A man who was an “avid stamp collector” as a child has moved from Florida to Scotland with his wife to run the world’s oldest post office.
Barry Ford has taken over Sanquhar Post Office in Dumfries and Galloway, which has been in continuous operation for 311 years.
Mr Ford, originally from Lincolnshire, and his wife Mary, from North Lanarkshire, had been living and working in Florida for 20 years when they first heard the post office was for sale three years ago.
He had an aircraft detailing company in Lakeland, cleaning aircraft for private owners, but the couple were hoping to buy a business back in the UK as their elderly mothers there were in poor health.
They put in an offer and were pipped to the post, but had a second opportunity to buy the business when the sale fell through – and are now only the 17th operators of the world’s oldest post office.
The couple were also delighted to discover that Mrs Ford’s ancestors were from the nearby Muirkirk area in East Ayrshire.
Mr Ford said: “It is amazing that I have gone from living in Florida for 20 years, where the history is mostly 19th to 20th century, to becoming the postmaster for the world’s oldest post office which dates back over 300-plus years.
“I was an avid stamp collector as a child and to discover that Mary’s ancestors were from the local area was fate.
“To be given a second opportunity to buy the Sanquhar Post Office came at the right time when our elderly mothers had sadly passed away.
“Mary and I are very excited and humbled to be serving this community, and we also look forward to welcoming tourists from both near and afar who come to Sanquhar to sample the delights this vibrant community has to offer.
“I am also proud to be this post office’s 17th postmaster, which isn’t that many considering its long history.”
The post office opened in 1712 and is recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest one in operation.
The second oldest in Stockholm opened in 1720 – while the third, in Santiago, Chile, opened in 1772.
Mrs Ford discovered her connections to the local area while sorting through her mother’s possessions, and found a pair of knitted gloves with a Sanquhar pattern.
She decided to further investigate her family tree and discovered that her ancestors came from around the Muirkirk area.
Mr Ford, who served in the RAF, has taken over from postmistress Nazra Alam, who had run the post office since 2015 along with her late husband, Dr Manzoor Alam, who passed away in November 2022.
She has now retired and is returning to the Midlands, where she lived before moving to Sanquhar.
Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: “As a nation we should be so proud to have the world’s longest-running post office. Just 16 previous operators have kept it going for more than 300 years.
“Not only does it support the wider economy by attracting tourists from all over the world, but it continues to provide everyday essential banking and postal services that local residents, like anywhere else in the country, rely on.”
The post office is a popular attraction for postal and philatelic enthusiasts from across the UK and the world, and many visit to have their letters marked with a special handstamp bearing “The World’s Oldest Post Office”.
Met Police chief calls for more legal protections as army on standby to replace firearms officers
The head of the Metropolitan Police has demanded increased legal protections for officers after a revolt by armed police left the army poised to fill in.
Soldiers are on standby for armed police after scores of Metropolitan Police officers stood down from firearms duties following a murder charge against one of their colleagues.
The force’s commissioner Sir Mark Rowley welcomed a review into the situation by Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
And in an open letter he told her to “let the police police”.
“It is essential that we have a system which commands the confidence of officers and the communities they serve,” he wrote.
“Of course, where wrongdoing takes place, the public expect us to be held to the highest standards.
“I have been clear on this in all areas of policing, and the use of force must be no exception.
“The system that judges officers’ actions should be rooted in integrity and decisions should be reached swiftly, competently and without fear or favour.
“A review is needed to address accountability mechanisms, including the policies and practices of the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), ideally with a focus on the threshold for investigating police use of force and involvement in pursuits.”
He added: “The review announced today is therefore a very welcome development.
“I have spoken publicly in recent weeks about the need to let the police police.
“Our commitment to delivering change in the Met is unflinching and we are making positive progress, but that progress is undermined by a system not set up to help officers succeed.”
More than 100 officers have reportedly handed in permits allowing them to carry weapons, prompting Scotland Yard to turn to the military for assistance.
The crisis has emerged after an unnamed officer was charged with murder over the shooting of unarmed Chris Kaba, 24, who was killed in September last year in Streatham Hill, south London.
The officer accused of his murder is named only as NX121 after a district judge granted an anonymity order.
Ms Braverman said: “We depend on our brave firearms officers to protect us from the most dangerous and violent in society.
“In the interest of public safety, they have to make split-second decisions under extraordinary pressures.
“They mustn’t fear ending up in the dock for carrying out their duties. Officers risking their lives to keep us safe have my full backing and I will do everything in my power to support them.
“That’s why I have launched a review to ensure they have the confidence to do their jobs while protecting us all.”
