during the summer, from the moment police and immigration officers swooped on his home at the beginning of June.

Sakchai Makao, 24, who was born in Thailand but left the country when he was 10 years old, was flown south within hours to face deportation as the Home Office launched a crackdown on immigrants who had committed crimes.

Mr Makao had been jailed for 15 months in 2003 after being found guilty of setting fire to a portable cabin and a car, following a night of heavy drinking. But after his release the Shetland community gave him a second chance, and he was given his job back as a lifeguard at the Clickimin pool.

Local man Davie Gardner, whose two sons were workmates and friends of Mr Makao, organised a campaign to stop his deportation. The Shetland Times added its support along with the SIC, MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Tavish Scott, and over 8,000 people signed a petition calling for his release.

Six weeks after his arrest Mr Makao was freed by an immigration judge in a court at North Shields, and a fortnight later the government abandoned its attempt to boot him out of the country. He was overjoyed, as was Mr Carmichael who said the Home Office had “given up a fight they should never have started”.

The council’s involvement with the Smyril Line continued to cause problems. First it was learned that anonymous complaints had been made to the European Union that council investments, including millions in Smyril, were in breach of State Aid rules. SIC convener Sandy Cluness then resigned from the Smyril board amid concerns over his decision to accept £4,500 a year for being a director of the company. That was followed by news that Smyril was to close its Lerwick office and make staff redundant, a sure sign that the link with Faroe was going to be lost.

The sudden disappearance of Unst businessman Sandy Macaulay, 49, shocked people all across Shetland. He had last been seen at his workplace on the evening of 1st October, was believed to have used his computer the following morning, and then failed to return home.

A search of Unst and the coast around the isle was carried out by the police, coastguard and local people but no trace was found. All kinds of theories were put forward as to what had happened to Mr Macaulay, a married man with two sons and a daughter who was well known and respected for his charity work with Save the Children, which had taken him to many African and Asian countries.

His family refused to believe that he was not still alive, and six weeks after the disappearance his wife Jane made an appeal at a press conference for her husband to let her know he was okay and to return home.

Ambitious plans to build a new Anderson High School in Lerwick were unveiled. The proposal was to build a four-storey, horseshoe-shaped building at the Knab, just above the site of the present school. The cost was put at around £48 million, which would include an underground car park to hold 120 cars which was likely to cost £1.5 million.

Yachtsman Andrew Halcrow, from Burra, who had left for a solo, non-stop trip around the world in June, was dramatically airlifted off the Australian coast after becoming ill with appendicitis.

He was taken to hospital and underwent a successful operation but doctors at Albany, Western Australia, reported that he may have been only 12 hours from death if he had not been rescued.

It later emerged that it took one last almighty effort of strength and determination from Mr Halcrow to reach help. When the huge Japanese bulk carrier came to his aid and the crew threw a ladder over the side, he had managed, although in agony, to haul himself up more than 30 feet to get on the ship.

The whereabouts of his beloved Elsi Arrub, which he was forced to abandon, were unkown at first. He had built the boat, named after his home isle, in the 1980s before sailing around the world on her with his brother Terry.

But Mr Halcrow’s treasured yacht was later spotted drifting and was eventually brought back to Shetland. He initially said he had no wish to make another attempt at the round-the-world trip, but a couple of years later rumours began circulating that he may reconsider.

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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