Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice



Colin O’Flaherty

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Colin receives a Commendation as an Officer and role model at HMP Edinburgh for over 30 years, promoting recovery, family support, and rehabilitation, and leading the annual Christmas Gifts scheme for prisoners’ children. To his Governor, “people like Colin are a dream in any workplace”.

Steven McCann, Colin’s Initial Nominator and Second Line Manager, is Head of Offender Outcomes at HMP Edinburgh, where Colin’s been a Regimes Officer for the last 15 years. He explains the vital role Colin has played, for over two decades, in leading on the Christmas Gift scheme at HMP Edinburgh. Working with dozens of stakeholders and churches, planning starts in the spring, and Colin manages all of the logistics. As Steven says:

‘It is difficult to measure in words the difference these gifts make to families. The support for the gift collection over the years has helped thousands of families and children in the local area. Many of these children would not have had any presents to open if not for Colin’s dedication to the scheme.’

In 2019, for example, 229 children from 119 families had Christmas presents to open on Christmas Day, gifts distributed through the HMP Edinburgh Visitors’ Centre managed by Barnardo’s. (Last year Shona Pate won a Butler Trust Award for her work running the Centre.)

Liz Frazer is HMP Edinburgh’s Butler Trust Local Champion and HR Business Partner, and explains a curiously engaging courtesy underlying the Christmas Gifts Scheme. ‘Every year Colin asks permission from the Governor in Charge to continue the scheme.’ She adds that ‘Colin is not one to make a fuss or to focus on his own achievements, but his colleagues comment every year on the positive impact and extra work that Colin undertakes to give the scheme recognition and to ensure that each year is a success.’

As well as local children, says Liz, the scheme has had a wider positive impact on children much further away – including children reached through the Friends of Chernobyl. Liz adds:

‘It is fair to say that the dedication and hard work undertaken by Colin over 21 years has touched the lives of many families over the years… The gift scheme means that no children are left behind at Christmas and the gifts are also used for Christmas parties where residents of the prison can spend some festive time with their children. Positive family relationships have a significant impact on the reduction of crime. It is difficult to measure the exact nature of Colin’s work but all partner agencies, the families of those in our care and wider feedback is that Colin has a massive impact on a yearly basis by driving forward this initiative.’

Edinburgh’s Governor in Charge, David Abernethy, enthusiastically agrees, saying:

‘People like Colin O’Flaherty are a dream to have in any workplace – come to think of it, I doubt if very many workplaces have anyone of the calibre of Colin O’Flaherty. For more than 36 years Colin has been an outstanding Officer. In those 36 plus years he has also taken a leading role in specific projects and pieces of work to promote recovery, family support and rehabilitation…

‘He works on this without fanfare but does so tirelessly and without any diminution of energy or enthusiasm over those many years. He drives hundreds of miles delivering presents to children who might otherwise have no presents to open on Christmas morning. It is an honour and a pleasure to work with Colin O’Flaherty.’

Colin joined the Scottish Prison Service as a Prison Officer after 12 years of service in the Civilian Branch of the Royal Navy, including several with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. He recalls how, back in 1985, Prison Chaplain Reverend Murie was ‘acutely aware’ of the difficulties faced by the families of those in the care of His Majesty’s Prison Edinburgh, especially at this time of year, and decided that he could help prisoners and their families by arranging for donations of toys to be used as Christmas presents for prisoner’s families. He asked for help from churches and schools throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians to support him in setting up the gift collection.

Colin currently engages with some 25 churches who support the scheme – and this year will be his 22nd collection.  Colin says he has been ‘semi-retired’ for nine years, and after over forty-five years as a public servant, Colin says this makes doing the gift collection ‘easier’. He holds the South Atlantic Medal with Rosette from the Falklands War of 1982, three Queen’s Jubilee Medals, a long service and Good Conduct Medal for service in the Scottish Prison Service, and two Chief Executive Awards from the Scottish Prison Service: one recognising the Christmas Gift Collection, and the other for ‘stopping an armed and dangerous prison from escaping as he was being transported from court back to the prison. I was actually handcuffed to him as he attempted to take me hostage.’

He concludes by quietly noting, ‘I have achieved many things during my service as a prison officer, too numerous to mention,’ and says of his nomination that ‘I see it as a reflection of all my achievements as a Prison Officer.’