An appreciation of the head of legal, Scottish Water, who built an award winning in-house legal team

The last time Tom was seen at work was on 29 January 2016. Thereafter his kindly presence, reassuring voice, encouragement and sense of humour were sadly missed. Confronted with serious illness, none could have shown so much courage as Tom did in his last few weeks.

Thomas James Bernard Axford was educated at Carrick Academy, Maybole, then at the University of Aberdeen where he qualified in Scots law. He trained at Brodies and thereafter joined Hydroelectric, which is now Scottish & Southern Energy, before becoming head of legal for the newly formed North of Scotland Water Authority in 1996. The Authority’s operational area included sparsely populated islands as well as cities, which influenced the structure and management of the business including, as Tom saw it, the shape of the legal service required to underpin delivery of those functions. With a small team of three he succeeded in ensuring that legal support was available to the engineers and operatives in the field as well as to the board. He quickly became known and valued for his practical assistance whatever the issue. In addition to his legal skills he was extremely effective in the spoken word, particularly across the negotiating table. He was also a genuinely likeable character and quickly gained the respect of all who came to know him.

During the period leading up to the formation of Scottish Water from the three water authorities, Tom was seconded to the Scottish Executive to give advice on relevant matters – a testament to Tom, his abilities and his knowledge of the water industry. This opportunity allowed him to acquire unique knowledge of the legal workings of the water industry. Over the years, Tom willingly shared that knowledge with his team so that they too could provide the best possible legal advice.

Tom’s door, literally, was always open, reflecting his willingness to take the time to discuss whatever issue had arisen, and to see how matters could best be resolved. He was rarely insistent on right or wrong but had the knack of being able to see the argument from both sides, which put him in the strongest possible position to reach the best solution – that was his way.

A great steward of his team, Tom was proud that day in 2013 when they won the In-house Legal Team of the Year award. Only last year, his standing in the legal profession and his contribution to the in-house legal sector were celebrated when he was featured in this Journal (August 2015, 42).

Tom was always enthusiastic about life, which he believed was about experiences and not things. He was a keen cyclist as well as having many other interests, including steam trains, malt whisky, his church, hillwalking and an association with the town twinning organisation called Friends of Cognac. He particularly enjoyed the experiences he had when on holiday, some which took him to places most people have never heard of. His wall at work was a tapestry of postcards from his adventures, all with enthusiastic messages on the back.

Tom is survived by his wife Sarah and his children, Lucy and Paul, of whom he was so very proud. He is a loss to the profession and to the water industry and is sadly missed by his colleagues.


The Author
Steve Matthew, Scottish Water
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