Monday, 16 February 2015

Willie McRae Part 17: Post Mortem and Forensics

How did Willie Macrae die?

What would the post mortem examination uncover?

What would forensic analysis yield?

Only two official documents refer to the post mortem in any detail although two others mention it or a finding [the latter two can be read here and here].

The two which give detail are the first page of the Lord Advocate’s 1990 letter to Nicholas Fairbairn and Annex A (part of FOI response to Steven Semple).   The relevant parts of each document are shown below: the letter first followed by Annex A.

Part 17 Macrae G Lord A E1 Grayed

Part 17 Annex A E1 Footer Out

These documents are full of observations, conclusions and more and so, in Table 1, I label key words in the order in which they appear as observations, reasoning, conclusions, view and fact.

TABLE 1 – Observations, Reasoning, Conclusions, Fact and View
died as a result of a single gun shot wound to the head Conclusion
[PM] examination showed that the muzzle of the gun had been held firmly against the skin Conclusion
there was only one shot wound to the head Observation
There were no other bullet injuries Observation
the entrance wound was in the temple Observation
suggestive of suicide Conclusion
Microscopic examination of the skin immediately around the entrance wound showed no powder driven into the superficial layer of the skin Observation
There was abundant powder residue in the track of the gunshot wound extending quite deeply into the subcutaneous tissue.  A mixture of fine and course [sic] particles was discovered. Observation
The presence of much powder debris in the wound [R] was typical of contact or near contact between the muzzle of the gun and skin [C] Reasoning plus Conclusion
This view was reinforced by finding no evidence of powder spread around the entrance wound [R] suggesting that there was no room for such spread to occur [C] and that the muzzle was held firmly against the skin [C] Reasoning plus 2 Conclusions
Taking these findings into account [R], the pathologist was of the view that the wound was self-inflicted [V] Reasoning plus
The cause of death was certified as a gunshot wound to the head. Fact

I debated with myself about the first three observations.  Were the observations or facts? They were observed during the post mortem and so I leave them as observations.

The two observations listed in the Lord Advocate’s letter tell us nothing about whether Macrae’s death was suicide or murder but they were the first to state that there was only one shot wound to the head and no other bullet injuries.

Interestingly there is nothing in Annex A which refers to either of these two points.  Annex A talks about the ‘entrance wound’ in the singular implying that there was only one head wound.

There is nothing in Annex A about the presence or absence of bullet injuries elsewhere on his body.  In fact, Annex A tells us nothing about Macrae’s body other than his head wound.    I assume the post mortem covered Macrae’s whole body but we are not told.

There is no observation listed which supports the Lord Advocate’s conclusion – Macrae died from a single gun shot wound to the head but I accept that the damage done by the bullet was sufficient to cause death.

The Lord Advocate’s second conclusion I’ll ignore because I’ll cover it off under Annex A.

Now let’s look in more detail at the four conclusions which come from Annex A.

suggestive of suicide
This is based upon the observation that the head wound was in the temple.   And I don’t quibble with the conclusion: it is suggestive of suicide. 

But that is all it is.  It is suggestive of, but not definitive of, suicide.

typical of contact or near contact between the muzzle of the gun and skin
This conclusion comes from the observation that [t]he presence of much powder debris in the wound.  Here I accept that this conclusion is definitive.

suggesting that there was no room for such spread to occur and that the muzzle was held firmly against the skin
This is based upon there being no evidence for the spread of powder around the wound entrance and this is definitive for the gun being held firmly against the skin.  I have no problem here.

pathologist was of the view that the wound was self-inflicted
Later I’ll come back to the fact this was called a ‘view’ but for now let’s see on what this is based.

There are three indicators:
      - position of head wound in temple
      - powder debris driven into the wound
      - no powder spread around the wound entrance

We need to be clear that although there are three indicators the second and third are related.

If a gun is held firmly against the head there will be powder debris in the wound AND there will not be powder spread around the entrance.  These two together confirm that the gun was held firmly against the head.  They tell us nothing about suicide or murder.

Therefore, we are down to two suicide indicators:
      - temple wound
      - gun held firmly against the head

These two are indicative , suggestive only.  They are not definitive.

Of those who choose to commit suicide with a gun, the temple is one of the positions of choice.

Holding the gun against the head is also common.

And so I see how the pathologist has come to his view BUT a murderer could, if he chooses, hold his gun tightly against his victim’s head and shoot him in the temple.

