Monday, 15 December 2014

Willie McRae: Part 5 – Which Site?

[See here for the first 4 posts]
Strange as it may seem there is even doubt about where Willie Macrae’s car came off the road.

In this 5th post, but first post of any real depth, we shall

- look in great detail at all possible roadside features which could be close to the crash site,
- see the sites themselves in aerial and streetview mode,
- see old video of the two sites,
- see what physical evidence there is to tie each site to the actual crash site,
- seen how the official and Coutts site came to be
- pose two major questions
- and a wee bit more

and I will be only scratching the surface of this mystery.

Before we start we should probably take a little detour to see how the official and Coutts site came to be.

Alex Main in the Scotsman wrote about this [highlighted area] on 7 April 1987.

Scotsman April 87 Whch Site BG Mod 1
and thus the official and Coutts’ sites were born …..

…. and still we talk of them!

Again I must stress that I come to this with no agenda.  I don’t know what happened to Willie Macrae: this and subsequent posts are my journey of exploration. 

I apologise in advance because this is a long post with many images.  I can’t write in the detail I need without doing so.

In 1990, Scott and MacLeay wrote a chapter on the death of Willie Macrae. [‘Britain’s Secret War. Tartan Terrorism and the Anglo-American State ’ by Andrew Murray Scott and Iain MacLeay, Mainstream Publishing (1990); the relevant chapter is available hereThey went into considerable detail about the merits of each site, having clearly visited the sites. 

Please read their chapter but do not take all they write as accurate.

To them, there are reasons to doubt both sites but eventually they come down in favour of the official site (what they call the ‘Munro’ site). They write,

The police photographs, when finally revealed in the course of a public inquiry, will show that the incident occurred beneath the cairn, about half a mile from the end of the loch.

That is their view.  I don’t hold to that, not because I disagree with them but, because I have still to work my way through the evidence.

Police photographs are available – we’ll look at them later – and still there has been no public or Fatal Accident inquiry.

We saw previously that Macrae was on a journey from his home in Glasgow to Dornie where he had a holiday home and his car came off the road at Loch Loyne.

Macrae Route 1C

We’re going to look in more detail at that stretch between the yellow arrows.

Macrae Route 1E

This isn’t nearly enough detail.  We’ll use Google and Bing maps to examine this road for particular features.

Before we look at the evidence we need to look at their locations and get an idea of what each site looks like.  Most of this will be pictorial.

Now, back to the sites.  Let’s call them ‘official’ because this is where the authorities say the crash occurred and the ‘Coutts’ site because David Coutts, one of the first witnesses on the scene, has claimed this site as being correct.

My reading shows that most accept the official site even those who believe he was murdered but some still favour Coutts.

Scott and MacLeay  write this about the sites,
An examination of both sites is clearly necessary for the purposes of this book. One of the first impressions obtained after such an examination is the similarity of both sites in all essential features.
hence the detail with which I approach this part of the post.

The official site is adjacent to a memorial cairn erected in Macrae’s honour.  The next two images home in more.


One more magnification shows two key features more clearly as well as allowing the claimed ending place of Macrae’s car to be marked.

Official 3A

Google maps streetview shows the large layby and cairn.

Official large layby and cairn

I note that the large layby is no longer available for parking.  There is a ridge running parallel to the road which prevents access.  A 1989 video shows no ridge and the layby to be open for parking.  I hadn’t planned to show that video here but it is important to demonstrate the layby being open.

Cairn 1989

Now the small layby

Offiicial 5

I have highlighted Bunloyne dam because it is clearly visible from these two roadside features. Its relevance will become clear later, probably in another post.

Having found these images and knowing that there was some confusion about the site I looked at the entire stretch of road (between the yellow arrows on the 2nd top image) for similar features – a small layby  and a large layby both on the loch side of the road.  I guessed that confusion might be caused by similar features in other places on that road.

There was only one other place where these features occurred close together  and that is shown in the image below, named ‘Coutts’.   As with the official site, at Coutts both small and large laybys are on the loch side and close together.

There was one other site with a large layby on the loch side of the road which I call ‘Other’ but there is no small layby close by which is on a bend on the loch side.

Let’s look at where these features lie relative to each other.


The official and Coutts sites are about 1.5 miles apart.  This gives the approximate, but not exact position, of where Coutts maintains Macrae’s car ended up.  We’ll look at this later.

Those 2 laybys at Coutts are shown again below,


As with the official site lets have a streetview of both laybys, large first and then small.

Coutts 3A Large layby
Coutts 4 Small Layby

I showed above that Bunloyne dam is visible from the official site and so let’s look at different streetviews to check if the dam can be seen from the Coutts features.

