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A Death in Wester Ross: Willie MacRae’s flat tyre

“You don’t trust the political establishment in Scotland or in London, and that’s lesson number one.” Willie MacRae after the Mullwarcher Inquiry, 1980willie macraeI spent years studying the life and death of David Kelly before I concluded, on the balance of probalities, that the scientist did commit suicide. There are many legitimate complaints that can be made about the way his disappearance and death were handled by the state, but I do not think these undermine the murder/suicide fundamentals. The deep state has covered up murder in this country, however. With that in mind, this hogmany led me to reflect on the fate of Willie MacRae.

The mysterious death, in April 1985, of SNP vice chair and prominent anti-nuclear activist Willie MacRae continues to provoke astonishment. His Wikipedia bio provides a brief description of the man as politician, and as corpse. In short: he was found unconscious in his smashed car in a burn thirty yards from the A87, a couple of miles upstream from Loch Cluanie, by an Australian tourist named Alan Crowe [sic], who reportedly turned out to be a pilot in the RAAF. Only when MacRae arrived at Aberdeen Infirmary (having transferred from Raigmore in Inverness) did a nurse disclose he had been shot in the head. He died that night. A pistol was subsequently or retrospectively discovered in the burn by police, after the car had been removed. Suffice to say none of the civilian eyewitnesses present at the crash site saw one there.

Willie Macrae's antique pistol. Apparently.

Willie MacRae’s antique pistol. Apparently.

The coroner ruled it a suicide: MacRae had got drunk, crashed, and killed himself with it. MacRae held no firearms certificates, but the other partner in his law firm, one Ronald Curren Kerr Welsh, told police “he was aware that MacRae possessed a small calibre revolver, and indeed the gun found at the crash site was a knackered .22 Smith and Wesson. Two shots had been fired. Welsh also told police he was so worried about MacRae’s whereabouts that night that he rang every police station on MacRae’s route. If this is true, than as with Kelly, MacRae “disappeared” in his final hours. After talking to the police, Welsh disappeared himself. He has given one press interview in thirty years. Nobody knows where he is or what he’s doing. Google him. It’s like he doesn’t exist. He’s the Mai Pederson of the tale, and as with Mai Pederson, Welsh was plagued by allegations of financial irregularities.

Like Kelly, McRae had been alone for an undetermined number of hours prior to his discovery, and his movements leading up to his death are unknown (or undisclosed). Like Kelly, Macrae had obscured links to the world of intelligence, having Cold War connections to foreign communist movements. MacRae saw out World War Two as a young officer in the prestigious Seaforth Highlanders, and saw combat in Europe, but as the war ended the regiment was sent to the Far East, where under Louis Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command (SEAC) it was used to maintain Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia. Rather than go home in 1946, when Dutch troops relieved them, it appears MacRae transferred to the Royal Indian Navy. It was a strange decision. Most troops were eager to get home. They had wanted to defeat Hitler, not supress colonial subjects, and some SEAC units grew so disillusioned they mutinied: the RAF in India, the Parachute Regiment in Malaya, the crew of HMS Northway in Singapore. With Britain’s military presence in the region crumbling fast, rebellion spread to the colonial forces. The Royal Indian Navy was next. Back in Blighty the establishment press blamed Soviet infiltrators. Russophobic scapegoating has long been habitual to our civil service, but these reports may have rested on a kernel of truth.

In either case, MacRae’s wartime experience meant he must have been either a subversive red or an imperial authoritarian, a confusing choice of opposites which is characteristic of many agents from that era. After his death there were reports that MacRae also served in military intelligence, but I can’t see how these were sourced. Nevertheless I am tantalised by the possiblity that during this period MacRae became an agent for one side or the other. In either case he would have remained a compromised indiviudal for the rest of his life. I feel I should further add at this point that MacRae was also, reportedly, homosexual. Naturally this only emerged after his death.

Like Kelly, MacRae’s body was found outdoors, in a remote spot. As with Kelly, the site was interfered with by parties unknown. Like Kelly, MacRae was involved in very public government inquiries (or committee hearings). Like Kelly, the feelings of his bereaved family were, cynically, invoked by the state as a reason not to embark on a more serious investigation. Like Kelly’s, that family has remained silent. As with Kelly, state actors were briefing against MacRae subsequent to his death: he was troubled, he was alcoholic, he was homosexual, he was heartbroken, he had a string of drink driving offences and was worried about facing imprisonment for a further charge (hence his abrupt, drunken crash, and subsequent suicide in the driving seat – although MacRae’s blood was never tested for alcohol or drugs, and his driving record has never been publicly substantiated or officially disclosed).

