In Part 24 I said that I believed any active involvement of the Special Branch* (* see end of post) with Willie Macrae was sufficient for an FAI to be held.
In Part 26 we’ll look at evidence from a retired policeman, Donald Morrison, who claims Special Branch were involved up to, at least, the day Macrae left Glasgow, 5 April 1985.
Here you get to see what the police and Crown Office have said about Special Branch and Macrae.
Before we go there, I invite you to read Part 23, if you haven’t yet done so. Last Sunday, 29 March, the Sunday Herald published an article highlighting the new campaign for a Fatal Accident Inquiry to be held into Macrae’s death. The article was light on information until the last sentence in which the Crown Office appears to have set its face against holding an FAI …. ever.
The Crown Office is quoted as saying,
Crown Counsel are satisfied with the extensive investigations into the death of William Macrae
Crown Counsel ….. have instructed that an FAI will not be held into the circumstances of Mr McRae’s death
Effectively, the Crown Office is saying that there can be no new evidence …. ever ….. which could have them question the investigation and open an inquiry.
Now I try not to take official statements at face value, as you will see below, because these messages are rarely written unambiguously. I ask that you bear in mind the tone of the Crown Office statement as you read this article and those which follow.
Now let’s get back to the subject matter.
I know of only two instances where there is official comment on the allegation that Macrae was of interest to, and was under surveillance by, Special Branch. You will see that both sources deny ‘active interest’ in Macrae. We’ll look at their denials in some detail!
The more important was in 2005 when Fergus Ewing MSP wrote to the Lord Advocate asking directly about the alleged surveillance of Macrae. Until today, all that was available were a few newspaper reports but now I have copies of both Fergus’ letter and the Crown Office reply and I quote directly from them.
But, first, let’s go back to 1993. Northern Constabulary replied to a request from West Mercia police for information following allegations in Gary Murray’s book, ‘Enemies of the State’.
1993 West Mercia Police
Northern Constabulary’s letter can be seen here [page 1, page 2]. It is clear that West Mercia police have asked Northern Constabulary for advice on handling questions about Macrae’s death and, of interest to us, is that portion which relates to Special Branch.
We look at two short extracts.
On first reading, the meaning is obvious: Special Branch or the Security Services had no interest in Macrae.
BUT when we start to doubt – and across the UK we have plenty reason to doubt official statements - we look deeper. Let’s do that.
The obvious point to start with is that the denial refers to ‘an active interest’ only. This leaves wide open the possibility - some would say likelihood - that there had been an historical interest in Macrae.
This alone is worthy of follow-up. What? When? Why? Why did it stop? When did it stop?
The clearest possible statement which could have been made was,
‘Neither SB or Security Service had any interest at any time in Mr Macrae.’
but it wasn’t.
It could have said,
‘Neither SB or Security Service had an active interest in Mr Macrae.’
but it doesn’t.
Both these hypothetical statements are definite. In them there is no doubt but what is actually written is subjective,
‘There is no justification for suggesting SB or Security Service had an active interest in Mr Macrae, ….’ [Emphasis is mine]
What is written becomes weaker and less definite with the inclusion of the subjective words. Is this a denial of ‘active interest’ or rather a denial of ‘justification for suggesting’? They are very different denials.
The last phrase of the police sentence makes the statement much less definite still.
‘There is no justification for suggesting SB or Security Service had an active interest in Mr Macrae, certainly not with the knowledge or involvement/collusion of Northern Constabulary.’ [Emphasis is mine]
The writer specifically distances Northern Constabulary from ‘knowledge or involvement/collusion’ but, in so doing, he weakens the statement enormously. He makes it about Northern Constabulary only and leaves entirely open, and entirely uncommented upon, that other police forces and organisations might have had ‘an active interest’ and had ‘knowledge or involvement/collusion’.
That I have taken an apparently straightforward statement, dissected it to find a largely non-denial doesn’t mean that my dissection has revealed the truth.
What I have revealed, though, are two alternative meanings:
|active Special Branch involvement is not ruled out despite an apparent straightforward denial.|
there was historical involvement
The second extract addresses a different point: that the investigation was stopped short by the Home Office,
A very strong denial!
