Obituary: Sheriff Donald Booker-Milburn, former Highlands judge who remained devoted to the area during his entire life
BORN: 20 May 1940 in Dornoch Died: 29 May 2012 in Dornoch. Aged 72
Donald Booker-Milburn was, for more than 30 years, a most dignified and respected member of the Scottish legal profession. After becoming an advocate in 1968 he decided to forsake advocacy and acted as a sheriff, firstly in the Borders then in the Highlands, a region to which he was devoted from his childhood.
As a sheriff he was assiduous in the conduct of all the cases that came before him and he despatched his duties with a total thoroughness and in a most conscientious manner. A steadfast and loyal friend to colleagues in the profession and those he had known from his youth, Booker-Milburn was a keen sportsman and loved the countryside around his home, at Clashmore, by Dornoch.
The MP Sir Menzies Campbell knew Booker-Milburn from his youth. He told The Scotsman at the weekend: “Donald and I devilled together when we first read for the law. We became great friends and I fondly recall often arriving at his and Marjorie’s house in Cramond and enjoying their generous hospitality. He was a fine golfer, a keen angler and devoted to the Highlands especially around Dornoch. So his appointment as sheriff in the area could not have been more appropriate.
“Donald was an excellent sheriff, always balanced and considerate to all sides. On his first appearance in court, however, things did not go smoothly. He rose and solemnly announced that he appeared on behalf of Mr So-and-So. He caught his robe on a table and slipped gracefully to the floor. Without a blink Donald gathered himself to his feet and informed the sheriff, ‘I reappear on behalf of Mr So-and-So.’ Vintage Donald.”
Donald Booker-Milburn was the son of Captain Booker-Milburn DSO MC of the Coldstream Guards, and from 1954 attended Trinity College, Glenalmond, where he was a prefect, in the 1st XV, the shooting eight, captain of boxing and secretary of golf. The latter was a sport that he was to play for the rest of his life with considerable energy and success and he was a member of both the Royal & Ancient and Royal Dornoch.
In 1959 Booker-Milburn spent a year reading French at Grenoble University, then completed a BA at Jesus College, Cambridge (1962-64) and from 1964-67 was a master at Fettes College. He became much involved with the school’s activities and taught modern languages, was house tutor and coached rugby. He decided to read law at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1959 with an LLB. In the early Sixties, Booker-Milburn undertook a bar apprenticeship with the Edinburgh solicitors Shepherd & Wedderburn and in 1968 was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates. He acted as standing junior counsel to the RAF (1977 - 80).
In 1980-83 Booker-Milburn was a sheriff of Lothian and the Borders and then became a sheriff of Grampian and latterly at Inverness and Tain. He was to sit in judgement in many high-profile cases, displaying a keen understanding of the law and a desire that all aspects of a case be manifestly aired and understood.
Those cases included the so-called “Lady Bountiful” case in 2003 when an employee had embezzled money from the Alvie Estate in Aviemore; the controversial 1997 case about tolls on the Skye bridge; clashes with the protester Robbie the Pict; and the case in 2003 when Ann Gloag, the founder of Stagecoach, wanted to stop her neighbours mowing a lawn close to her castle. Booker-Milburn was succinct in his summing-up about the neighbour: “I could not help thinking of Humpty-Dumpty’s words in Through the Looking Glass: ‘When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less.”
Booker-Milburn was an admired colleague throughout the profession in Scotland and was a thoroughly decent and a kindly man who was devoted to his family. Sport played a large part in his life away from the law, especially golf. He had a low handicap and had been captain of Royal Dornoch Golf Club, a post he filled with much dignity and enthusiasm. Sadly, back trouble curtailed his playing in recent years.
Another major passion was music. He had a large collection of CDs and had made a major study into the music of Sibelius, collecting 21 different recordings of the seven Sibelius symphonies.
Booker-Milburn retired in 2004 but featured in the press in 2010 when, after walking his beloved Irish Setters on Dornoch beach, an animal dashed in front of his car. “It was not a pussy cat,” Booker-Milburn said later. “It was far too big. It moved like some type of panther.” His own dogs’ eyes were out on stalks and Booker-Milburn calmly told them, “that’s not for you.”
Booker-Milburn married Marjorie Burns in 1963. She and their three children survive him.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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