Coutts 7A No dam
Coutts 8A towards Dam

In 1985 it is possible that more of the dam would be visible because, from video evidence which I will show later, I believe the forestry was only being undertaken in this area in the late 80s or early 90s and, therefore, not at the time of the ‘crash’.

Finally, let’s take a look at the ‘Other’ site.

Other 1

and in streetview

Other 2

I have no evidence that anyone has claimed that the ‘crash’ occurred at ‘Other’ but, because I was looking at roadside features which might have led to the mis-identification of the ‘crash’ scene, I needed to include this, if only to demonstrate my thoroughness.

So far I have talked about the roadside features close to the Coutts site. It’s time now to look at what I believe is the Coutts site: the site where David Coutts, one of the first witnesses, claims Macrae’s car came to rest.

We use video evidence produced for the Channel 4 documentary series, ‘Scottish Eye’.  Callum Macrae (no relative of Willie), the renowned reporter and producer, was the reporter on a programme, broadcast in 1992 I believe, which looked into Macrae’s death.

The programme is available on YouTube in 3 parts:
and in a condensed form here.

We’re going to look at Part 3 between 3m 40s and 4m 48s.

Scottish Eye Part 3

There are some important scenes which show how each site looked only about 6 years after the ‘crash’.  To help, I produce them below as stills.  Apologies for the number of pictures but I think they’re necessary to get as good an idea of what the sites look like now and looked like 29 years ago.

We start with the still of the Official large layby and cairn.

Scottish Eye Official 1

Once we look at the stills for the Coutts site I can get into the real meat of the post.

Scottish Eye 3 Coutts Cairn plus
Scottish Eye 4E Coutts To Road Combo

We need to have a quick look at one more still to confirm that what ‘Scottish Eye’ shows is near to my Coutts features.  This next still does that.

Scottish Eye Roadside Coutts9A

If you look at the combo pic above you’ll see the same area which is bounded by the dotted line.  This confirms visually that the Coutts cairn is very close to the roadside features I stated were there.

From these stills and from the video itself I can ‘mark’ the Coutts cairn in Google maps.

Coutts Crash Site Calums View A

I may be slightly out but I believe my assessment is accurate.

To end this part of the post I show the Coutts crash site (my view) plus the other sites ….

Coutts1B plus crash

…. and Google’s estimated distance from the roadside to the crash site (my view of its position). 

Coutts Distance A

I apologise for taking so long to get to this point.  As well as being for you this is my record of my thinking process.

Now we can start looking at the evidence for each site being, or not being, the actual crash site.  Whichever site is the place where Willie Macrae ‘crashed’ questions will be asked of the police investigation.  If Coutts is wrong and the official site is correct I will ask questions of the police. and if Coutts is right and the official wrong then there will be many more questions for the police.
But first the evidence.

It’s best we start with the physical evidence which links Macrae and his car to each site.

Police photos

That’s right!  There is no physical evidence in support of the Coutts site or rather I am not aware of any which is in the public domain.

In fact, until 1 February 2005, no physical evidence unambiguously linking the official site to Macrae was publicly available.  There was nothing until the police photos were released.  Other relevant data was released at the same time.  In another post we will look at that additional data …. in considerable detail.

Some claim to have debris from Macrae’s car and seen glass debris at, and around, the official crash site.  I will deal with this issue in another post too.

Now, the police photographs.

macrae 4
         macrae 5
macrae 6         macrae 7
macrae 8
        macrae 9
macrae 10        macrae 11
macrae 12        macrae 13

The police photographer captured not only the car but skid marks, and tyre marks on, and tracks over, the grass verge.

Now compare photos 3 and 6 above with my ‘Official Large Layby and Cairn’ and it is clear that the police photos were taken at the Official site.

Let’s make it easy by putting the 3 photos together.

macrae 6
Official large layby and cairn
macrae 9

There is no doubt: these are pics of the same place.
The police photos were taken at the Official site. 

I mentioned near the beginning that Scott and MacLeay predicted that release of these photos would confirm the Official site.

You would think that these photos would have put an end to all speculation about where Macrae ‘crashed’ but you would be wrong.

How can this be?

Let’s leave that question hanging for the moment but let me ask a different question.

Look at these 3 photos immediately above and try to put yourself in the place of a witness, policeman or ambulance-man.  Macrae’s car is lying on the side of a large layby on the loch side of the road.  Cars can be parked on the layby immediately adjacent to Macrae’s car.  Look at the police car and breakdown lorry parked in that exact position.  Now the question,

How could anyone seeing the car in that position ever be in any doubt, at a later date, about the exact position?

