Monday, 2 March 2015

Willie McRae Part 19: Case for Suicide

In this 19th post, I use the material released by the police and Crown Office to make the best case I can for Willie Macrae’s death being suicide.  I do this, not because I believe he took his life - I have no view either way -  but, because I haven’t seen the case made coherently.  Yes, there have been bits and pieces but no single narrative.

It will be this case that those who, for a variety of reasons, can’t accept a suicide ‘verdict’ need to dismantle or damage.

For those who are just joining the series here let me lay out my position and approach.  When I came across Willie’s death in November last year I was intrigued by the mystery; such certainty from the Crown Office, such doubt from others; so many conflicting media reports.  I couldn’t come down for any position.  I would need to read and analyse and think from a position of absolute neutrality.

I take this neutrality into even this post where I do my best to construct the case for suicide.  The thoughts and views which follow are not mine rather they are how I imagine a suicide supporter would construct the case.

Also for comparison I show the Crown Office’s attempt at making the case for suicide.


Willie Macrae Killed Himself
I understand the difficulty that many of you will have with accepting this statement.  I understand the sincerity with which you hold your views.  Of course, there cannot be absolute certainty because there were no witnesses and no definitive evidence but there is a massive weight of evidence for suicide and an absence of evidence for murder or conspiracy. 

This puts far beyond reasonable doubt ….
Willie Macrae shot himself in the head.

He was hugely talented. 

He was charismatic.

He was troubled …. terribly. 

He suffered with depression and suicidal thoughts so much so that his younger brother, a GP, had taken his unlicenced revolver from him.  Unfortunately, this was returned to him when his brother considered that his mental state had improved.

He drank much more than was good for him.  He had been convicted twice for drink driving and had another offence pending.

He faced prison. 

He feared prison. On Thursday, 4 April 1985, there had been a fire at his home, the cause of which is unknown but about which there has been speculation.

On Friday, 5 April, Macrae asked his partner (in his legal firm) to visit him at home and told him that he was going to his holiday home in Dornie for the weekend.  But so concerned was Ronald Welsh (partner) about Macrae’s mental health that at 7.30pm he phoned Macrae’s Dornie home to check that he had arrived safely.  When his call went unanswered, Welsh telephoned every police station between Glasgow and Kyle. All of this information was unknown when Police Constable Kenny Crawford received a call at Fort Augustus police station at about 11.15 on the morning of Saturday, 6 April.  A car had crashed and was off the road between Kyle and Invergarry.

When he arrived at the scene,  Crawford found Macrae unconscious with a head wound.  There being no reason to suspect anything other than a one car accident, there was no need to preserve the site as a crime scene.  Crawford’s priority was to ensure Macrae – he had been identified by a witness already present – was removed from the car and taken to Raigmore hospital without delay. 

This having been achieved and the witnesses either accompanying Macrae in the ambulance or following the ambulance to Inverness, Crawford arranged for the car to be removed from the scene and taken to the West End Garage in Fort Augustus for examination.  Before removal, however, Crawford examined, measured and photographed the crash scene. 

Examination of the car during the afternoon of Saturday, 6 April, showed a well-maintained car with no obvious defects which could have caused, or contributed to, the crash.

Crawford’s examination of the scene had already shed light on the moments before Macrae and his car left the road.  A 57 feet long skid mark in the layby, about 60 yards from where the car left the road, indicated Macrae’s attempt to retain control of his car having approached the corner (at layby) at excess speed.  That the car remained on the road for another 60 yards indicated Macrae having an on-going struggle to recover control.  He failed and his car left the road, overturned more than once before ending up facing back in the direction from which he had just come.

It was reasonable and understandable for Crawford to assume that Macrae’s severe head injury was a result of the crash. 

>Only later on Saturday was it discovered that his head injury was caused by a gunshot wound. The new-found seriousness of the case brought the detailed involvement of senior police officers.  As well as visiting the car and the scene, investigations into Macrae’s life brought forth the personal information, mentioned earlier.

Early on Sunday morning, 7 April, Macrae’s life support system was turned off and he died. Officers were faced with a situation where all the available evidence pointed to a one-car crash involving a depressed and suicidal lawyer and political activist with a history of drink driving.  Crucial to their investigations was the killing gun.

Macrae’s partner, Robert Welsh, had described Macrae’s gun and at 12.30pm on Sunday that gun was found in the burn where Macrae’s car had come to rest.  Moreover it was in that part of the burn directly below where the driver’s door had been.  By this time, of course, the car had been removed from the scene. 

How exactly the gun came to be in the burn is unknown but it is likely to have  been one of the following two possibilities. 

The gun’s recoil ‘forced’ it from Macrae’s grasp and it fell:

through the broken driver’s door window into the burn
and became wedged between Macrae and the door.  During Macrae’s removal from the car the gun was knocked or fell unnoticed from the car into the burn

The post mortem showed that, although two bullets had been fired from the gun, there was only one bullet wound and one bullet in his brain.  This was recovered.  Also the evidence was clear that the gun had been held against Macrae’s head and the gun fired: powder debris in the wound but not in surrounding surface tissue.

Holding a gun against the head is typical of gunshot suicides.

