Where was the killing gun found?
What could be simpler?
Most things, apparently!
If you have been following this series you’ll know that I am working my way slowly (very), critically and logically through the documents released by the police and the Crown Office (COPFS). You’ll know too that I do so without bringing in opposing ideas. This is deliberate; not to exclude these other ideas and not to show the authorities’ views in a good light, but to keep matters simple. Were I to follow Article A saying X with article B saying Y and the police saying Z we’d never know where we were. We’d get lost in a fog.
Following my path I can display the evidence made public, tease it, pull it and question it and at the conclusion of this sequence all that official evidence will be in one place and all of it, or at least most of it, examined.
Then there will be time to look at those opposing ideas and those difficult questions but we will do this against the clear background of the police case, to the extent that they have revealed it.
But I move slightly from that approach today. So large is the apparent difference between what is reported and what has been released by the authorities that I highlight the difference.
It is crucial to see that difference!
Let’s start there.
SourcesFirearms Examination Request (between 7 and 10 April 1985);
Letter from the Lord Advocate to Nicholas Fairbairn (1990);
Letter from Northern Constabulary (I assume) to West Mercia Police(1993);
Annex A as released to Steven Semple
These are the only four official sources which refer to the position of the gun and later we’ll look at each in more detail. [Note: Page B of the synopsis mentions only that the gun was found.] All four offer a significant degree of specificity,
1 in small burn where the vehicle had come to rest 2 … recovered from a burn directly below where the driver’s door … had been. 3 … recovered in a shallow stream immediately below the position of the driver’s door … 4 was found in the burn beneath the small waterfall directly below where the driver’s door … had been.
I think it will be helpful to look at these descriptors against one of the police images. Hopefully the three versions below are self-explanatory.
Hopefully, you’ll see the track of the burn with the front driver’s side wheel on the low side of the burn; the two doors open against the bank of the lower side and with the boot on the high side.
In case this isn’t clear, I’ve marked where I believe the burn runs.
For position 1 the gun would have been found in the burn between the two blue arrows and for the other options between the two green arrows.
It’s worth stressing that all four official views have the gun found in the burn but within that part of the burn bounded by the front and back of the car.
Now that we know what the released documents say, let’s look at the views reported elsewhere.
Don’t worry! We’re coming back to the official view later.
…. and a very different view it is.
As though this wasn’t bad enough, there were reports that the police officer who found the car, the ‘busy’ pc Crawford says the gun was found yards from the car.
How can these different views be reconciled?
We know the gun was found in the burn but was it within that part bounded by the car (blue or green arrows in pic above) or was it ‘some distance’ / ‘20 yards’ from the car?
Why is this difference important?
The contention of many is that suicide is ruled out if the gun is not directly below the driver’s door? The impact of the shot would immediately end all motor function. Therefore, they claim Macrae could not have shot himself, whilst in the car, and put or thrown the gun twenty yards (say) nor could he have shot himself whilst twenty yards away, dropped or thrown the gun and then made his way back into his car.
This claim I will discuss in another post.
What is important today is to continue looking into the four official documents which mention the whereabouts of the gun. Therefore, I need to get back into this.
As is normal, I’m not going to look at the evidence presented in the media here. That will come later. Today is for the official view but we must examine it in the knowledge that there is a massive difference of view between the police / Crown office and the reporting media.
I’m still not ready to look at the actual words used. Instead, let’s consider the circumstances in which the gun was found.
Circumstances of Gun Find
We know the gun was found about 12.30pm on Sunday, 7 April 1985. [Part 7]
We know the car had been removed from the site and was in a Fort Augustus garage on Saturday, 6 April at 15.30. [Part 7]
Therefore, the car cannot have been on site when the gun was found UNLESS it was returned there.
If the car was returned, how certain could the police be, can can we be now, that the car was returned to exactly the same position as it originally occupied?
If the car was not returned how certain could the police be that the gun was found directly below where the driver’s door had been?
Because the site was treated initially as the site of a straightforward accident, there was no reason for Constable Crawford, or any other officer, to mark the exact position of the car and there is no evidence or suggestion that this was done.
We know the crash site was photographed and measured but we do not know when the photographs were taken. There was a maximum window of about 3h on the Saturday for the photographs to have been taken [My estimates in Part 8] but we don’t know if that was done.
Were the photographs available to the searchers on the Sunday? This would have allowed officers to compare the position of the gun with the photographed position of the car.
If not this, how then did police determine the exact position of the gun relative to the ‘missing’ car?
Did they mark the exact gun spot and, at a later time, compare the mark with the car photo?
