Monday, 22 December 2014

Willie McRae Part 6: Final Look at Coutts

Welcome to the 6th post in my series in which I take a detailed and critical look at the death of Willie Macrae.> [Parts 1 to 4 are here; Part 5 is here]

In the 5th post we,
looked in great detail at all possible roadside features which could be close to the crash site,
saw the sites themselves in aerial and streetview mode,
checked if the Bunloyne dam was visible from the various roadside features,
saw old video of the two sites,
saw that there is no physical evidence to tie the Coutts site to the actual crash site,
saw the only physical evidence which indicates that the official site is the crash site,
showed that only Coutts himself of the witnesses claims his site to be correct,
saw how the official and Coutts site came to be and
posed two major questions (unanswered so far)

Let’s start with those two questions,
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?

My take on the first question is simplistic but may still be correct.

The prominence of Macrae in public life and the circumstances of his crash, shooting and death were always likely to lead to speculation about the real cause.  The refusal to hold a Fatal Accident Inquiry was key.  This, and the decision to withhold the release of detailed police information until 2005, allowed a 20 year free space for fact, fiction and speculation to flow and meld.  By the time police photos were released in 2005 their power was diminished.  The twenty-year-old questions remained and the photos simply begged more questions.

The still on-going refusal of the police to answer apparently straightforward questions adds to the suspicion.

It is into this world that I have come, knowing now of the doubts of others.  Can I plot my way through to come to a settled position? 

This series is my attempt to find that settled position but, until then, I have no position other than ‘doubt and question everything’.

Do not take my questions as showing I favour one tack over another.  I am confused.  I can’t reconcile the information.  Only by looking, reading and questioning can I hope to come to a clear view …. and even then, even if I find a clear view, I may be wrong!

Come into my confused world and look with me.

No doubt, I’ll keep coming back to the first question but, for today, let’s concentrate on the second question.

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?

Let’s walk through what we know and don’t know.

We do not know where Macrae’s car crashed.
We know David Coutts states the official site is not the actual site.
We know that the police photos show a Volvo at the official site.
We do not know when these photos were taken: neither day nor time.
We do not know if these photos show the car in its original and untouched crashed position.
We do not know if Macrae’s car was removed from the scene and returned for the photos.

If the car was removed from the scene and returned, we do not know if it was returned to the same site and position.

In this post we’ll concentrate on the evidence, such as it is, suggesting either the site is wrong and/or the distance from the road is wrong.

My looking carefully at the possible sites is not just a case of checking out every alley in the sure knowledge that most will be blind.   It’s more.

Callum Macrae in Part 3 of his Scottish Eye documentary tantalises us with a simple comment but with no proper explanation.

Let’s look at the same clip I showed in my last post,

Also we will hear that David Coutts and another key witness claim the actual site was further from the road than is shown in the police photos.

Scottish Eye Part 3                3m 40s to 4m 50s

Scottish Eye 3 Partial Transcription 3A
Why mention the different districts and the different legal authorities?  Surely, there is a purpose in flagging this up and so why leave it so flimsy?   A different legal authority might act differently but so might a different police force?  Why mention this unless it has significance?  Did he believe that Thomas Aitchison in inverness was more compliant than his Lochaber counterpart?  Did he believe something different?  We don’t know: Callum Macrae leaves us with nothing but these few words.
Callum wasn’t alone.  Dave Leadbetter, in an article published here, wrote,

SRSM Invisible Gun Extract 1A

Not only does Leadbetter support the Coutts site, although he doesn’t explain why, he too mentions that another fiscal might have made a difference.

And there’s more.

John MacLeod in his Herald article of 27 March 1995 raises the same issue of Lochaber versus Inverness districts:

Herald 27 March 1995 Extract 4 Macleod

but the issue is not developed.

Like so much in this case we are tantalised but ultimately left disappointed. 

And so I don’t feel too badly about continuing on the theme of the Coutts site today.

Now let’s look at some more words spoken by the Scottish Eye reporter, Callum Macrae.

