Thursday, November 30, 2006

The only cop for 3,300 miles

When Malcolm Gilbert spotted a job advert asking for a policeman with “remote island experience”, he thought that he might just fit the bill.

Having spent 30 years pounding the beat in one of Britain’s most far-flung island communities, the 55-year-old former sergeant applied for the post. Though more used to a dark uniform and waterproofs in his job on Orkney, he will put on Bermuda shorts and suncream to take up his new post on the tiny sub-tropical island of Pitcairn, on the far side of the world.

Mr Gilbert is to become the first full-time policeman on the two-and-a-half-mile-long (4km) volcanic speck of land that sits in the middle of the South Pacific, halfway between New Zealand and South America.

He is being employed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the year-long posting, during which he will be the sole arbiter of law and order among the 47-strong population, one of the world’s most isolated communities. If anything does go awry, his nearest back-up will be about 3,300 miles away in New Zealand, a seven-day journey by boat.

Pitcairn is home to the descendants of the mutineers from HMS Bounty, who colonised the uninhabited island in 1790. Two years ago the island attracted worldwide attention when six local men, including the mayor, were convicted of child sex abuse involving girls as young as 7 and stretching back almost 40 years.

Mr Gilbert will draw on his experience of policework during the 1991 Satanic abuse scandal on Orkney to help to heal the wounds that have developed on Pitcairn since the court case.

Since he retired from the force, he has kept busy, working for a spell in Kosovo with the United Nations and as a prisoner escort for the Reliance security firm. Nevertheless, life on Pitcairn will present challenges for him and his wife, Gwen, 58, a teacher, who at first was reluctant to accompany him.

They will live in a three- bedroom wooden bungalow in Adamstown, overlooking Bounty Bay. One of the things that they will miss, particularly in their morning cup of tea, is fresh milk as there are no dairy animals on Pitcairn. The couple will also have to get used to just a few hours a day of electricity.

All outside supplies and mail will be delivered by boat six times a year from Mangareva, in French Polynesia. Mr Gilbert will travel around the island on a quad bike. There is limited TV reception, but there are satellite phones and the internet to keep in touch with the rest of the world.

“I’ll miss my family and friends. But I certainly won’t miss the Orkney winter,” Mr Gilbert said.

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