Analysis showed that the gun found at the scene, Macrae’s, was the gun which fired the killing shot.  The second fired bullet has never been found nor was there any evidence within Macrae’s car of the bullet or of damage caused by a bullet. Why Macrae, in his depressed state, chose to end his life next to Loch Loyne, is open to speculation.  It is not for me to become involved.  What is important and tragic is that Willie Macrae shot himself at the crash scene.

It should not go unnoticed that the Procurator Fiscal discussed the findings of the investigation with Mr Macrae’s brother, Fergus, who was satisfied with the investigation.  Fergus Macrae intimated that he and his family did not wish there to be a Fatal Accident Inquiry.

>Neither during the initial investigation nor during subsequent investigations carried out at the request of the Lord Advocate has any evidence been found for the involvement of any other person in Macrae’s death.  To the contrary, every investigation has confirmed the decision of the first:  Macrae killed himself with a gunshot to the head. Every other suggestion, whilst well-meaning, is unfounded and without basis in fact.

I expect many to disagree with my words.  I haven’t touched on any of the doubts, questions, contradictory evidence because neither the police nor the Crown Office have gone near this material.
Although disagreeing I hope I have treated the issue with respect.  Certainly, that was my intention.

I think you’ll see a different approach from the Crown Office in the only document in which they have addressed Willie’s death in some detail: Lord Carmylie’s letter to Nicholas Fairbairn MP.
PART 20 Macrae G Lord A
PART 20 Macrae H Lord A
Had I been one of Macrae’s “friends”, as Carmylie describes them, I would have been fuming at Carmylie’s attitude.  When first I read the letter I was appalled and here I raise only two issues.

Utter Disdain 
And I can only express my dismay that his “friends” should after his death show such scant regard for his family with this continuing ill-founded speculation and discussion of increasingly fanciful and bizarre theories.

What is one to do if one thinks it possible that the suicide ‘verdict’ is wrong or that, simply, there are unanswered questions?

Leave the doubts un-raised?

Leave the questions unasked?

These ”friends” may be wrong, theories may be fancifulbut his ”friends” have a duty to Willie, to justice to raise concerns. 

But the Lord Advocate dismisses them with only the negativity that the arrogant can muster. 

2.  Utter Certainty

As you know a fatal Accident Inquiry is not normally instructed into a suicide.
… if an FAI had been instructed at the time when it was already known Mr McRae had died at his own hand.

… the irresistible inference to be drawn from all the facts and circumstances surrounding tis tragic death is that Mr McRae took his own life.

Perhaps he utterly believed that there was no alternative to suicide.

Other than his mention of Macrae’s ‘firm suicidal intentions’, all that Carmylie / Peter Fraser / Lord Advocate does is to assert his truth and dismiss others’.

An unsupported assertion made from a position of authority. 

In court a good advocate, even a poor advocate, would rip an unsupported assertion to bits.

Unfortunately, although we might rip Carmylie’s unsupported assertion to bits, his position as the then Lord Advocate gives this statement an authority it does not deserve.

Two different cases for suicide ……

…… but does either stand up to detailed scrutiny.
If you have thoughts, or more, feel free to:
email me at calumsblogATgmailDOTcom or
tweet me at @calumcarr
© CalumCarr 2015
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.
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  1. Peter Fraser's contribution to the Lockerbie inquiry is pretty ignominious too. In his later interviews he comes over as a genial, bumptious, slightly tipsy old buffer who reveals a shaky grasp of the case. It's entirely in character for members of the legal establishment to strive to protect the legal establishment though.

    The MacRae case is weird whichever way you slice it. As suicides go, this one is right up there with flying your plane away out over the Indian Ocean and disappearing. Except, that must have been planned and I doubt if this was. My point is, either explanation is going to have its problems, and so there will always remain some doubt about whether the right conclusion has been reached.

    But it's all about having the correct facts. It reminds me in a way of the case of the Mary Celeste, the ship that was found afloat and apparently abandoned. This was a big mystery that intrigued the world at the time. Someone (I think it might have been Conan Doyle) wrote a short story based on the incident. It was fiction. He called the ship the Marie Celeste, and invented a number of details to make the mystery more enticing. There was a meal set on the tables in the wardroom, and the cups were still upright in their saucers, and the coffee in the cups hadn't been spilled and it was still warm.

    None of that was true. But it entered the mythology of the case. Even the ship's name began to be written as Marie Celeste rather than the correct Mary Celeste. The warm cups of coffee was accepted gleefully as fact.

    You'll never solve that mystery if you insist on accounting for the facts that aren't so.

    The mystery has been solved. Nobody will ever be able to prove it, but the actual facts are consistent with a flash fire set of by sparks from iron rings on liquor casks in the hold hitting against each other and igniting spirit vapour that had escaped from the casks. The fire didn't catch, but it was highly alarming and it blew the hatches open. The crew abandoned ship into the lifeboats and the lifeboats were wrecked without trace. The essentially undamaged ship survived the storm.

    That's almost certainly what happened. But there could have been no warm unspilled cups of coffee in this scenario. If you insist on trying to account for facts that aren't so, you don't have a hope of recognising the correct explanation when it's right in front of you.

    This is where Calum's blog is so helpful. He's separating the facts from the fictional accretions. That's what's needed to come to any sensible conclusion about the case. My main worry is that at the end of the day all that will happen is that people will scream "cover-up!"

  2. I have read every one of Calum's posts and have not yet read anything to convince me that a fatal accident inquiry is now justified; but I await...