Scott and MacLeay seem to disagree with me.  They wrote this about the sites,
An examination of both sites is clearly necessary for the purposes of this book. One of the first impressions obtained after such an examination is the similarity of both sites in all essential features. The hillside above Loch Loyne is rugged and steep and, really, for someone who did not know the area well, one place could be confused with another. The only way to orientate yourself in such a place is to judge your position relative to prominent natural features. Clearly, the loch with its two small islands was the most prominent feature in view from the hillside.

There is, however, one essential difference between the sites. At Coutts's site you see the loch - but at the other site you see the dam. Standing beneath Mr Munro's cairn you cannot fail to notice that you are near the end of the loch. You also see an island directly opposite you and another about halfway to the dam. At Coutts's site, 1.4 miles south-east, all you notice is the loch, the end of which you cannot see, and neither of the small islands are visible.
I say again exactly what I wrote a few paragraphs above

Look at these 3 photos immediately above and try to put yourself in the place of a witness, policeman or ambulance-man.  The car is in the position shown.  Now the question,
How could anyone seeing the car in that position ever be in any doubt, at a later date, about the exact position?
The car is lying on the side of a large layby on the loch side of the road.  Cars can be parked on the layby immediately adjacent to Macrae’s car.  Look at the police car and breakdown lorry parked in that exact position.

How could David Coutts be so wrong?  The Official site is so different to his site.  On that day in 1987 about which Alex Mains wrote, how could Coutts not recognise the official site as being the correct place?   Other than his own assertion, I know of no evidence which pinpoints his site as the crash site. 

Unfortunately, one assertion isn’t particularly strong in the face of photographic evidence.
Others have made statements about the car’s position which did not support the Official site but their comments were not explicit about the actual site.  Again, we’ll look at these later.

That’s two questions I have posed in the last few lines,
How can this be?  [that the police photos don’t put an end to the speculation about the site]
How could anyone seeing the car in that position [on the side of the large layby at the official site] ever be in any doubt, at a later date, about the exact position?

We’ll return to these …. in my next post.  You’ll find that, as we continue, there are far more questions than answers.

This is the place to end ….. for now.

We have
looked in great detail at all possible roadside features which could be close to the crash site,
seen the sites themselves in aerial and streetview mode,
checked if the Bunloyne dam was visible from the various roadside features,
seen old video of the two sites,
seen that there is no physical evidence to tie the Coutts site to the actual crash site,
seen the only physical evidence which indicates that the official site is the crash site,
shown that only Coutts himself of the witnesses claims his site to be correct,
seen how the official and Coutts site came to be and
posed two major questions (unanswered so far)

The next post?  I’ll start with these two major questions but where I’ll end up I have no idea.

You can be sure that it will be an interesting read but beyond that …..

When will this next post appear?  Sorry, I haven’t a clue.

Please rejoin me soon.

© CalumCarr 2014
Copyright over this article is retained by me, CalumCarr.
Please feel free to reproduce extracts and images provided you attribute the words and images to me taking into account the provisos below.
If you wish to use more than one quarter of the article then contact me for permission at calumsblogATgmailDOTcom.
All images in this article, other than the 10 police images and the image from the Scotsman newspaper, have been modified by me by the addition of relevant text.  I retain copyright over these modified images.
Copyright of the original unmodified images is retained by their respective original owners and to this end I name: Police Scotland, the Scotsman,, and Scottish Eye.  Copyright to the extracts from Scott and MacLeay’s book is theirs.


  1. Thanks very much for doing this Calum. I confess to an interest in the topic, but not sufficiently so to do all the spade-work you're undertaking. I was surprised back in the summer, when reading around the two "3000 Trees" plays, that there didn't seem to be an site which simply presented all the known facts in detail. You seem to be rectifying that.

    I started looking at Lockerbie just over five years ago from a similar position of almost total ignorance, but simply knowing that there were a lot of people who were certain there was something wrong with the official story. At some level I half-expected them to be wrong, and to discover only a string of tenuous conspiracy theories fuelled by misunderstanding. I couldn't have been more wrong about that, and ended up discovering things that hadn't been figured out by anyone previously, and which conclusively proved the official version to be wrong. The police and the SCCRC are looking at this at the moment.

    One odd thing about my investigations was that I found that a great deal that looked highly questionable actually seemed to be kosher when examined in detail, but other areas that didn't seem so obviously suspicious turned out to be dynamite. Of course the bottom of that story is still nowhere near in sight, another reason for preferring to be a spectator while someone else does the hard work on MacRae.

