Petition calls for SNP activist death inquiry

SNP activist Willie McRae was found badly injured in 1985
Image caption SNP activist Willie McRae was found badly injured in 1985

Scotland's lord advocate is facing demands to launch an investigation into the death of the prominent SNP activist Willie McRae 30 years ago.

Mr McRae's death was officially recorded as suicide after a gunshot wound was found behind his right ear.

A petition, signed by 12,000 people, is calling for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) amid long-running suspicions of a cover-up.

The Crown Office said an FAI would not be held in to Mr McRae's death.

A 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."

Mr McRae was found badly injured in his crashed car on the A87 near Kintail in Wester Ross in April 1985.

He later died in hospital, where medical staff found a gunshot wound to his head.

It was initially believed Mr McRae, who was 61, had been involved in an accident but the discovery of the gunshot wound meant his death was officially recorded as suicide.

The petition will be handed over to the Crown Office later this week.

Crash scene

For a long time one unanswered aspect of the case was why Mr McRae's gun was found some distance from his car, not next to it.

However, fresh evidence from police reports shows Mr McRae's Volvo was removed from the crash scene before the gunshot wound was discovered.

It was then returned to the site after police realised they were not dealing with a traffic incident.

When the car was returned it was placed close to the original site, but not in the precise spot.

Writer Mark MacNicol, a spokesman for the campaign, produced a stage play on the case for the Edinburgh Fringe last year.

He told BBC Scotland: "When I started to do my own research into the circumstances surrounding the supposed suicide it became evident to me that, in my opinion, it was not a suicide."

Ballistic reports

Mr MacNicol said a police officer who was on duty at the time had spoken about Mr McRae being followed by Special Branch officers "the day before he was found with a bullet in his head".

"The circumstances leading up to his death are highly suspicious to say the least," Mr MacNicol said.

"Then after the death the fact that the car was taken away and then moved back by police, the gun was so far away from the car, fabricated witness statements, the fact that the official suicide verdict came out prior to publication of the ballistics reports, so they had no way of knowing that gun was actually used in the suicide."

Mr MacNicol admitted the new evidence that the police moved the car in error might explain why the gun was found so far away.

He said: "It might but we don't know because for 30 years there has been this huge resistance from the Crown Office to actually to do the very straight-forward thing which is to have a fatal accident inquiry."

Mr MacNicol said there were many different theories about what had happened to Mr McRae.

He said: "All we are saying is that Willie McRae is due an inquiry.

"Willie McRae died while under highly-aggressive surveillance by Special Branch and the circumstances in the aftermath of his death are unsatisfactory so the petition hopefully demonstrates the serious public concern that is required for the lord advocate to approve the inquiry."

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