Scottish Eye P3 Partial Transcript A
Both say the car was much further off the road than the police claim and their photographs show.
If we assume that David Coutts and Allan Crowe actually said the words attributed to them then the official site does not fit their words. 

How can a witness mistake 25 yards off road for more than 100 yards?  The views are irreconcilable.

The official site cannot be the actual crash site unless both Crowe and Coutts are mistaken.

Perhaps they are.  It seems the most logical explanation …. but would you expect to confuse these two scenes below?

Official StreetView C
Coutts Streetview to Loch C

In the Coutts picture we must make allowance for 25 years of conifer growth but the views are different as are the heights above, and distances from, the loch.  Also in the Official streetview the large roadside layby makes its presence known.  There is no equivalent feature at the Coutts site.


How could witnesses, who must have spent a considerable time at the site, not see and remember that the car was on the side of one of the most obvious roadside features on the entire Loch Loyne stretch  …. unless the car wasn’t on the side of that layby!

But then why should their powers of observation and recollection be better than the policeman who first attended the site? 

We have no words from him but, according to police records, we know that the same police constable (Crawford) attended the site when first the crash was reported and prepared the measured ‘sketch of the locus’
MOD 2 macrae b syn
macrae t map of accident EXTRACT A
To my eye, and I think to yours, the signed name above ‘POLICE CONSTABLE 252’ is ‘K S Crawford’.  Note: both images above are a small part of two images released by the police.  We’ll look at the full documents later.

If Coutts and Crowe are right, then the site PC Crawford attended was the Coutts site.  Would he not notice later that his sketch was of the wrong site?

So we have
Coutts and Crowe or Crawford
We have an absolute split. 

Crawford must believe that the crashed car was about 25 yards off the road on the side of a layby
Coutts and Crowe must believe that the crashed car was much more than 25 yards off the road and Coutts that the correct site was more than 1 mile away.

I mentioned in Part 5 that Scott and MacLeay  found the two sites so similar that one needed to look for external markers (eg an island in the loch when at the official site) but from the satellite maps and streetview I find the sites and their views utterly different. [Scott and MacLeay:  ‘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 here

I cannot envisage anyone who attended a crash scene at the official site ever not knowing that the car was on the side of a layby


I cannot envisage anyone who attended a crash at the Coutts site ever thinking later that a car on the side of a layby was the scene they attended.

I find the evidence of Coutts and Crowe credible but do I believe that Coutts is right about the crash site? I don’t know.  Their evidence is only a part of the total evidence package about the site and there’s a long way between seeing their evidence as credible and actually believing they are right about the crash site.  Being credible doesn’t mean being right

Coutts, Crowe and Crawford are not all correct.  That’s the only certainty I can get from this.

I want to spend just a little more time looking at reports that the police themselves were confused about the location of the crash site although I say here, even before I lay out this additional evidence, that I find its credibility to be significantly less than that of Crowe and Coutts.  Of course, this evidence may still be correct.

John MacLeod in the extract used slightly higher up in this post writes about police confusion.  Have a look at the highlighted part of the extract.

Herald 27 March 1995 Extract 4A Macleod

This is fuel to the doubters’ fire: the police not knowing where the crash site lay. 
In the Daily Record, Reg McKay wrote,
Herald Reg McKay Extract 1
Clearly the car had been removed but yet apparently clueless as to where they should be.

Where did they first stop?  Was it North of the Official site and were they then directed to the Official site?  Was it at the Official site and were they directed to Coutts?

How accurate is the mile?  Surely it an only be an estimate not a measurement.

Mile to Official E

This pic makes an allowance for an estimated mile, showing 0.5, 1.0 and 1.5 mile distances from the official site.  Therefore, if the police first stopped incorrectly on the North side of the crash then it is likely they stopped somewhere between the two outermost arrows. 

In the absence of more solid information I put this in for completeness only.

If, however, the police stopped incorrectly at the official site and were then directed southwards by a mile the graphic below shows the position.