    Lockerbie has of course been the subject of muliple legal proceedings. There was a Fatal Accident Inquiry in 1990-91, a civil action for damages in the USA in 1992 followed by an appeal, the main trial in 2000-01, the first appeal in 2002, and the SCCRC report in support of the second appeal in 2007. As a result of this, humungous quantities of primary evidence have escaped into the public domain, or at least into the hands of defence teams. Indeed, the sheer amount of it is daunting.

    The main problem I've always felt hampered the MacRae case is the lack of such evidence. Not even an FAI to bring statements and evidence productions into the light of day. SO basically, good luck with this, I think you'll need it.

  2. Thanks Rolfe.

    I don't have a view as to what happened on those days in April '85. I came into this because I wanted to have a view. Unfortunately I can only get that by plodding slowly through the material.

    I don't have any expectation of getting to the actual bottom of this, so much has not been revealed. What I can do is look in great detail at what is in the public domain and lift it up, turn it round, shake it and see if the picture changes.

    If all I do is present the info in detail and list a series of questions then the effort will have been worthwhile. Anything beyond that is in the realm of dreams but dreams .....

  3. I know what you mean. I began looking at Lockerbie because I wanted to have an opinion of my own on the controversy. It went a great deal further than I ever imagined it would when I started!


    this is an interesting summary of events

  5. Thanks, Anonymous.

    The article you reference is an interesting summary but some of its claims may not be accurate despite the author having seen the buff-coloured file.

    There is much of this in the Macrae mystery: claim but no hard evidence.

    Claims made without showing the relevant evidence are not particularly strong. They may be correct but without the evidence others cannot support them with any confidence.

    I don't have access to the buff-coloured file but I hope to present evidence before I make any claim.

  6. The big clear skid tracks heading towards the resting plce of the car look rather convincing. Unlike you, I am allowing myself to speculate wildly, so I am pondering a suicide shot while driving, leading to the door bursting open as the car bounced down the rough ground and the gun sliding out, hence being found some distance from the resting place of the car. Not that I am saying that happened, just that there are many possible explanations; and while reports scoff at the idea of a man surviving a bullet through the head for a while many people have actually done so, and some have even walked around afterwards. Massive brain trauma is a funny thing, sometimes. Remember the classic case of the chap who long ago had a long metal bar blown right through his head yet he sat up and conscious all the way to the hospital and live on for many years (Phineas Gage - look up awesome images on google). Rare occurrences do happen, otherwise they would not be occurrences. I can think of no sensible scenario in which a murderer would leave the weapon lying around but would leave it twenty yards or so away. My interest continues.

  7. But why?

    Why choose to shoot oneself whilst driving?

    Suicide is an act of finality. My impression is that people still themselves before committing that final act: one is still and then jumps off bridge, still and steps off chair to hang, sits and shoots, sits and takes pills.

    It's as though one prepares oneself for the end.

    Now I can recollect hearing about cases where a driver steers into an oncoming lorry but that seems to be much rarer than the stillness route.

    The advice I was given when I started bird (flappy winged and feathered birds) watching. If you think you've seen a rare bird then you haven't.

    Mostly we seen common birds because they are common and we rarely, if ever, see a rare bird because they are rare.

    Do we have a common bird here or a rare bird?

  8. Well, a very rare bird would be a murderer who leaves a weapon to be easily found, but twenty yards or so from the body. But there are other possible expanations for the position of the weapon that are still consistent with suicide, whether in a stationary car or a moving car (and the circumstances of preparing oneself that you suggest would fit with the act being committed in the car park.) But attributing rational thought to a person killing themself, if he did, is not very wise. Playing Russian roulette in a moving car is a perfectly feasible possibility for a deranged and troubled mind. Murder is a possibility too, but there seem many, many others. Strangely enough, the reported location of the weapon is the most powerful suggestion that it was not murder, to my mind. What is relevant here is not whether what happened was likely or unlikely. What is relevant is what happened, however seemingly "unlikely" or "likely" it was. We cannot tell whether or not an event happened either by deciding it was likely or unlikely, as both types of things do happen (see Phineas Gage again - his injury happened)

  9. Was the gun 20 yards away?

    I haven't got as far as that. I've read about it but not considered. You're way ahead of me!!

  10. Well I have read: "A weapon was found the next day, in the burn over which the car had been discovered, 60 ft (18 m) from the vehicle", but I have not explored the reliability of that statement; but if correct I take it to imply the car travelled beyond that reported location, which would seem consistent (no more than that) with the gun falling from the car as (or if) a door came open during the presumably violent journey. But I don't plan to investigate further. I plan to let you do that and I will just speculate.

