Lord Cullen

16th November 2012 at 00:00
The judge and university chancellor recalls a man of integrity who gave him confidence and purpose

We lived in the Borders, then the west coast and then Dundee, which we reached in 1946, at which point I came into the High School of Dundee as a pupil in the fourth class of the junior school.

Before that my education had also been private. It was rather curious in an old-fashioned way. Before Dundee - in the west, in Dunoon - I was in a group of about 12 children of fairly mixed ages, but all primary, being taught by one woman in one room.

I'm not sure how it existed in those days, but it did and that was the only education I had before I went to Dundee High, which was a culture shock. I was an only child, so I suppose in a way I was a bit of a loner.

I didn't have much difficulty picking out my best teacher. Adam Howat was the head of the classics department at Dundee High for, I think, something like 27 years, until he retired in 1970. I had him as a teacher for three or four years during the senior school.

At first sight, he might have seemed to many to be rather austere. He was a man with quite a powerful voice, he walked with a very straight back and the sound of his footsteps on the floor of the school room was quite a heavy tread, particularly if it was a day for the (cadet) corps when he would have his boots on. However, anybody who had him as their teacher soon realised the sort of person he was.

He was a great teacher and put a lot of industry and enthusiasm into bringing out the best in us. He was quite a witty person and he would, from time to time, enliven his classes with a witticism.

He was an old-fashioned teacher in many ways, with a strong personality and complete integrity. He treated the members of his class with the utmost respect. He was very polite to them - boys and girls were referred to by their surnames. But it was not just respect - there was genuine affection and interest there, which is why he came to be called Pop Howat.

I was off school for a number of months for an operation on my hip in 1951 and he helped me along a little bit with work outside school and, as I got towards the end of my time at high school, he was very useful, giving advice and talking over what I might do next. He gave me confidence and a sense of purpose and when it came to the point where I had to make decisions, I was very much influenced by him. I felt there was something there in his character worth aspiring to.

He would have thought I was a little self-contained, almost certainly. I did not cause any trouble, but I needed to be drawn out of myself and I think that process probably started at school - and I think he was one of those who helped draw me out.

Dundee was home until 1956 and I went to see him on a couple of occasions at least after I left school. I know other pupils called in from time to time. I think that was a mark of the good relationships he had.

William Cullen (Baron Cullen of Whitekirk) chaired the public inquiry into the shootings at Dunblane Primary and led the five-judge tribunal at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands, which heard the failed appeal of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi against his conviction for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. He is Chancellor of the University of Abertay in Dundee. His father was a governor of the Dundee Institute of Art and Technology - the institution that eventually became the University of Abertay. He was talking to Emma Seith


Born: Edinburgh 1935

Education: High School of Dundee; University of St Andrews; and University of Edinburgh

Career: In law, culminating in his role as Lord Justice General and Lord President of the Court of Session.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today