Now I have no idea if this statement is true or false: I have no reason to doubt its truthfulness. But what was key to the ending of the investigation, as it should be, was DCI MacDonald’s satisfaction ‘that no crime had been committed’.
Before I continue I must say that I know nothing of DCI MacDonald. I pick apart the words of the author and not MacDonald’s reputation.
Where was the bar of satisfaction? Was it low, as many allege, in which case the investigation might have been halted early?
Was it high and no stone left unturned?
The Procurator Fiscal and others are dependent on the information which is presented to them. Hypothetically, an incomplete investigation, which has ignored strands of evidence, might still tick all the boxes necessary for the authorities to accept the conclusion.
I don’t know if the fullest possible investigation was carried out or not but, as with many statements, the shown extract rules out neither possibility.
Eventually, we move onto the much more important exchange between Fergus Ewing and the Crown Office.
In April 2005, Fergus Ewing became aware of the evidence of a retired policeman, Donald Morrison, who claimed that Macrae had been and, on the day he left Glasgow, was under surveillance.
An article in the Scotsman said,
Last week, a retired Glasgow policeman, Donald Morrison, said that he had seen evidence that MacRae had been under surveillance.
Ewing said: "I want the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, to respond to the allegations which have been made by the retired police officer that Mr MacRae was under surveillance. I want him to confirm or deny this."
He [Fergus Ewing] added: "Here’s a policeman who has made quite specific allegations that Willie MacRae was being tailed. It is one of the most curious deaths that have occurred in the second half of the 20th century in Scotland."
At the time of publication the Crown Office had not received Fergus’ letter.
In July 2006, again in the Scotsman, is the first reference I have found of a Crown Office reply. Towards the end of the article we find these words,
Repeated requests for an official inquiry into Mr MacRae's death have been turned down. Last year, Elish Angiolini, the Solicitor General, refused a request from Fergus Ewing, the SNP MSP, to discuss allegations that Mr MacRae was under surveillance in the weeks leading up to his death. She also said a further investigation was not justified.
The Crown Office declined to comment yesterday.
According to these articles, Fergus Ewing was very specific: he wanted the Lord Advocate to respond to the actual allegations made by Donald Morrison. The Crown Office did not.
There would be little more to be written were these extracts all we had to go on and, until a few days, I had no more. Fortunately, Fergus Ewing forwarded copies of correspondence to me and now we can look at what each party said.
Unfortunately, I haven’t got explicit permission to publish the two letters and so I will show some extracts only.
Firstly let’s look at what Fergus wrote. His main focus was on the evidence of Donald Morrison but he touched on other aspects of the case. I ignore those other aspects.
Ewing puts two specific allegations to the Lord Advocate,
that he [Morrison] was advised to stay away from the offices of Len Murray and Willie MacRae because the Intelligence Service were watching them.
that on the day Mr. MacRae left from Glasgow …. he [Morrison] spoke to Mr. MacRae in the city centre in Glasgow and saw that when Mr. Macrae drove off he [MacRae] was pursued by two vehicles.
Before we move on I must say that the first allegation re the offices of Macrae and Len Murray is not from the time of Willie’s death. My reading from communication with Donald Morrison is that this happened in the mid-1970’s. This is given credence by Len Murray stating in an article in the Herald from 1995 that his partnership with Willie ended in 1981. This is historical interest and in Part 23 I gave my view that historical interest in Macrae is insufficient for an FAI unless there were plans or thoughts at the time to do harm to Macrae. In my next post we’ll have a detailed look at Morrison’s evidence.
But still the second allegation would stand because it deals with active interest.
Let’s look in detail how the Solicitor General, Elish Angiolini, responded on behalf of the Lord Advocate.
From the 940 words (or so) in her reply, Angiolini used only 58 to deal with the central theme of Ewing’s letter,
You mention the evidence of Donald Morrison and the suggestion that Mr Macrae was under surveillance. This is not a new allegation or information and was explored when it was raised initially as an issue. I can confirm from the papers that Willie Macrae was not the subject of surveillance or enquiry at the time of his death.
On first reading, this has the hallmarks of a strong denial but very easily one can see weaknesses.
