Book Preview: Alba: Who shot Willie McRae? (Ron Culley)

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In 1985, as he prepared to release information that could have brought down the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, solicitor and senior Scottish Nationalist politician Willie McRae was found in a remote highland glen.

He had been under surveillance by officers of the Special Branch who had followed him from Glasgow.

He had been shot in the head. Suicide or state-sponsored murder?

This fast-paced work of historical fiction explores a controversy which continues today.

See a summary on YouTube.



On 6 April 1985, lawyer and SNP activist Willie McRae was found injured in his car on his way to his cottage near Dornie. He had been shot above his right ear. The next day, his life-support machine was switched off. 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 in error, and was corrected by a witness who had been present at the scene. A weapon was found the next day 60 feet from the vehicle. It was a Smith & Wesson .45 calibre revolver which had been fired twice. The lack of fingerprints on it rendered a suicide not credible.

Home Office intervention restrained the police from making a full-scale investigation.

The Crown Office ruled out a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death.

Willie was under surveillance by the Security Services, and had been the subject of several burglaries.

Police Scotland started a review on 20 April 2015 – but missing forensic evidence such as McRae’s car and clothes made progress difficult, and they concluded that there were no suspicious circumstances.

A large number of questions remain:

  • Was Willie McRae killed because he was opposed to the dumping of nuclear waste?
  • Was he killed because he was closing in on paedophiles?
  • Who could shoot themselves twice?
  • Who wiped fingerprints from the gun?
  • Why was other key forensic evidence not gathered from the scene?
  • Why is vital evidence – including the gun that killed him – missing from police files?
  • Who could throw a gun 60ft after blowing their brains out?
  • Who would commit suicide after saying “I’ve got them!” and “put the heating on” as their last words?
  • Who tore up his personal papers and put his wrist-watch on top, 20 yards from his car?
  • Who removed his whisky and cigarettes? He had not been drinking.
  • Who took his papers on Dounreay nuclear waste dumping?
  • Who burgled his flat and took his backup copy?
  • Why did two breakdown companies both claim that they removed McRae’s car?
  • Who was first on the scene of this incident, have they been interviewed and why are there still discrepancies in the number, availability and content of statements?
  • Why did Scotland on Sunday announce in 2015 that the mystery had been solved?
  • Why is the autopsy report covered by the Official Secrets Act?
  • Why were Crown Office papers withheld?
  • Why are official government documents relating to McRae’s death not released by the National Archives under the ‘30-year rule’?
  • Why was there no Fatal Accident Inquiry?

There is a documentary on Willie’s death: parts 1 2 3. There is also a play, 3000 Trees.

One of his most famous lines was “The lairds maun go – the hale rick-ma-tick o’ them

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