  11. My apols, Andrew. Of course, I've read about the gun and where it was/wasn't found but I'm trying to be disciplined - which doesn't come easily - to focus on what's in front of me for the next post ...and the gun's placement isn't quite in focus yet.

    If someone else were writing these posts then I'd be floating about all over the case but my decision to write precludes my floating.

    Please feel free to speculate and don't feel I'm criticising you for doing so. I'm delighted that you're interested and want to speculate and tell me about it.

    Keep doing what you're doing!

  12. Given that the incident was investigated and recorded by the police who, presumably, had no reason to try to report anything other than what happened, my default position will be that their conclusions are probably reasonable, unless evidence can be offered that would contradict their conclusions. People saying various people did not like the man (in summary) is not evidence to contradict their conclusions. But I am open to doubt and persuasion by evidence.

    Happy Winter Solstice to you.

  13. You'll not mind, Andrew, if I don't celebrate the soltice but retain my celebrations for the birth of Our Lord Jesus.

    Re Macrae and the police investigation.

    You said, '... the incident was investigated and recorded by the police who, presumably, had no reason to try to report anything other than what happened ....

    Some might say that the authorities (wider than the police) had reason that the incident not be investigated as fully as possible.

    Clearly there was enough evidence to suggest suicide but were any other possibilities looked into?

    The refusal to hold an FAI feeds into the view of an incomplete investigation.

    Where do I stand?

    I don't have a view which is why I am plodding very, very slowly the material and only when I have properly digested the available evidence of the incident itself can I look at why the crash happened.

    I am some way away from looking into the other possibilities which some say exist.

  14. There was the real site- Coutt`s one and another staged site with an identical Volvo.Some hikers at the real site were shot at by a sniper to keep them away from it.Two different tow truck recovery operators both recovered brown Volvos from that road that day.

  15. Thanks for your interest and your comment, Anon.

    Re hikers and sniper Any reference I have read has the incident happening a few miles away and, therefore, it could not have been intended to move hikers on from the 'official' site. I have seen it suggested that a possible explanation was an over-zealous gamekeeper trying to get walkers of 'his' hills. Apparently this does happen.

    But, if you have a reference showing what you report here then please share it NOW! Such a reference would be very, very important.

    Re Two Tow-trucks Callum Macrae's 'Scottish Eye' reported that two breakdown recovery operators, one in Fort Augustus and one in Inverness 'both separately insist that it was their company which recovered the maroon Volvo belonging to Macrae.'

    Scottish Eye asked Northern Constabulary if their had been two crashes in the area involving maroon Volvos. No answer came!

    There is further confusion because two Macrae friends claim to have the radiator grill from Macrae's car!

    At some later date I'll cover this aspect in more detail.

  16. Completely irrelevant ramblings perhaps, but why is the drivers (most probably electric) window wound down?

    I had assumed it was smashed until I read this..

    "They stopped in a lay-by and looked down to the bank of the loch where the Volvo could be seen straddling a small burn. It was upright at an angle of about 45 degrees, facing south, with a dent in the roof; the back screen was partially smashed, the front windscreen was intact and a man was slumped in the driver's seat. He appeared to be dead. The door was jammed against the bank. The window was wound fully down. Crowe ran back up to the road and flagged down the next car that passed. It had just started to rain."

    The vehicle had electric headlight wipers, so was most probably one of the higher spec. versions, thus electric windows. Furthermore if I am driving at night in April, in that part of the word, I might have the window a little open, but I doubt I would open it fully while driving. Assuming the window was not smashed, and that is just an assumption, then perhaps I might open it fully to talk to someone.. but again speculation on my part.

    Why do tracks look like two sets of tracks from different vehicles, one braking hard, the other not breaking at all? Again speculation on my part.

    1. Car Examination says driver's window shattered.

      I think it's in Cash Analysis I gave up on the 4 tracks. Couldn't make as much sense of them.

  17. One final ramble (for tonight at least).. The three vehicles in the 2nd layby, tow truck (distinctive livery), Sherpa van probably police and probably similar to this ( and Police patrol vehicle, so at least 3 witnesses to the removal of the Volvo. Do we know who they were. Do we know where the Volvo was taken to initially, and ultimately how was it disposed of? There will have been an insurance paper trail a towing company paper trail and a Police one.

    1. IN Part 11, I think, I pose lots of questions to police about 3 vehicles, witnesses etc.

      Also somewhere I show car went to West End Garage Fort Augustus and then reportedly to police HQ in Inverness.

      Reported that 2 breakdown companies claim to have recovered car.

      Also 2 friends of Macrae claim to have front grill of car!!