Obituary: John Harling Martindale, high-flying policeman whose father was on wrong side of the law

Died: June 3, 2021.

JOHN Martindale’s first day on the job as a rookie police officer in Stirling was unlike that of any other wide-eyed, eager young constable. The desk sergeant, on introducing himself, mentioned that he had arrested the young man’s father just the week before.

Now, here was Martindale, imbued with the utmost integrity and sense of fairness, about to dedicate his life to the pursuit of the criminal classes. And already he was being reminded that near the top of the classes sat his own dad.

Harling Martindale, it transpires, was a career conman, a suave, debonair type who was fairly talented in the way of relieving innocents of their money. Was part of John Martindale’s entry to the police force an attempt to rebalance the scales of justice in favour of the law-abiding public?

“Yes, looking at his own father’s life is perhaps what made my dad all the more determined to stand up and do the right thing,” said his daughter, Avril. “And it’s fair to say my dad didn’t have much to do with his own father. We weren’t even allowed to mention his name.”

John Martindale, who would go on to become a CID legend in Falkirk, a stalwart with the Scottish crime squad, and a chief superintendent in Glasgow, had a tough upbringing in England before his parents moved to the Stirling area.

Not only did his parents divorce, but his mother also took her own life. As a youngster, he was noted for his ability to scan the world around him – his nickname was Hawkeye. Part of his spare time was spent around a local German prisoner-of-war camp, where he would be given greatcoats and memorabilia, which he sold on. Was this evidence of an early fascination with institutional containment?

On leaving school, Martindale joined the Army and, aged 18, was sent to Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising. He subsequently received the Africa General Service Medal. He then joined the police, and it was at police training college that he met his future wife, Catherine, one of the first policewomen in Scotland. “Relationships were frowned upon,” she recalls. “When we became engaged I was soon moved to another area.”

Catherine was impressed by the energy of this motorbike-riding young man, who had a massive desire to rid the streets of crime. But she acknowledges that he had to drag with him the burden of parental reputation. “He had to endure calls from police stations in the Stirling area: ‘We’ve got your dad here.’”

He had, however, a huge passion for the job. In the CID, he enjoyed his greatest triumphs because he didn’t sit back and wait for crime to be reported. He would go out looking for the bad boys.

Says Avril: “I remember once he was out on a night shift with a squad car when he noticed a large lorry filled with wire. This made him curious and so he stopped it, and discovered it contained thousands of pounds’ worth of copper wire, stolen from an electricity sub-station. He then commandeered the lorry and drove it back to Falkirk police office.”

John Martindale’s work became his life. But he was never an unprincipled enforcer, determined to fill Scotland’s jails with reprobates at all costs. “I can remember once John being approached by a criminal who, on this occasion declared his innocence, and explained why,” recalls Catherine. “John investigated his story, realised he’d been telling the truth and stood up in court and said so.”

This act of unbridled honesty didn’t result in John Martindale always being invited along to cosy drinks parties at some of his colleagues’ homes, but that didn’t matter. Honesty was always the only policy.

Catherine Martindale admits that it was not easy, being married to a man who was clearly married to the job.

“Police marriages used to fail on a regular basis because it was such a harsh life,” she says. “You had to deal with the worry, and we had three small children. And I can remember lots of times putting his dinner in the bin because he may be working right through the night. But there was nothing I could do.

“And, in these days, you had to live in a police house, which didn’t have a phone or central heating. It wasn’t a great lifestyle. In fact, at one time in Falkirk, every man in the street we lived in had been in police cells at some point.”

Martindale, says his daughter, clearly loved his work. “He was an ace crime-solver who loved sniffing out baddies. He was fearless, not just in dealing with hardened criminals, but in dealing with authorities as well. It was all about achieving the truth.”

The police chief was part of the team that investigated the 1988 Lockerbie disaster, and helped to compile evidence for the future trial. “This placed a huge strain on him,” says Catherine.

“His work became about overseeing the photography of bits of dead bodies. But he knew the work had to be done and he was utterly professional.

“It had a real effect on him, however. We never went on an airplane after that. No more holidays in the sunshine.”

Martindale, who moved to Suffolk with his family 20 years ago, never suffered physical injury during his career chasing robbers.

“He did come home with a broken leg once,” says Catherine with a wry smile, “but that was because a police cadet put the car into the wrong gear and ran into him.”

It’s fair to say that he was a force of nature, and living proof that the apple can indeed fall far from the tree.

Awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service, he was a highly focused crime-fighter and a man committed to order and organisation, who went on to set up the digitalisation of Scotland’s criminal records bureau.

Indeed, his three daughters – Avril, Joyce and Carol– referred to their dad, affectionately, as “Mission Control”. “It is hard to contemplate that he is gone,” says Avril. “Yet, Mission Control lives on in our hearts.”

She added: “Dad, your wife, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren will approach their various future missions with the strength of knowing that you have drilled them well.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992