‘Let the police police’: Met commissioner’s letter to home secretary in full
Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has written and open letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, urging her to “let the police police”.
Below is the letter in full:
Dear Home Secretary,
I welcome your announcement earlier today that you will be launching a review into how police officers are held to account when force is used.
You will know from our previous discussions that it is an area that I believe is long overdue for reform to address a number of imbalances.
In the UK we proudly police by consent, embracing the principles of accountability, transparency and independent scrutiny. It is essential that we have a system which commands the confidence of officers and the communities they serve.
Of course, where wrongdoing takes place the public expect us to be held to the highest standards. I have been clear on this in all areas of policing, and the use of force must be no exception.
The system that judges officers’ actions should be rooted in integrity and decisions should be reached swiftly, competently and without fear or favour.
A review is needed to address accountability mechanisms, including the policies and practices of the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the Crown Prosecution Service, ideally with a focus on the threshold for investigating police use of force and involvement in pursuits.
The review announced today is therefore a very welcome development.
I have spoken publicly in recent weeks about the need to let the police police. Our commitment to delivering change in the Met is unflinching and we are making positive progress, but that progress is undermined by a system not set up to help officers succeed. I have identified pursuits and use of force as areas where we see the most glaring unfairness.
I make no comment on any ongoing matters that are sub judice but the issues raised in this letter go back further.
Accountability matters, but we should not have allowed ourselves to develop a system where police officers get investigated for safely pursuing suspects, just because the suspect acts recklessly and as a result injures themselves or someone else.
This is unfair on our officers and discourages them from chasing down criminals.
Armed officers know they need to justify their actions, especially when lethal force is used. They are extremely well trained and an intrinsic part of their training reinforces that shots can only be fired if absolutely necessary to save life.
Officers are individually responsible and accountable for their actions. Consequently, we have one of the safest models of armed policing in the world.
Will armed officer’s murder charge force change in how police shootings are reported?
Britain’s streets without the specialist firearms officers and armed response vehicles that are dotted around major cities will be more dangerous places.
The army is being called in as back-up to the officers withdrawing their service but they do not have the experience to deal with the split-second decisions that are made every day by the police.
As then head of specialist operations, Sir Mark Rowley was the man responsible for the expansion in the number of firearms officers in London.
It was designed to deal with the threat that emerged from the marauding firearms attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and Paris in 2015.
Thankfully, that threat has never materialised, although the officers were called in to deal with the terrorist knife attacks in Woolwich in 2013, London Bridge in 2017 and Fishmongers’ Hall in 2019.
However, the same officers deal with 4,000 incidents involving firearms or suspected firearms every year.
They discharge their weapons on fewer than two of those but when they do the results can have a devastating effect on the officers themselves and on community relations.
There have been a small number of controversial shootings, most notably that of Azelle Rodney in 2005 and Mark Duggan in 2011, that led to the London riots that summer.
In the case of Azelle Rodney, following an inquiry finding that his killing was “not justified”, PC Anthony Long was eventually charged with murder, nine years after the shooting, and acquitted at trial.
In Mark Duggan’s case, an inquest jury found that he was lawfully killed, three years after the shooting, and no officer faced charges.
The process of charging officers with murder or manslaughter is a fraught one, but in the case of Chris Kaba, it has proceeded more quickly than usual, as the Independent Office for Police Conduct collected body-worn footage, CCTV, witness statements and forensics before passing their file to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The CPS decided to charge the officer NX121, with murder, for shooting Mr Kaba through the windscreen of the Audi he was driving in Kirkstall Gardens, Streatham.
The vehicle was being followed, having been identified as used in a firearms incident the previous day, but Mr Kaba was unarmed.
The investigation and charge process took a little over a year but it has given rise to fears among firearms officers across the country that they are being judged for doing their jobs.
The details of the case cannot be discussed because of laws in Britain that mean the case against the officer could be prejudiced by reporting.
That is one of the things Sir Mark, now the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, would like to change but he would also like the CPS to strengthen the legal protection for officers who use force.
Offering his support to his officers, Sir Mark wrote to the Home Secretary on Sunday, voicing their concern “that even if they stick to the tactics and training they have been given, they will face years of protracted legal proceedings”.
However, there is another dimension to the debate.
In the case of Mark Duggan, the issue that provoked the London riots, was the belief in Tottenham that a criminal of Duggan’s experience would not have pointed a firearm at an armed police officer – and that he had, in effect, been executed.
Policing in Britain is performed by consent, and the police in London, and elsewhere, continue to face a challenge in the narrative that arose in Tottenham.
They are trained to believe that criminals will attempt to shoot them, but the reality, some believe, is very different.
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