Therefore, we have observations which are typical of suicide and atypical for murder – whatever our definitions of typical and atypical I don’t know.

The most we can glean from the post mortem information released is that Macrae died from a gunshot wound to his temple with the gun held tightly against his head

I need to come back to ‘the pathologist was of the view that the wound was self-inflicted. '

Clearly we don’t know what words the pathologist used in his report but I find it incredible that the writer of Annex A chose to use such weak words as ‘was of the view’ as regards whether Macrae’s death was suicide or not.

An expert witness who used such a phrase in court would be taken apart.  The credibility of such a witness would be destroyed.

And this is what we are given!!

In the title I mention forensics.  Other than the firearms analysis, nothing!  There is nothing about powder debris on Macrae’s hand, clothes, nothing about anything which might bring some enlightenment.

This is a case which is long on rumour and speculation and short on facts and as long as this remains the case the authorities can sit and claim that there is insufficient evidence for an inquiry.

This reminds me of the Probo Koala incident in which toxic waste produced by Trafigura was dumped in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire.  I wrote extensively during 2010 and 2011 and there was a massive truth gap between what we knew about Trafigura and what they acknowledged publicly. 

Here we have a truth gap and the refusal of the authorities to release information reinforces the gap. 

Sometime those in authority are their own worst enemies.

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  1. In summary, all we really know is that a bullet from an identified gun that was probably held very close to his head entered his brain.

  2. That's all!

    Oh, there's one more bit. He died.

  3. Well! Who's the conspiracy theorist now? :)

    1. Just testing, actually. Perhaps I should not. No further comment until the next post in the series.

  4. The deceased, was not deceased until he had been admitted to hospital and presumably had his wounds treated, cleaned at the very least. I know it is trendy to knock the NHS these days, but at the very least they would have attempted to clean the wound, if only to try to figure out its cause.

    Since at this point he wasn't actually technically dead, but in a critical condition, I would suggest that the would was most probably cleaned very carefully to lessen the chance of infection.

    Therefore we cannot be sure of validity of the statement "no powder spread around the wound entrance". All we know is that the deceased was shot in the head, with a high probability that the weapon used was the one you have described. We cannot even be certain that he was shot at very close range, simply that he was shot, at least once with the gun in question, and that a bullet entered his head, and ultimately he died as a result of that injury some time later.

  5. Info we have is:

    - powder debris driven into wound indicative of very close or contact
    - no powder driven in the superficial layer of skin. Indicative of contact. I don't know if cleaning would remove powder from superficial skin layer.

    Overall I'm comfortable with contact wound.

    Have other questions though.

  6. Small detail, but it doesn't get dark at that time of year till after 8 (sunset is just after 8pm). Why was half of the Northern Constabulary being phoned apparently well before that to voice concern for his welfare? Seems a little odd.

  7. Yes, Somewhere in Parts 1-4 I mention 8.05pm, I think it is, as being sunset.

    Apparently, the reason for the phonecalls to the police was because his law firm partner got no reply from the holiday home at 7.30pm, was worried about his mental state, and so phoned all police stations between Glasgow and Kyle.

    But Macrae didn't leave Glasgow until 6.30pm and so would not have been expected at Dornie before 10. There is report that Macrae's car tyres were slashed and that delayed his departure from Glasgow.

  8. Is there evidence of the tyre slashing? The only report of a puncture I have seen is..

    "The drive from Glasgow to Dornie takes about four hours, depending on the traffic conditions, and McRae's maroon Volvo 244 had made the journey very often before. He used his holiday home as often as he could and knew the route to it very well. He took the A82 round the western side of Loch Lomond and continued through the Black Mountains into Glen Coe, to Fort William, Spean Bridge and by Lagganside to Invergarry where he joined the lonely A87 to Kyle of Lochalsh. It was a dry, moonlit night, ideal for such a drive. We can speculate that, with little traffic on the road, the drive was a soothing and pleasant experience, except that, a few miles past Invergarry McRae's car developed a puncture and he had to change the wheel in quite dark conditions, at about 9.30 pm. Once the wheel was changed and he had put the punctured wheel on the car on the back seat, he continued his journey. But it was a journey that was to last for only a couple of miles further."

    There are mentions of tyres being sashed, but is there any evidence.

  9. ... but by the same token, why would you put a punctured tyre on the back seat of a four year old car? Was the boot full? Why didn't the presumably unsecured tyre exit through the windshield? Speculation, but no evidence.