End of former Fettes police headquarters is a story worthy of Rebus (and it's set to get a mention in Ian Rankin's next book) – Stephen Jardine

Author Ian Rankin reveals Fettes is set to get special valedictory mention in his next Rebus novel

At the end of George Street in Edinburgh stands the headquarters of global investment firm Abrdn. They might be rubbish at spelling but they are good at making money, generating profits last year of £249 million.

How do they do that? I’ve no idea. The office might contain just biscuits and a single money-printing machine as far as I’m concerned and I’m not alone. What happens inside finance firms is a mystery to most people.

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Contrast that with fighting crime. Thanks to thousands of TV shows and movies down the years, any of us could walk into a police station and have a pretty good idea where they keep everything from the criminals to the keys to the patrol cars. With dingy cells, water coolers and a blunt-talking desk sergeant at the front door, police buildings all seem to share a certain look, except for the main one in Edinburgh.

Queen Elizabeth is shown round the police headquarters at Fettes Avenue in Edinburgh in July 1974 (Picture: Dick Ewart)Queen Elizabeth is shown round the police headquarters at Fettes Avenue in Edinburgh in July 1974 (Picture: Dick Ewart)
Queen Elizabeth is shown round the police headquarters at Fettes Avenue in Edinburgh in July 1974 (Picture: Dick Ewart)
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From the outside, Fettes has always looked like the headquarters of a moderately successful West Midlands building firm… but not for much longer. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the moment it opened its doors as the base for what was then Lothian and Borders Police but it’s also the start of its final chapter. The search is on for new premises following the discovery of problematic concrete in the existing building. Once officers move out, it will be demolished with the site being redeveloped.

But before that, there is one last, big roll-call. Today Fettes is holding an open day for former and current serving officers where they can walk the crumbling corridors for one final time. It might not look it now but in 1974 the concrete and glass building was the shape of cutting-edge policing. Instead of the old rabbit-warren building on the Royal Mile, Fettes was purpose built with state-of-the-art accommodation for criminal intelligence, forensics and traffic officers.

It also had a bar. In what seems incongruous nowadays, it was open at lunchtime and in the evenings. It was also the setting for legendary Christmas parties where journalists would be invited to mingle with senior officers. I think I can remember attending on a couple of occasions but given the drinking culture at the time, I can’t quite be certain.

Apart from that, outsider access to Fettes was strictly limited although tell that to the thief who gained access through a window in 1992 to steal confidential files related to an inquiry into sex allegations surrounding the judiciary. The Fettesgate affair was hugely embarrassing and led to calls for the Chief Constable to quit.

It's ironic that today’s Fettes Open Day coincides with the first episode of the new Rebus series on the BBC. Ian Rankin’s iconic Edinburgh cop has made several visits to the Big House down the years, usually for disciplinary reasons. This week the best-selling author told me Fettes will get a special valedictory mention in his next Rebus novel which is currently in its finishing stages.

The replacement building will no doubt be better, with enhanced IT facilities to deal with all the hate crime complaints and a special department where hurt feelings can be soothed but, when Fettes closes for the final time, a big chapter in the story of policing in the capital will be over.