Firstly, that Macrae was under surveillance is correctly stated as ‘not a new allegation or information’ but the sentence continues ‘and was explored when it was raised initially as an issue.’ This actually says that the allegation was explored when raised initially but this does not mean that Morrison’s specific new allegation was explored. Therefore, Angiolini’s sentence does NOT rule out Morrison’s allegation nor does it actually state that Morrison’s allegations were ever investigated.
Her third sentence, either by coincidence or design, is a masterful example of saying one truth but conveying a very different truth. Some might call it ‘spin’, others ‘deceitful’.
Let’s look again at the words,
I can confirm from the papers that Willie Macrae was not the subject of surveillance or enquiry at the time of his death. [Emphasis is mine]
See how important are those three words – ‘from the papers’. Angiolini is NOT saying that Macrae was not the subject of surveillance or enquiry at the time of his death but is making the much more limited statement, [in my words] ’having read the papers there is nothing in those papers which shows that Macrae was under surveillance or enquiry.’
No more than this.
Plausible deniability. The truth would have been told because I’m sure there is nothing in those papers …. but elsewhere the evidence could be stacked up.
‘from the papers’ ????
Of course, Elish Angiolini might have written the whole truth and, if she hasn’t, that doesn’t mean that she deliberately did so. It’s possible too that Angiolini, in a desire for clarity, was very particular in her choice of words …. and then I have used this clarity against her.
I can’t know and, in a mystery such as this, I cannot assume that official statements always contain the whole truth just as, throughout this long series, I can’t know and can’t assume that witnesses have written the whole truth. With them too any error need not be deliberate.
What has this analysis shown?
We have two denials:
|[re Donald Morrison’s evidence] This is not a new allegation or information and was explored when it was raised initially as an issue. |
from the papers that Willie Macrae was not the subject of surveillance or enquiry at the time of his death.
neither of which unambiguously rules out that to which it is addressed,
Morrison’s evidence that Macrae was under surveillance when he left Glasgow may not have been investigated.
Macrae might still have been under surveillance at the time of his death.
Beyond the allegations which were brought to the Lord Advocate, three times Ewing asked for a meeting to discuss the allegations made by Donald Morrison.
Only on the third time of asking did Ewing open out his request to cover other allegations.
Already we know from the Scotsman that no meeting was offered. How was Ewing rebuffed in Angiolini’s letter?
You have asked if the Lord Advocate will meet you to discuss the allegations you mention in your letter. I am satisfied that a thorough investigation was carried out into the death of Willie MacRae, and that on the basis of the material available further investigation and criminal proceedings are not justified. I do not therefore think that anything can be achieved by a meeting.
Here in the second sentence we have argument by assertion. Angiolini asserts that a ‘thorough investigation was carried out …’ This may be true but it carries weight not because of the words but only because of Angiolini’s position to deny further investigation.
The second part of that sentence has plausible deniability: ‘on the basis of the material available further investigation and criminal proceedings are not justified.’ There might be masses of evidence which would justify more investigations but it isn’t in the material available to the Crown Office or, as a cynic might say, it is available but was deliberately withheld from the official file.
Once again, I hypothesise. It’s worth repeating what I wrote a few lines above about Angiolini’s response to the allegations. They apply here too.
Of course, Elish Angiolini might have written the whole truth and, if she hasn’t that doesn’t mean that she deliberately did so. It’s possible too that Angiolini in a desire for clarity was very particular in her choice of words …. and then I have used this clarity against her.
I can’t know and, in a mystery such as this, I cannot assume that official statements always contain the whole truth just as, in subsequent posts, I can’t know and can’t assume that witnesses have written the whole truth. With them too any error need not be deliberate.
Has Angiolini given a straightforward statement of fact on which we can rely without further questioning?
Or is the official line
Nothing to see here. Move on!
Tomorrow, you’ll have the opportunity to see Donald Morrison’s evidence in some detail and you can judge where the truth lies.
[* I use ‘Special Branch’ to cover two different situations: firstly, for Special Branch only and secondly for any state operations beyond what we commonly regards as the police. This would include MI5, MI6 or any other state grouping. You must bear in mind that when the police and Crown Office refer to Special Branch they may be limiting themselves to the official Special Branch only and, therefore excluding other groupings but then again they may use it the wider sense. Unless I say otherwise I use Special Branch with its wider definition]
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