Did they mark and photograph the exact spot and, at a later time, compare the gun mark with the car photo?
Did they have a different method?
And could they do this with an accuracy of a few feet or so (the width of the driver’s door) ….?
…. and with certainty?
I can imagine that being possible but ….. ?
Let’s think about the accuracy required to be certain (virtually) that a gun believed to have been found within the width of the driver’s door was in reality in that position.
Imagine that the police find that their method shows the gun to have been in the burn but at that point which was exactly the mid-point of the width of the door. For the gun actually to have been within the door’s width, the police method needs to be accurate to +/- half the width of the door.
For a ‘calculated’ position nearer to the edge of the door, the accuracy needs to be even better.
Now the driver’s door on my car, a medium 4 door hatch, is 42 inches wide. Let’s assume that the Volvo door is wider by 6 inches (say). [I asked the following question on a Volvo owners forum, ‘What is the maximum external width of the driver’s door in a Volvo 244 DL 4-door salon?’ So far I have had no reply.]
Using that assumption the ‘calculated’ position of the gun has to be correct to an accuracy of +/- 2 feet or better depending on the calculated position.
Is that possible?
I don’t know but, if there was a clear ground feature then, it could be possible. A complicating factor might be the angle at which the police photo is taken. Did the police use photo 9 (see above)? If not, which pic, if any, did they use?
A view taken at 900 to the side of the car would offer the best option for detection.
Still I’m confused, more confused than I was when I started.
Still we don’t know how the police determined that the position of the gun was within that part of the burn where the driver’s door of the now moved car had been.
I can’t accept that this was the case simply because their documents say so: none of the released source is contemporaneous.
Nor can I accept that they were wrong simply because I don’t have the comfort that they were correct.
I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t reconcile the two very different views: gun in burn within boundaries of driver’s door and the gun some distance further away.
But reconciliation is possible IF one accepts the conspiracy theory.
We’re going to look at the four official documents in detail to see if we believe they support conspiracy.
Let’s look again at the four official documents
The conspiracy claim was made against the second top example by David Leslie, a former crime reporter, who is named as the author of a book on the Scottish National Liberation Army. I have read that the book was actually written by Adam Busby, a convicted terrorist who is currently appealing his extradition from Ireland to Scotland, who appended Leslie’s name. I assume this was done to either aid publication or to give the book more ‘weight’.
Busby claims that the sentence,
‘The revolver was recovered by police on 7April 1985 from a burn directly below where the driver’s door had been.’is ambiguous. He says it can mean both
that the gun was found in the burn and at a point in the burn below where the driver’s door had beenand
the gun was found in an unspecified part of the burn; the burn which flowed directly below where the driver’s door had been.Essentially he is saying that the last 8 words can describe the gun or the burn.
You may feel moved to dismiss this as fanciful but I saw the same ambiguity before I had read Busby’s claim. As far as I am concerned the ambiguity is real.
But is it deliberate?
And what would be gained by doing so?
You have to make a few assumptions: that Macrae was murdered; the gun was found some distance from the car; that fact cannot be admitted; a claim of suicide must be supported. For many readers, this may be 4 assumptions too many but please go with it.
The authorities don’t want to tell an outright lie – they want deniability – and so they support suicide by claiming apparently that the gun was found below where the driver’s door was whilst at the same time having the option later, if needed, of using the alternate meaning.
As I write this, it’s plausibility recedes but I cannot deny that I saw this possible ‘play’ and my openness demands that I review each of the four documents with this ambiguity in mind.
There are four official documents which refer to where the gun was found:
- Firearms Examination Request (between 7 and 10 April 1985)
- letter from the Lord Advocate to Nicholas Fairbairn (1990)
- letter from Northern Constabulary (I assume) to West Mercia Police(1993)
- Annex A as released to Steven Semple
Firearms Examination Report
Because this is a request for an examination I would expect the information to be correct, hopefully, but basic because the exact details are less likely to be crucial to those officers carrying out the study. For the same reasons I would be less concerned if there were a discrepancy between this document and the others released. Now with that in mind let’s start.
Only the few highlighted words are relevant here.
Volvo 244 Saloon discovered …. off the road about 60 yards down the embankment.
Search of locus on 7.4.85 revealed revolver in small burn where vehicle had come to rest,
The first section is interesting because, if correct, it would put the car 30 yards further from the road than the police have stated elsewhere. I didn’t pick up on this before. In fact, I hadn’t picked this up until after I made the comment a few lines up about being less concerned if there were a discrepancy between information here and that released elsewhere. Well, now I’ve got a discrepancy and I just can’t ignore it.
