Willie comes back to haunt the Highlands (and Britain's secret state)
IT could make a strong episode of 'New Tricks', and it featured in the background of one of Ian Rankin's 'Rebus' novels. Last year the case was the subject of a play by Mark MacNicol, 3,000 Trees. But the death of Scots lawyer Willie McRae, on April 6, 1985, was real, and so far as many people are concerned, remains a mystery to be investigated.
At a time when some newspapers and political opponents seem intent on character assassination of Scottish National Party leaders, campaigners are suggesting that McRae, a prominent SNP activist, might literally have been assassinated.
The lawyer had left Glasgow the evening before, to drive to his holiday home in Dornie, a former fishing village on the coast of Wester Ross, in the Highlands. He was found badly injured in his crashed car next morning. The car was straddling a burn on the moor a short distance from the A887 and A87 road junction, near Glenmoriston.
He was taken to hospital, where medical staff found a gunshot wound behind his right ear. Police later recovered a weapon near where the car had been found, and McRae's death was officially ruled to have been suicide.
But thirty years later, an online petition has been launched, urging Scotland's Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland to call a Fatal Accident Inquiry into Willie McRae's death. Roughly equivalent to an Inquest in England, Fatal Accident Inquiries are normally held only if the fatality occurred at work, or if there are suspicious circumstances.
Unlike a coroner's inquest, a Fatal Accident Inquiry is not held with a jury.
Many people suspect that Willie Mcrae was not only murdered, but murdered with the involvement of state security services.
"There are many who claim William was killed by 'them' - the same 'them' that killed Hilda Murrell", Michael Strathan, friend of William McRae, quoted in the News on Sunday, 5th November 1987.
Hilda Murrell, whose body was found outside her home town of Shrewsbury, had been the target of surveillance by both private and state agencies, because of her opposition to nuclear power but also because it was thought her nephew, serving in the Royal Navy, might have asked her to hide material about the sinking of the Admiral Belgrano during the Falklands war.
Willie McRae was an unusual character, a wartime naval officer and aide de camp to Moutbatten, he helped draft israel's maritime law and became professor emeritus at the University of Haifa. Yet beside his open political campaigning with the SNP. serving for a time as vice chairman of the Party, there are stories of his having links to clandestine nationalist groups preparing armed struggle. McRae's old partner insists the only contacts the lawyer had with such people was in his professional capacity.
Supplying fashionable topicality, the Scottish Sunday Express ran a story in December claiming McRae had gathered information about a paedophile ring among the judiciary.
What is known is that like Hilda Murrell, McRae upset the nuclear industry, in his case organising a campaign to stop them dumping radio-active waste from Dounreay in the Galloway hills. And he was under secret state surveillance. Former police officer Donald Morrison has confirmed that he was watching McRae and says the Special Branch followed the lawyer when he left home that final evening.
Mark MacNicol, who last year produced the play 3000 Trees about the McRae case, says the aim of the petition is to show there is serious public concern about the death of McRae, sufficient to justify a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI).
"It is unrealistic for us to expect an FAI would actually find out who killed Willie McRae," he said: "But a satisfactory result would be that an FAI overturns the suicide verdict and replaces it with a verdict of unlawful death."
The petition, launched on campaigning website 38degrees.org.uk, states there are sufficient questions to warrant a "long overdue FAI" into McRae's death.
MacNicol said there are number of serious allegations that require thorough investigation, such as McRae being under "highly aggressive" surveillance by Special Branch, which has led to an inquiry being "avoided by multiple Lord Advocates since 1985".
The petition also outlines concerns which have been raised about other aspects of the case, such as the gun with which McRae was said to have shot himself being found a distance away from his vehicle, according to one of the first witnesses on the scene. It is also said McRae left Glasgow with briefcases which were missing from the car when he was found.
Over 6,500 signatures have been gathered for the petition so far. The campaign group will investigate other action - such as judicial review - if it is rejected by the Lord Advocate.
A Crown Office spokesman said: "Crown Counsel are satisfied with the extensive investigations into the death of William McRae and have instructed that an FAI will not be held into the circumstances of Mr McRae's death."
But whatever the authorities decide, it looks as though poor Willie Mcrae is back to haunt the Highlands - and the British secret state.