AFTER almost 20 years as resident Sheriff at Arbroath, Sheriff Norrie Stein retired on Tuesday.
He was guest of honour that afternoon at an informal reception at the CAFE, a project dear to his heart, where numerous tributes were paid by colleagues and friends.
Sheriff Stein was presented with a framed portrait of himself on the bench, and also a cheque which he said should be made out to the CAFE project. Mrs Stein received flowers.
Tributes were paid by colleagues, including fellow Angus Sheriff Kevin Veal, and local solicitor Nick Whelan who praised Sheriff Stein’s fairness - a word, he said, that had been used by almost everyone he had spoken to. He added: “His sole intention is to benefit every single citizen.”
The Sheriff said he had spent almost one-third of his life at Arbroath. He spoke of the large number of vulnerable people he had had to deal with, adding that politicians seem to think that cracking down on criminals is the answer, but that is not the universal remedy.
He paid tribute to the bar officers, who had on occasions reduced him to helpless laughter on his way from chambers to the courtroom, so that he had to compose himself before stepping up to the bench.
Sheriff Stein was born in Glasgow and educated at Glenalmond College before studying history at the University of Durham, then law at Edinburgh, graduating in 1972.
He was called to the Bar in 1975 and became a temporary Sheriff in 1988.
He was appointed to the permanent post at Arbroath. For a time he and his wife of 31 years, Linda, lived at a farmhouse near Forfar.
He told our reporter that great was his horror when a letter arrived soon after they had moved in, saying that a lorry park was to be opened in fields adjacent to his dwelling. The writer, representing Truckers International, said that due to a shortage of funding they would be unable to provide toilets and wondered if the Sheriff would allow drivers the use of his own toilet facilities.
The date of the letter, April 1, gave a clue, and it was when the Sheriff discovered that it had originated in his own clerks’ office that he felt accepted and at home. The letter was framed and hung on the wall of his Chambers.
Sheriff Stein has thrown himself wholeheartedly into the life of the community and was present at two meetings of Arbroath Crime Prevention Panel which changed many lives. At one in 1993, the Oasis youth project was founded and two years later the CAFE project was created for older children.
The Sheriff will talk long and enthusiastically about CAFE and its successes. A 13-year-old girl told him: “If it wasn’t for CAFE, we’d be out on the streets getting involved in things we’d rather not get involved in.”
The Sheriff will keep in close touch with CAFE, even after he and his wife move to their retirement dwelling in Perthshire.
The couple have one son, Richard, who lives in the Caymen Islands.
During his time on the bench, Sheriff Stein has seen the dark shadow of heroin rise over Arbroath, with HIV, hepatitis C and life-destroying illness. He said: “There was virtually no heroin 20 years ago, until 2000. The situation is very worrying.”
The Sheriff added, however, that drugs have not taken the place of alcohol in the court’s time.
In his retirement, Sheriff Stein will hone his classical music skills on the piano, and will also have time to indulge in another passion, growing vegetables.
He is a diligent reader, not least of the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, whose use of the English language for comic effect is second to none.
But he is also deeply interested in writers who lived in Germany between the World Wars and saw and understood the terrible danger of the rise of the Nazi party. He said: “We must always be looking for the signs.”
Sheriff Stein concluded: “I shall miss the staff - everybody, including the criminals. I have held a unique position to observe.”