Scottish Firefighter Lost the Plot

“Lost the Plot”…. No its not a typo.  I usually do not cover legal matters from other countries, but there was something intriguing about this story and the common language that separates the US from the UK. A senior firefighter from Hamilton, in Scotland, is in trouble with the law for directing threatening and abusive behavior towards his girlfriend.

Steven Aitchison of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, was arrested and charged earlier this year with choking Shauna McManus, and tearing up her home. In March the case was deferred pending Aitchison’s remaining on good behavior for six months. He appeared for final sentencing today and got off with an “admonishment” by the Sheriff. The lack of a serious penalty has McManus seeing red. She was quoted by the media as saying:

“He really frightens me. I have had to live with this for months, and to find out that he has only been admonished sickens me.  The judicial system is all wrong. I have been left to pay for all the damage to my home that night. I have had to renew doors, replace flooring, lamps, ornaments and a side board, not to mention picking up the pieces in my own life”.

Take a look at how she explained the violent episode:

“We had gone out for a Christmas night out together and had such a brilliant night. We came home to my house and he went out for something to eat. I decided that I would go up to bed. When he got back, he came up to the bedroom and tried to wake me. When I am sleeping I just want to sleep, so I didn’t wake up straight away… I thought I better get up and went downstairs and sat on the couch…. It was then that he just lost the plot”.

McManus alleges that Aitchison then grabbed her by the throat and smashed up her furniture. Aitchison, a watch commander, remains suspended from Strathclyde Fire and Rescue facing internal disciplinary action.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • Steven Aitchison

    ……interested to know where in Scotland I could pick up a copy of this particular edition of this magazine; I would be interested to read more…..

    Steven Airchison, former senior firefighter of 17 years….

  • Steven

    The link to the story in the Hamilton Advertiser is still active. Here is the editor’s contact info: John Rowbotham

    Press Buildings,
    Campbell Street,
    ML3 6AX

    Contact Telephone Number for Editorial
    01698 205 013

    If you want to explain your side here, please feel free.

  • Steven J. Aitchison

    ……WOW, thanks Curt, for your prompt reply…!
    I know that the link is ‘still active’, and (laughing…!) I do not need to explain my side, as the people who know me (and, as you can envisage, I am well known…!) know me for who I am and what I am (….or should that read,’what I was’ lol …..?)
    However, what did intrigue me was your take on the matter…. as I’m not really sure what I understood to be the point of your article…….maybe I don’t have a full copy of the article, but would like to know the summation….! As I am endeavouring to salvage some remnants of my past career into a future career, and am away from home at the moment, I would be obliged to know where I may obtain a full copy of that particular issue……perhaps (via email….?) I am able to supply you with my home address, in order that you might send me a copy….?
    ….much obliged, and in anticipation….
    Steven J. Aitchison
    P.S. ….was very surprised to find this story published in the U.S., and only a week after admonishment from court….!!

  • Steven

    Let me start by saying I am very sorry for your misfortunes. I have had to deal with many cases involving firefighters in similar situations, and worse. I know it is not easy.

    I covered your story primarily because I was struck by the difference in our mutual language. In particular – I have never heard the expression “lost the plot”. It is not used here. Nor is the term “admonishment” used as a penalty.

    Beyond that – I think it is important for our firefighters to realize that the problems we face here in the US fire service – are not American problems, they are human problems. They happen in the fire service in Scotland, they happen in the fire service in France and they probably happen in the fire service in China (although we’d probably never find out). Several of my regular readers have asked me to cover international fire service legal cases – so (in your case) – I did.

    I truly hope that you will get your job back. Certainly feel free to contact me by email.

    Oh – and can you explain why a sheriff issues an admonishment, as opposed to a judge. In the US sheriff’s are part of law enforcement and do not dispense justice (well, they are not supposed to). And exactly what is an admonishment? We do not have such a thing.

  • Steven J. Aitchison


    In Scotland, a Sheriff is part of the Judicial system in that they give out punishment in a Sheriff Court (below a Sheriff Court we have a Justice of the Peace Court, where punishments are given out by a Justice of the Peace)

    An admonishment is essentially a let off, a verbal warning with no further punishment or penalty being issued.

    The term ‘lost the plot’ could simply be defined as ‘had a brief moment of madness’

    And as for getting my job back, well there is no chance of that……


    • Steven

      I am sorry to hear that. It seems unfair that an off-duty incident that is determined by a court to be so minor as to warrant nothing more than an admonishment – could end a career. No prospect for an appeal?

      And thank you for the explanations. A few people have asked me about the plot reference. Is the origin of the reference to a plot of land, or the plot in a play/movie?

  • Steven J. Aitchison


    My appeal was futile.

    The reference to ‘plot’ in this case would be more relative to the plot in a story or play; as in ‘to lose the plot’ would be to detract from the normal, perhaps expected, course of events…. Hope this helps…!


  • Thanks Steven

    That does help. I am suprised the “lose the plot” expression has not caught on here.

  • S Mathews

    Hi curt….. the facts were certainly left out,your mr aitchison,has failed to remind you that he wasn’t dismissed on this one incident only,but he would not openly admit that! The truth of the matter is and stays in what he deems to be an open shut case! Not the truth at all! Destroying people’s lives and behaving in the manner he does certainly gets you in trouble,and I’m sure that in the future he will make the same mistakes,as a leopard will never change his spots! The facts are left out in newspaper stories and I’m sure you are clever enough to realise that he was not sacked for this incident only.

  • Steven Aitchison

    No, Miss Mathews, this incident was merely the rocky foundation on which the rest falls.

  • Steven Aitchison

    You are also right Shauna, the facts were left out your newspaper article, as you will no doubt have read, it is full of you lies, lol….


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