But I’m not going to deal with it here. I’ll lose focus. I’ll write a separate post about this difference and its potential implications once I’ve finished with the gun, which might take two more posts. My gut tells me this is a trivial error …. but I can’t leave it. I would need to give up if I were to ignore this. I can’t ignore a difference because my gut says ‘trivial’.
Right, now. Back to where the gun was found.
Search of locus on 7.4.85 revealed revolver in small burn where vehicle had come to rest,The obvious meaning to me here is that the gun was found in that part of the burn where the car came to rest.
Were I asked to convey that meaning I’d probably write with the same construction we see in the document.
But yet I see the alternative.
The difficulty we have is that, ‘where the vehicle had come to rest ‘ is a descriptive clause but we don’t know if it describes the burn or the revolver.
If it describes the burn, then the revolver was found somewhere in the burn, the burn where the car had come to rest.
If it describes the revolver, then the revolver was found where the car had come to rest and also in the burn.
I find I can’t know what the words mean. I’m left none the wiser to the exact position of the car. The grammar study has left me where I was; confused?
What happens though if I use common sense instead? Do I get any further?
We need to remember who wrote these words and the reason for writing. One police officer was writing to another requesting a forensic examination of the gun and he is giving an outline of the relevant information. The officer is not writing a detailed report covering every aspect of the case. It’s a straightforward request.
I know if I had made an equivalent request at work I’d quickly write out the basic information I believed would help the examiners. I wouldn’t check for grammatical accuracy or whether my words could be misinterpreted.
I am sure that if someone looked through my blog they would find many examples where I had written ungrammatically in a way which made my words ambiguous. I don’t write to be deliberately ambiguous but I know what I mean when I write and when I re-read my words I find that same meaning. I think all who write will fall down in exactly the same way.
Remember too that this officer wasn’t expecting his words to be seen by the public and so there’s less reason for him to be particularly careful in his use of English.
Are we to believe that this officer deliberately wrote ambiguously to create the impression that the gun was found in a position which would support a suicide call?
My view – note what follows is my view only: I do not state it as a fact. I see the ambiguity in this particular document as being accidental. I may be wrong which is why I have couched this in ‘my view only’ terms.
Finally, for this first document, there is nothing in the words written which can reveal the correct meaning and so we must rest with the two possibilities.
I’m left with the normal meaning: found within that part of the burn where the car had come to rest.
But I can’t rule out the other.
If one were describing this situation knowing that the description was being made public then I would hold that person to a higher standard of accuracy in language.
Now we move on to a document which was written to be made public and so I hold the writer to a higher standard.
Letter from the Lord Advocate to Nicholas Fairbairn MP
Before we look at the relevant part of the letter I should mention who was the Lord Advocate in 1990. Wikipedia says this,
Peter Lovat Fraser, Baron Fraser of Carmyllie, PC, QC (29 May 1945 – 22 June 2013) was a Scottish politician and advocateWe see that Peter Fraser was Solicitor General when Macrae died in 1985 and so is likely to have been familiar with the case before Nicholas Fairbairn wrote to him a few days earlier.
Fraser was elected as a Conservative & Unionist Member of Parliament for South Angus in 1979, where he remained in the House of Commons until June 1987 (from 1983 representing East Angus). He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland. In 1982 he was appointed Solicitor General for Scotland by Margaret Thatcher and became Lord Advocate in 1989, when he was made a life peer as Baron Fraser of Carmyllie, of Carmyllie in the District of Angus and a member of the Privy Council. [Source]
Perhaps I’m being cynical by saying that Peter Fraser has two things going against him (in terms of our trusting him): he was a lawyer and a politician.
[The second page carries no more information about the car but you can read it here.]
This letter, dated 11 April 1990 was actually made public on Good Friday, 13 April, 1990. A good Friday to bury this?
The revolver was recovered by police on 7 April 1985 from a burn directly below where the driver’s door of his car had been.and
I wish to further emphasise the position of the gun when recovered. It was not found some distance from Mr Macrae’s car as has been reported.Let’s deal with the second part first: it’s easier and much shorter.
I’m frustrated by Fraser’s approach here. He says he wants ‘to emphasise further the position of the gun’ but he doesn’t do this. Rather he tells us where the gun was NOT: ‘It was not found some distance from Mr Macrae’s car as has been reported.’
It appears as though he is trying to debunk another’s statement that the gun was found some distance from the car but by addressing the issue in this way he does nothing to clarify the situation.
