"It's hard to imagine why anyone would want a policeman on Coll," boasts the official website of the remote Hebridean island. But now the 220 inhabitants that make up what one called its "self-regulating" community might have to think again. Because for the first time in recent years they are coming to terms with a real crime - the vandalisation of its only council-run public lavatories. Locals were shocked to discover that someone caused £200 worth of criminal damage to the facilities late on Saturday November 5, by smashing a hand towel dispenser, wrenching a tap from a sink and dislodging a waste water pipe.
The incident forced them to call on the services of PC Stephen Tanner, based on the nearby island of Tiree, which, with a population of 800, is regarded as something of a metropolis. PC Tanner duly resolved to track down the cuplrit after being told about the crime the following day. However, because Coll is so remote, he had to wait two days for the ferry. The damage forced the closure of the lavatories for nine days, according to a spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council. They have now been repaired. Islanders said they were hard-pressed to remember the last time a crime was reported on Coll.
"Crime is not a feature of life here. I have lived here for seven years and my husband grew up here and we can't remember when the last crime was," said mother-of-three Mrs Seonaid Maclean-Bristol, 40. "PC Tanner came on the ferry and has made some inquiries - he also managed to attend the community council meeting which went on for three hours - before getting the ferry back the next day. People have been surprised and shocked. Coll is a very safe and friendly place. Many people don't lock their doors. It is a great place to live. This has come as a surprise." However, persistent enquiries have revealed that there was once an attempted theft and a pub punch-up, while some locals also tried to purloin some whale bones from the beach.
Romayne Wainwright, wife of the former Scotland rugby captain, Rob Wainwright, who together run a farm and B&B on the island, said of the vandalism: "This sort of thing doesn't happen here. In fact we have often wondered why we pay the same house insurance as other parts of the UK, which do suffer from crime? I have been here 12 years and the only crime I can remember in that time was when a thatcher came to repair a cottage roof and pinched an attractive mailbox as he was about to leave. The police were waiting for him, the other end, at the Oban ferry terminal." Another islander, who declined to be named, said: "People are wondering who could have done this. It is quite a shock to think we may have a criminal in our midst. Nobody has a clue. This is the first real, mindless vandalism anybody can remember."
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