Look, for example, at the letter the young Lord Advocate Baron Fraser of Carmyllie wrote to fellow Tory Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the Solicitor General for Scotland. He wrote that “the irresistable inference to be drawn from all the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic death is that MacRae took his own life. This inference draws yet further support from the conversation Mr McRae [sic] had with his brother and another friend [note that Ronnie Welsh’s name is not disclosed] indicating firm suicidal intentions following a number of personal incidents which troubled him deeply… McRae’s death was neither suspicious nor unexplained… if an inquiry had been instructed… law officers might well have been criticised for using an inquiry only to cause embarassment to the SNP. All that an inquiry would have revealed would have been deeply unhappy personal details of a very unhappy member of that Party. I trust I have reassured you there is no mystery about his death. It was a sad and unhappy end for Mr McRae. It is now time to respect the wishes of his family and leave his memory in peace.”

Suffice to say Fraser hadn’t talked to Fergus MacRae, or Ronnie Welsh. Fraser was simply repeating, probably in good faith, what he had been told by the police, specifically Special Branch, who had actually been monitoring Willie MacRae at some length. Indeed, we now know that many of the people who walked in and out of his office were paid-up Security Service/Int Corps stooges, like Adam Busby.adambusby

Perhaps most coincidentally of all, purely from my personal point of view, is that at the time of MacRae’s death, Kelly was working a few miles down the road. He was busy decontaminating Gruinard Island, where the Army had tested wartime anthrax bombs. Let’s be clear about this: that part of Scotland, during the Cold War era, was pure spook country. You had the submarine bases at Faslane and Coulport and Rosyth. There was a NATO muntions store at Glen Douglas, and other armament depots at Beith and Crombie. Much nearer still you had Gruinard, and the Z-Berth at Loch Ewe, which was a deep sea dock for submarines, which means they can stay underwater until the very last moment. It isn’t on any map. It’s marked only by a single buoy. BUTEC, over the water at Applecross, was where they monitoried submarines’ accoustic signatures. That’s some pretty secretive stuff.

Spies roamed the countryside. Whenever subs launched there were foreigners taking photos from the waters’ edge. The men in trenchcoats were something of a standing joke. I have it on personal authority that for many years the Post Office in Aultbea, the tiny village on Loch Ewe, stocked the Soviet newspaper Pravda. Initially I thought this may have had something to do with the fact the Murmansk convoys left from Loch Ewe during the Second World War (my great uncle sailed on them). I realise now it was simply a gag. Whatever the reason, MacRae died in the midst of all this. His anti-nuclear campaigning, his Scottish nationalism, his wartime record, this all put him very firmly on that radar. Like Kelly in his final weeks, he was followed on and off by the Security Service.

A number of documents were quietly released by the Northern Police in April 2013 thanks to a Freedom of Information request by Andy Muirhead. These reveal a few interesting details. The pistol MacRae is alleged to have owned, and shot himself with, turns out to be a Smith and Wesson Model 1, of the first or second run. That means it was at least 117 years old. It would be interesting to know where that came from. According to the police, there was a box of ammuntion in the car, and MacRae had fully loaded the gun. It had fired two shots. One entered MacRae’s right temple. What happened to the other bullet is not recorded.

Even more exotic were the Bank of China foreign exchange notes found in his possession. They only amounted to what would then have been about eighty quid, but these yuans were not commonly seen in the UK in 1985. Where did they come from? Why did MacRae have them? Was he being paid off, or paying someone off?

Photos of the “wreckage” bothers me slightly. The car doesn’t appear wrecked at all. It may have rolled, because there appears to be mud on the roof. It also lost both wing mirrors and the entire rear window, including the seal. There’s impact damage to the front, yet it went off a straight, kerbless road onto a descending incline. I don’t feel qualified to make a judgement, but I wish the police had recovered all the car parts, to ensure the car had not been involved in an accident elsewhere earlier that evening. It doesn’t look like they bothered.

The crash site.

The crash site.

What the police documents do not reveal (or disprove) are the claims that MacRae had changed a tyre that night. During that evening one of his tyres burst, or was slashed, and was changed for a spare. As far as I can see, these rumours have persisted for years. I don’t know where they originate, and would like to, because I think they could be important. Here’s why. There was a retired SIS agent living in Inverness called Stephen Kock (he was involved in arming Iraq during the eighties, questions were later asked about him in Parliament, he’s in Hansard).

Stephen Kock before a Defence Select Committee.

Stephen Kock before a Defence Select Committee.

In 1990 he appeared in Oban Sheriff’s Court because on another remote road west of Glasgow, one very like the one MacRae travelled, he had approached two men changing the tyre on their van. He then produced a pistol and fired off a couple of warning shots, telling them “I am a soldier, you know.” He was fined £650.

Changing your tyre in that part of Scotland looks like an element of tradecraft to me. Need to justify waiting on a deserted road without arousing suspicion? Need a clear visual signal to rendezvous with unknown party? Jack up your car.

Who MacRae met when he changed his tyre (if he changed his tyre) is unknown. I’m pretty sure it would be instructive.

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  1. Hi Robert

    Ah! Willie Macrae! Interesting!!

    I’m in middle of long series of posts on Macrae’s death. You’ll find them here .

    Currently I’m looking in depth at the released documents before I cast my eye over all the newspaper reports.

    Want to get in touch? calumcarrATgmailDOTcom