Esteemed Regimes Officer Wins Prestigious Butler Trust Commendation


A PRISON Officer who has organised Christmas gifts for thousands of youngsters over more than two decades has received a commendation from the Butler Trust.

Colin O’Flaherty, Regimes Officer at HMP Edinburgh, has run the scheme for the last 22 years, providing gifts to ensure children with parents in custody are not left behind at Christmas.

He received his commendation at an award ceremony hosted by HRH The Princess Royal, on 27th March at St. James’s Palace, London.

Working with the HMP Edinburgh Visitors Centre, and 24 churches, he has helped thousands of local families at a time that can be particularly difficult for those with a loved one in custody.

In 2022, 259 children from over 100 families benefited from his efforts.

Preparations for the scheme start as early as spring. Each year, he drives hundreds of miles collecting gifts for children who may otherwise have no presents to open.

The idea originated in 1985, when HMP Edinburgh’s Chaplain, Reverend Murie, decided he could help prisoners and their families by arranging toy donations to be used as children’s Christmas presents.

Colin took on responsibility for the scheme when he became prison librarian, in 2001. When he moved to a different role within HMP Edinburgh, he asked if he could continue to organise the appeal.

Gifts are donated from 24 churches across Edinburgh and the Lothians, collected and sorted by Colin, and then passed to the prison’s Visitors Centre for distribution.

The gifts are also used for Christmas parties where residents of the prison can spend some festive time with their families.

As well as local children, his efforts have even reached those impacted by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Not being one to make a fuss about his achievements, his colleagues regularly comment on the positive impact and extra work he undertakes to ensure each year is a success.

In his three decades at HMP Edinburgh, he has also taken a leading role in important projects promoting recovery, family support, and rehabilitation.

Even a heart attack in 2022 did not stop him – after undergoing a triple bypass, he used the Christmas gift scheme to help him transition back to work, and now says he feels “better than ever”.94651cdf846155e91870591f91561b9c.0_kindlephoto-74303699

Colin has dedicated 45 years to public service, working in the Civilian Branch of the Royal Navy, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and most recently with the SPS.

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 SPS, and two Chief Executive Awards from the SPS.

Colin said: “It’s hard to put into words the impact the collection has. It just feels good doing the right thing and seeing the difference I have made to people’s lives.

“The collection takes worry away from the residents, especially those who are inside for the first time, spending Christmas away from their families. I’ve had prisoners come to thank me personally for making their child’s Christmas special.

“It’s amazing to be nominated for the awards this close to the end of my career. It’s like the cherry on top of the cake.”

One of Colin’s colleagues, who put him forward for the recognition, said: “Colin deserves the Commendation as for over 20 years he has gone above and beyond what is expected of him.

“He carries out the Christmas gift scheme for the benefit of others, often in his own time, travelling many miles each year collecting donations, and sometimes enlisting the help of his wife to sort through them. 

“Hundreds of children and families have benefited from his efforts over the years, and his ability to maintain good relations with donors has ensured a plentiful supply of quality gifts for those in need.”

David Abernethy, Governor of HMP Edinburgh, describes Colin as “a dream to have in any workplace”, and an “outstanding Officer”. 

He added: “It is so nice to see Colin get UK wide recognition via the Butler Trust Award scheme.

“We are lucky to have many great staff here in HMP Edinburgh, and Colin is right up there with the best. I am proud to call him a colleague of mine.”