Mile to Coutts C

Where did the police stop?  We don’t know.

Did the police stop at the incorrect site?  We don’t know.

Without more information the ‘evidence’ isn’t credible.  We won’t forget about it but we don’t put it up front.

We don’t know and can’t know unless the civilian who directed them is identified and states clearly what happened.  This is a straw but no more.  No detail, unsupported.

Scotsman 4 Dec 2010 Extract 1A
[Note: the second claim I’ll look at in a later post]

There’s an interesting claim herein: that Macrae’s car was removed from the crash site and then returned later to be photographed.  Many questions are begged.
Was it returned to the correct site?
Was it moved from Coutts and returned to the official site? 
Even if returned to the correct site, was it returned to the correct position?

But does the claim itself stand up to scrutiny?  There’s a lack of anything definitive in the claim.
Who has made the claim? 
What exactly does the ‘witness’ say?

The witness may be telling the truth but there’s nothing we can hold onto which gives us confidence and without that we have to ’park’ this, but not forget it.  We’ll put it with other unsubstantiated ‘evidence’ just in case the corroboration comes.

I feel I’ve given the Coutts site a good chance.  I’ve stared at it, shaken it, magnified it and looked every which way at it and I can’t find a solid base onto which I can place it.  It’s like a lovely jigsaw piece, lovely picture and colours but it doesn’t fit any other pieces I have.  Perhaps it’s from another jigsaw.  Perhaps it will never fit.

Perhaps!  But I’m holding onto to it.  Perhaps someday I’ll find the perfect fit.

In a later post, once I’ve worked my way through the evidence, I may come back to look at the case with the starting assumption that the Coutts site is the actual site of the ‘crash’.  The view might be quite different.  So far I’ve tried to fit the Coutts site in to the other evidence and I’ve failed.  But looking at the other evidence in the light of the Coutts site being correct will be interesting.

Fear not, those who think already that I’ve given the Coutts site too much time, that day is some distance away.

Next time we will see what we can glean from police records.  I’m planning to publish that post, Part 7, on Monday, 5th January, at 10.00.

If you have thoughts, or more, feel free to:
email me at calumsblogATgmailDOTcom or
tweet me at @calumcarr
© 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.
Five images images in this article have been modified by me by the addition of relevant text.  I retain copyright [© CalumCarr 2014] 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 Herald, the Scotsman, Daily Record,, Bing and Scottish Eye. 


  1. The photos...

    Are we seriously to consider that the police took the trouble to take a car back to a different site and somehow transport it down a hill and fake the crash scene again? A conspiracy involving several people. And by police who the day before the incident had probably never heard of the man...

    Just a question

    And people are easily confused about locations that look similar, and once a mind gets itself fixed on recollection it can become(seemingly) real.

    Regarding location, it all comes back to the photos...

  2. And my recollection of the photos suggests the car probably is about 100 yards or so from where it actually left the road, but a much shorter distance from the layby and the road beside the layby, as it seems to have traversed diagonally, relative to the road. The distance from the roadside to the car entirely depends on which part of the roadside one means, and two witnesses can be stating it from different points.

  3. and... a lifelong interest in such things (in general) leads me to say: the most unreliable evidence about anything is often witness recollection.

    Many psychological studies have been done which easily show how different witnesses can give bizarrelly varying accounts of the same event, and they all can be adamant that their inaccurate recollections are correct.

    Just a point worth remembering.

  4. You've been busy! Quickly!

    Your Comment 1
    IF the car was photographed at the wrong site doesn't require a conspiracy just incompetence.

    Why would police take the car back? If it were moved before photographs were taken then taking it back would be understandable.

    To the wrong site? If there was confusion about the site then it is possible.

    As I wrote, I find Coutts' and Crowes' evidence as being credible but it may well not be right.

    The point I was trying to make was that at the official site there is a very obvious feature immediately adjacent whereas at the Coutts site there is no such feature. Given this it is hard to understand how one could fail to remember that the car was on the side of a large layby and think that the car as in a relatively featureless area.

