Obituary: Ian Simpson, Sheriff, novelist, golfer, after-dinner speaker and actor

Sheriff Ian Simpson Q.C.Obit.
Sheriff Ian Simpson Q.C.Obit.
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Sheriff Ian Simpson QC. Born: 5 July, 1949 in Edinburgh. Died: 11 December, 2017 in Edinburgh, aged 68.

Ian Simpson who has died aged 68, served as Sheriff in Airdrie, Dunfermline and Edinburgh between 1988 and 2006, after 14 years practice as an Advocate. In 2005 he took silk and was appointed a Temporary Judge in the High Court of Justiciary, presiding over cases mostly in Glasgow High Court.

Unfortunately, having been diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy, his condition made it increasingly difficult to continue his judicial duties, causing him to retire early in 2006.

Drawing on his considerable court experience with his love of golf frequently providing a background, he then fashioned a second career for himself writing well received crime novels, his first book, Murder on Page One, being shortlisted for the Debut Dagger award by the Crime Writers’ Association.

He was also a committed campaigner for improvement to disabled facilities in hotels in the UK, a cause with which he identified closely and for which he invoked the assistance of politicians.

Although being a fourth generation lawyer in his family meant there was perhaps a certain inevitability about entering the profession, his first love was acting and he entertained thoughts about it as a career.

An accomplished golfer and member of the R&A since the age of 18, he played off a handicap of three and enjoyed a lifelong love of the game. He also had an excellent reputation as an amusing and polished after-dinner speaker.

The only child of David and Jos, his father was a well known Fife solicitor while his great uncle was Robert MacGregor Mitchell QC, chair of the Land Court in the 1930’s. Brought up in St Andrews, he attended the local New Park prep school before Glenalmond.

His love of the theatre developed there and in his final year he won the drama prize, ahead of Robin McMillan, now better known as Robbie Coltrane. At Edinburgh University he was an enthusiastic member of the Dram Soc, appearing regularly in plays. In The Ballad of the Artificial Mash, he took top billing over Ian Charleson and also acted in productions with David Rintoul. As their range of talents persuaded him that he could not aspire to their level, he abandoned ideas of a thespian career to concentrate on law.

An early start in golf at St Andrews New Club brought him his first notable success, winning the Elie under-16 boys’ tournament in 1965. He became a valued member of the University golf team and also represented Scottish Universities in an American inter-collegiate tournament held over St Andrews and Carnoustie.

Speaking at the dinner afterwards in the recently opened Old Course Hotel, he pointed out, tongue firmly in cheek, that as the hotel was built on an area originally between two courses, it should properly be called the ‘Inter-Course Hotel’, amid much amusement. He remained an active member of Scottish Universities Golfing Society, being captain in 1990.

He completed a solicitor’s Bar apprenticeship, before devilling to Bill Reid, later Sheriff. Admitted Advocate in 1974, he soon demonstrated an aptitude for court work as an able pleader.

He became busy in criminal defence work, receiving instructions from Joe Beltrami among others, and undertook planning inquiries and other civil work. He had several devils himself, one of whom, Alan Turnbull, later became Lord Turnbull, High Court judge. In 1988 he was made a Sheriff and sat for 13 years at Airdrie before transferring to Dunfermline and then Edinburgh.

He was unfailingly courteous, capable and conscientious and set a pleasant atmosphere in his court, his occasional injections of humour lightening the serious tone of the subject matter before him. Intrinsically fair-minded, he was however not a soft touch. In 1999 he remitted a serial sex offender to the High Court where a life sentence was imposed, believed to be the first time that had occurred in a remit from a Sheriff.

Before illness brought an end to playing golf in 2004, he remained a keen and talented player, a member of both Bruntsfield and Luffness clubs as well as the Bench and Bar golfing society.

He enjoyed some success in R&A competitions, in 1990 winning the ‘Kangaroo’s Paw’ in the Spring Medal and twice reaching the final of the Calcutta Cup, numbering Sean Connery among his opponents.

After-dinner speaking was an important part of his life and he was particularly pleased to be invited to address the City of New York Burns Society’s 130th annual Supper in 2000 at the Union League Club. In total he spoke at over 100 Burns Suppers and many other dinners.

Once retired he became a crime novelist, something he had always wanted to do and which gave him much satisfaction, particularly as he could no longer play golf. In all he wrote six books with another due to be published posthumously.

Reviewing one of his books, Alexander McCall Smith stated: “Ian Simpson is a real find.”

In 1971 he met Annie Strang, then studying English, at a party in Edinburgh. They married in Crieff two years later and had two sons, Richard and Graham, during a long happy marriage. They travelled extensively throughout the world, including Down Under, the USA, Asia, Middle East and Africa. His condition dealt him a cruel blow which he endured bravely and without self-pity.

He was a popular individual as many touching tributes have attested. Blessed with good nature and a sense of humour, he was a supportive and loyal friend to many.

He is survived by his wife, sons and their families.

JACK DAVIDSON