| Willie McRae |
|Born||18 May 1923|
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland
|Died||7 April 1985 (Age 61)|
Cause of death
|Two gunshots to the head|
|Alma mater||University of Glasgow|
|Party||Scottish National Party|
Leading Scottish independence activist who died under mysterious circumstances. There has been speculation that he was investigating child sex abuse claims against politicians in Westminister.
Willie McRae was a Scottish lawyer, orator, naval officer, politician and anti-nuclear campaigner. In the Second World War he served in the British Army and then the Royal Indian Navy. He supported the Indian independence movement and for much of his life was active in the Scottish National Party (SNP).
McRae is remembered for his mysterious death, in which his car crashed in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands and he was found shot in the head with a revolver. The official verdict was undetermined.
In 2021, a former police officer made "a series of startling accusations against the powers that be, claiming special branch had well-known political activist Willie McRae under surveillance before his death, stole his keys to enter his property ... and also labels the mysterious death as a ‘state-sanctioned murder’"
There has been long-running claims that McRae was murdered. McRae was a leading independence activist and former vice-chair of the SNP. He was also a successful lawyer. There has been speculation that he was investigating allegations of child sex abuse claims against politicians in Westminister. McRae also campaigned against the nuclear industry. He was also a friend and wartime navy colleague of known UK/VIPaedophile Lord Mountbatten.
The investigation was headed by Chief Superintendent Andrew Lister of Northern Constabulary CID. Despite no weapon having yet been found, McRae's car was moved at 12:00 on 7 April. It later transpired that the police had kept no record of the precise location where the car had been found, and the position stated by them was later found to be 1 mile (1.6 km) in error, and was corrected by a witness who had been present at the scene.
A weapon was found the next day, in the burn over which the car had been discovered, 60 feet (18 m) from the vehicle. It was a Smith & Wesson .22 calibre revolver containing two spent cartridges and five remaining rounds.
Although it was ruled at the time by authorities that McRae's death was undetermined, aspects of the investigation remain disputed, some claiming that the distance from McRae's car at which the gun was found and the lack of fingerprints on it rendered a suicide not credible.
At the time of his death, McRae had been working to counter plans to dump nuclear waste from the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment into the sea. Due to his house being burgled on repeated occasions prior to his death, he had taken to carrying a copy of the documents relating to his Dounreay work with him at all times. They were not found following his death, and the sole other copy which was kept in his office was stolen when it was burgled, no other items being taken. Neither McRae's medical reports nor the post-mortem data have been released to the public and there was no fatal accident inquiry.
Winnie Ewing – then President of the SNP and herself an accomplished lawyer – was directed by the SNP's National Executive Committee (NEC) to conduct an internal investigation for the party to come to a conclusion as to whether Ewing "was satisfied or dissatisfied with the official version that he committed suicide". Having been refused access to police records of the investigation and rebuffed by both the Lord Advocate and the Procurator Fiscal in her attempts to conduct private, confidential meetings with them, Ewing, as she later wrote, came "up against a brick wall". Ewing reported to the SNP NEC that she was not satisfied with the official account of suicide: "I do not know what happened, but I think it is important that the truth emerges, despite the time that has passed. Why the State refuses to let the truth be known is a pertinent question."
In 1991 Channel 4 broadcast a "Scottish Eye" documentary investigating the mysterious circumstances of McRae's death. It found evidence to suggest that McRae had been under surveillance by UK intelligence services and that his death had likely involved foul play.
In 2005 Winnie Ewing's son Fergus, by then an MSP, requested a meeting with Elish Angiolini, Solicitor General for Scotland, to discuss allegations that have persisted that McRae was under surveillance at the time of his death. The request was rebuffed, with Angiolini claiming that he had not been under surveillance and that she was satisfied that a thorough investigation into the case had been carried out.
In July 2006 a retired police officer, Iain Fraser, who was working as a private investigator at the time of McRae's death, claimed that he had been anonymously employed to keep McRae under surveillance only weeks before he died. In November 2006 an episode of the Scottish Television show Unsolved examined the circumstances of McRae's death.
In November 2010 John Finnie, then SNP group leader on Highland Council and a former police officer, wrote to the Lord Advocate urging her to reinvestigate McRae's death and release any details so far withheld. Finnie's request was prompted by the release the previous month of further details concerning the death of David Kelly. In January 2011 the Crown Office requested the files on the case from Northern Constabulary.
Also in November 2010 Donald Morrison, a former Strathclyde Police officer, alleged that McRae had been "under surveillance" by both Special Branch and MI5. Morrison had collaborated with former colleague Iain Fraser to discover more about McRae's death. Morrison called for an enquiry into McRae's death and promised that he would give it a sworn affidavit that MI5 was involved.
In July 2014 two unconnected plays by George Gunn and Andy Paterson about McRae's life and death, both coincidentally titled 3,000 Trees, were staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. One of the plays explored his anti-nuclear campaigning, links with nationalist radicals and allegations that Special Branch and MI5 were surveilling him.
In November 2014 a Scottish Sunday Express front-page article alleged that McRae had uncovered evidence of the alleged paedophile ring in Westminster during the 1980s. The article suggests he may have been murdered and that the evidence he possessed was stolen at the time of his death.
In April 2015 there was a campaign to have a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) on McRae's death. It attracted 6,500 signatures in 5 days.
The petition eventually collected over 13,000 signatures and was handed in, in June 2015. The Crown Office rejected the proposal to hold a Fatal Accident Inquiry.
On the Easter weekend of April 2015, the 30th anniversary of McRae's death, Scotland on Sunday ran a story claiming that McRae's Volvo was moved back to the crash site by Northern Constabulary in an attempt to hide that the car had been moved before the bullet had been found – accounting for the discrepancies relating to the gun's distance from the car.
On the same day, one of the journalists involved started crowdfunding for a book on the case titled '30 Years of Silence'.
Following the rejection of the petition for a Fatal Accident Inquiry by the Crown Office, a "Justice For Willie" Campaign group was set up by Mark MacNicol. The campaign decided to launch their own investigation since no official inquiry was forthcoming. They hired two private investigators to re-interview original witnesses from the time of Willie McRae's death. The results were published in November 2016, and the campaign were unable to find any new evidence to undermine the official suicide verdict.
In October 2018, fresh doubt on the official verdict was raised again by a nurse who claims to have treated Willie McRae at Foresterhill Hospital in Aberdeen. Katharine Mcgonigal disputed that the bullet wound was to the right temple, as the post-mortem claimed, and said it was instead to the back of the neck.
- "Two-shots claim in McRae Death Riddle". Press and Journal. D. C. Thomson & Co. 31 March 1990.
- Ewing, Winnie (2004). Stop the world: the autobiography of Winnie Ewing. Edinburgh: Birlinn. p. 216. ISBN 1-84158-239-5.