    Also it is hard to understand, if the car was at Coutts and its relatively featureless area, how one could fail to notice that at the official site there was a very large feature as part of the scene.

    Clearly one witness is wrong.

    Your Comment 2

    I take your point here. Police say car 29 yards off road (shortest distance). I've had look on Google maps using their measuring app and I don't think we'd see the effect you postulate (27 -40 yds likely range of distances)

    Your Comment 3

    You're abs right re witness certainty and accuracy. But the lack of an FAI has helped feed the conspiracy theories and, therefore, my approach is to give various options a fair 'roll of the dice' regardless of how fanciful or unlikely they appear to be. The downside of this approach is that, to many readers, I keep looking at an area which to them is 'done and dusted'. That's my choice of approach.

    Also in other respect, at least, my approach to this series is not ideal. I'm doing my thinking as I go along and so I have to look in great detail at lots of areas which may turn out to be wrong or of no or limited impact. My thinking and my (sometimes blind) allies are there for all to see.

    Better would have been to do all my thinking and then write a series. Had I attempted this I would have failed very quickly. I needed to see my thinking and writing published as my incentive to keep going. Without seeing the posts there, my interest would have faltered.

    Once again, though, thanks for your interest, Andrew.

  5. Re "Why would police take the car back? If it were moved before photographs were taken then taking it back would be understandable."

    Not to me, it wouldn't. I would find it incomprehensible unless they stated it was as "a reconstruction". But remember the clear tyre marks at the official location, leading diagonally off the road. Are we to suppose they created false tyre marks as well, rather than taking the car directly to the site?

    My interest continues.

  6. Hi Andrew

    Think we've 'missed' each other probably because we have a different focus. I'm focused closed closely on detail with the bigger picture not featuring largely in my thoughts. For you, quite rightly, you can see how each detail fits into the larger picture and comment on it.

    So when I answered your first question, 'Are we seriously to consider that the police took the
    trouble to take a car back to a different site and somehow transport it down a hill and fake the crash scene again? A conspiracy involving several people
    ', I answered it as a 'stand-alone' question trying to make the point that we don't have just truth and conspiracy as our options but incompetence or a simple mistake are also possible. I wasn't looking at any implications beyond the simple point. I've got plenty time to look at the big picture.

    I'm happy to talk about individual points but at the moment I want to steer clear of the (slightly) bigger picture. I do take your points though.

    I mentioned in part 4 that a Mr Delamore had asked 3 questions of Police Scotland two of which are relevant to the points we have been discussing. Police Scotland refused. I can think of legitimate reasons why they might have refused but, in a climate where there is doubt, refusal can be seen as having something to hide. A simple answer might have helped significantly in our understanding.

  7. I agree that the location of the jurisdiction boundaries (mentioned in this post or elsewhere) is significant, but for this reason: the police are generally very aware of where these boundaries lie, which makes it even less likely they would get sufficiently confused about a location as to mistakenly place it in the wrong jurisdiction. I know the police are very aware of these boundaries because my father was a Chief Superintendent in the police (in Southern Scotland) and he often discussed issues concerning events and officers from other forces moving across "his" boundaries. Of course, there are those who claim that if mis-identification of the location occurred it was not an error, but deliberate, but note that would involve police concerned moving an event that occurred outside of their own area into their area. Reading around a bit, I also read about Macrae's tyres supposedly being slashed on the evening of his departure, and thus delaying his departure, which, if true, is interesting. And then I read of a neat "pyramid" of torn up papers being found at the site, and the issue of the missing briefcase... all very interesting (and forgive that, unlike you, I am rattling around the story at random, or at least erratically). One of the most significant things I have read is about the man's brother supposedly having been previously sufficiently concerned about Macrae's suicidal tendencies and depression and alcohol use that he says he had at one point hidden his gun from him - the gun that was, reportedly, later found at the site.

  8. Andrew, again thanks for your interest.

    What you have read about Macrae I have came across .... and it is interesting and could lead one to think that all is not as straightforward as the authorities would have us think.