‘[S]ome distance from the car’ is itself vague and unclear!
If it wasn’t ‘some distance from the car’ was it some other distance from the car’?
What is ‘some distance’?
2 inches? 2 feet? 2 yards? 20 yards? 200 yards?
Fraser wasted the opportunity to be absolutely clear by rubbishing another claim.
But I must consider the possibility that Fraser thought that his first sentence was perfectly clear and so he could then address the ‘some distance’ claim directly.
Let’s look at his first sentence now,
The revolver was recovered by police on 7 April 1985 from a burn directly below where the driver’s door of his car had been.and we see the same situation we had earlier with the Firearms Report.
Is he saying that the gun was found in that part of the burn which was directly below where the driver’s door had been?
or does he mean that a burn ran directly under where the driver’s door had been and the gun was found somewhere in that burn without specifying which part?
As with the Firearms Request, the obvious meaning to me is the former but the latter is still there.
Again, if I use the common sense approach I get no clarity either.
I mentioned earlier that I would hold to a higher standard those who were writing for the public and Peter Fraser clearly was doing this and so I need to look more closely still.
Might Lord Fraser be giving the impression that the gun was found directly below where the driver’s door was whilst knowing it was found elsewhere? Might the confusing language be deliberate to allow him an escape route if ever he was challenged? Many think that lawyers and politicians are skilled at such deception.
This would be a massive charge to lay at a Law Officer’s door.
But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening here.
Where am I with Fraser’s words?
If the gun was found directly below where the driver’s door had been then his words are absolutely consistent with that.
If the gun was found elsewhere then, although that meaning can be taken from his words, I would charge that the ambiguity was deliberate. Lawyers are skilled in the use of words and I believe he said exactly what he meant to say.
But did he see the ambiguity?
Did he mean the ambiguity?
I do not know!
Does the confusion remain when we look at the third document
Letter from Northern Constabulary
This has exactly the same construction as the Lord Advocate’s letter. The writer seems to have used the Lord Advocate’s letter as his template and changed a few words but it does not seem like a new sentence.
Again, there is an obvious meaning: the same as before. But the possibility of ambiguity is there.
Finally, there is Annex A.
This is like the other 3 documents in that there is the same sentence construction and the same obvious meaning but with the same ambiguity within.
There is no need for me to expand on this example.
There is, however, a point of interest in this particular description. Here we get an additional descriptor,
‘revolver, was found in the burn beneath a small waterfall directly below where the driver’s door of the Volvo car had been. [Emphasis is mine]In late 2014 we are given the most detailed description of the gun’s location.
I am curious.
If there is no conspiracy then this can only have come from official records, hopefully contemporaneous records, but why would the Lord Advocate not have used this added description? Would this not have given more credibility to his statement?
Some might say that use of these extra words is ‘gilding the lily’; giving too much description and, therefore, makes one consider conspiracy.
Others might see this as being a genuine attempt to give the fullest information whilst still largely remaining within the constraints imposed on Annex A (that Annex contains information previously released). In a later post we’ll see that Annex A does reveal significant new information.
What is clear is that Police Scotland and/or the Crown office must release all official records which describe where the gun found. We must see the record which first uses the description, ‘beneath a small waterfall’.
Where was the gun found? Here is a major difference between MSM reports and official records: the papers saying ‘some distance from the car’ implying murder they say; the authorities saying found ‘where the driver’s door had been’ suggestive of suicide.
I ask how, when the car had been removed, were the police so confident that the gun was found where the driver’s door had been.
We saw that a normal interpretation of the four documents was that each described the gun as being found within that part of the burn bounded by the car’s front and rear. Three give an even more accurate description.
We saw too that each has another possible interpretation, one which I believe would be considered less likely in grammatical terms, but which nevertheless is present. In this interpretation the descriptive clause applies to the burn. It is the burn, and not the gun, which is described as directly below where the driver’s door had been. Other than the gun being found in this particular burn this interpretation gives no guidance as to where in the burn the gun was found.
If this other possible interpretation were actually correct then I would see this as a deliberate attempt by the authorities to mislead the public.
If this other possible interpretation were actually correct then the gun was NOT found in that part of the burn which was directly below where the driver’s door had been.
If this other possible interpretation were actually correct then the likelihood of Macrae’s death being suicide is diminished hugely (some/many might say that suicide would be ruled out).
Annex A has a more detailed description than released previously. Why?
What is clear is that Police Scotland and/or the Crown office must release all official records which describe where the gun found. We must see the record which first uses the description, ‘beneath a small waterfall’.
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