    Re police boundaries. I have read somewhere - must find it again - that police worked across these particular boundaries.

    I have also read that the pc from Fort Augustus who attended the scene was a relief who was normally based in Inverness. It is possible therefore that he didn't know the area well and might not have known the police boundary even if the boundary were important.

    But I have started to speculate!! I need to spend some time in a darkened room and repeat the mantra, 'No speculation'

  9. The veracity of the claims of the car being returned to the scene (which at first sight I would see as a truly bizarre scenario) are crucial and I await with interest to see what you make of them and what the police response, if any, was to them. I also note with interest very recent requests for further details from the police. Whatever the truth of this incident it involves some fascinating aspects. I'll try to follow you and comment on where you go now, rather than looking ahead any more.

  10. Feel free to comment as you please. There's no reason why you should not speculate here.

    Have a great time over Christmas.

  11. Well, we've got two possibilities here. A simple mistake, and a deliberate conspiracy.

    If the car was removed too quickly, before it was realised that photos should have been taken, I suppose it's just conceivable that some smart-alec might have decided to try to cover up this incompetence by replacing the car for some photos. That would require rather a lot of people to know about it though, so it would hardly have been a covert, secret operation. Who drove the pick-up truck for example?

    The problem with this idea is, as Andrew says, the tyre marks. They're obvious in the photo. They would have made it easy to find the right site. Replacing the car for posed photos is one thing, faking tyre marks (fabrication of evidence) is quite another. The appearance of the tyre marks suggests any relocation of the car cannot have been accidental.

    Conversely, there's the suggestion that the relocation was deliberate, in order to move the accident site into a different jurisdiction. In that case they would have had to have faked the tyre marks. Did they also go to the real site and obscure the real tyre marks?

    That is one hell of a conspiracy, and I find it very difficult to swallow the idea that policemen would do this. One rogue cop, maybe, but there would have had to have been a whole bunch of them in on it, and the pick-up driver.

  12. Rolfe, thanks.

    I don't disagree with what you and Andrew say. I'm loath at the moment to draw conclusions. I see the benefit of my posts as presenting the evidence, information, rumours in lots of detail. This allows others to draw their conclusions based, not on a few paragraphs culled from 1 report or another but, on the fullest detail possible.

    Sometimes I wondered if I had overdone the Coutts site but now I think I was correct.

    Just as you and Andrew have taken one line re Coutts the door is open for others to put the opposite case.

  13. Fascinating stuff here:

    Police responses to FOI request, apparently. Flatly contradicts many of the claims (eg: says gun found directly beneath driver's door). Have only skimmed it.

    I am very aware that movemennts do like to have a martyr, even if they have to invent on. But, my mind remains open and interested as you explore...

  14. That link also has interesting letters explaining lack of fatal accident inquiry, and other stuff. It is all extremely detailed FOI-repy info from a constabulary apparently accused of a reluctance to ask questions. What we need, eventually, to take any allegations seriously, is actual evidence to suggest it was anything other than what the official report says. I've seen none yet, but await developments in your interesting mission.

  15. It's Christmas Day and you and I are doing this!!

    My next post looks at one aspect only of the info contained in the link you highlight plus others. I know you wouldn't expect me to deal with all aspects in one post given my pace of working.

    'What we need, eventually, to take any allegations seriously, is actual evidence to suggest it was anything other than what the official report says. I've seen none yet,

    If there were any incontrovertible evidence the case would have been made by now.

    What tends to happen, as with the John Finnie request about which I write briefly in this post, is that we are given something like, 'A witness says X. We need an FAI'

    How can we be convinced by this? If there is good information put it in to the public domain and if there are reasons why this cannot be done tell us that! But somehow let us know that there is something more substantial.

    Hopefully Finnie and others will have information which is much more substantial than was reported.

    If I may be so bold - I'm going to be - I think the benefit this series brings is to put much of the information in one place, present it without bias or an 'angle' and let readers see, read, comment and decide for themselves.

    Hopefully into this space others will contribute.

    The outcome? I don't know ..... other than Christmas duties beckon.

  16. Ah Calum, "Christmas Day" is just the 4th day after the Winter Solstice to me (which could open another debate about evidence), although my big kids do have presents to open and we will be heading out for a festive meal since it really does seem that, once again, the sunlight is returning to the days. Now... I did not say "incontrovertible" evidence, I just said "evidence". I agree your series is and will be very interesting. Please continue, and I hope you have a pleasant day today.

  17. Ah! You noticed I added 'incontrovertible'. I did so deliberately.

    The quality of evidence, even what counts as evidence, is very much in the eye of the individual and, thus, some say already that there is evidence of conspiracy, of murder, of whatever while others might see the same 'evidence' as weak and virtually meaningless.

    Hopefully, bringing information into one place will help us look dispassionately at what is there but we must remember too that what is not there can be important.

    Also the absence of evidence of conspiracy (say) isn't evidence of the absence of conspiracy.

    Better go before I confuse myself!

  18. Calum said: "the absence of evidence of conspiracy (say) isn't evidence of the absence of conspiracy"

    if so, then the absence of evidence for any nonsense one wishes to suggest is not evidence of the absence of any nonsense one wishes to suggest.

    I do, nevertheless, follow the evidence, generally, in life, while certainly bearing in mind the possibility of things for which humble I can see no evidence whatever, generally... There is a whole world of mystery out there, and in here, for sure. My ignorance is acknowledged.

    Season's Greetings to you lad. I hope you are having a good day.

  19. 'if so, then the absence of evidence for any nonsense one wishes to suggest is not evidence of the absence of any nonsense one wishes to suggest.

    Often though there is no evidence as such but there are unanswered questions, doubts, alternative theories and from such a source can rise sense or nonsense.

    Often comes down to one's initial standpoint. For example, I believe the MSM were incredibly biased against the Yes campaign but then I was a Yesser. Alan Cochrane (Cockers of DT fame/infamy) believed the BBC was biased towards Yes.

    Where is the truth to be found?

    If you know, please tell me

  20. "Where is the truth to be found?"

    Well, you should know me well enough by now to know that I generally admit that I don't know, about most things, but, I do suggest the truth is most likely to be found by following the evidence, which I think is precisely what you think as well. I think we have no disagreement about that, and I look forward to following your inquiries some more.

  21. Better keep going down the road I'm on, I suppose. Wonder if we'll end up in the same place re this.

    Will be interesting to see how this aspect develops.

  22. "Wonder if we'll end up in the same place re this"

    Well we did on the 18th of September, by different routes :)

  23. You're not suggesting that we'll come to the same conclusion on this subject simply because on one day we came to the same conclusion?

    I know you're not.

    We both toss a coin and we each get a 'head'. Do we assume we will always toss the same way or always toss a 'head'.

    That would be false logic way beyond your abilities on even your worst ever day!

    Must admit my own head is in twist as I try to put my next post together!!!

  24. Indeed no, you are absolutely correct that I was not suggesting any such thing. I'm surprised you need to suggest such a possibility I was merely pointing out a previous occasion on which you thought we held different views, and yet we arrived at the same essential conclusion.

    I agree with you... that your head is in a twist.

  25. All good things must come to an end. I cannot now agree with you. My head, formerly in a twist, is now mush.

    I'll be glad when I get Part 7 written.

  26. I hope you find some contentment and fulfillment in 2015 lad (which is my wordy way of sending good wishes for a Happy New Year)

  27. New testimony from the Crowes here:
    Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  28. So far as the Crowe's new evidence was described, there's nothing in it to put the issue to bed but ......

    We know the police photos were taken at the official site and so it is likely that the car was returned to that spot. Therefore, it is likely that it is at the official site that they saw the car on the Sunday. If these two assumptions are correct then would the Crowe's not have said in SoS that the car was in the wrong place?

    The article mentions that they marked the spot on their map but they seem not to have been asked by SoS to identify the crash site again.