A CATALOGUE of bungling by authorities at all levels may have helped

maintain a huge cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the death of

the prominent Scottish Nationalist, Mr Willie McRae.

The Herald can also reveal that:

* the young policeman who was the first officer on the scene has

confirmed he discovered the gun which killed Mr McRae yards from where

the body was found 24 hours earlier, despite official claims that he

committed suicide.

* witnesses confirmed vital evidence was removed from the scene of the

incident before a police investigation took place.

* Mr McRae was probably carrying secret documents which threatened the

success of a nuclear inquiry at the time of his death.

* the procurator-fiscal who examined his case has been told not to

talk about it to anyone.

The procurator-fiscal says he is bound by the Official Secrets Act.

Close friends of Mr McRae claim he was carrying secret documents

relating to the nuclear industry when he died mysteriously on a bleak

Highland road 10 years ago next week, and may have been the victim of

Government secret services.

Mr McRae, 61, a lawyer and leading figure in the SNP set off from

Glasgow on Friday, April 5, 1985, to spend the weekend at his cottage in


At 10am the next day he was found in his crashed Volvo by an

Australian tourist about 35 yards off the A87 near Loch Loyne.

The car was upright across a small burn and believed to have been

there since midnight.

The Australian waved down a car in which Dundee SNP councillor, Mr

David Coutts, was travelling to Skye with his wife Alison and two


Mr Coutts, who recognised Mr McRae, summoned an ambulance and the

police. He also discovered that Mr McRae's cheque cards and papers were

some way from the car, the papers meticulously torn up.

PC Kenny Crawford, a young constable on relief duty from Inverness,

quickly gathered personal items from the scene of the crash and placed

them in a holdall.

Mr Coutts told The Herald last night it seemed to him that the young

policeman was keen to get off the hillside quickly. ''He didn't even ask

for my name, but just bundled everything up,'' he said.

Mr Crawford has now talked freely about the incident for the first


The injured Mr McRae was taken first to Raigmore Hospital Inverness

and later to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where he died at 3am on Sunday.

However, it was only when a nurse washed his head on his arrival at

Aberdeen that a gunshot wound in his right temple was discovered and the

police informed.

Officers from the Northern Constabulary revisited the scene of the

crash, but by then it was impossible to conduct the level of rigorous,

on-site investigation which might have produced crucial answers.

During the search PC Crawford found a Smith and Wesson .22 pistol

beyond where the car was found. It had been fired twice.

Mr Crawford, who has now left the force and is living in Inverness,

told The Herald that the gun was ''some yards'' downstream but he

believed it had been knocked from a ledge in the car when they had

retrieved Mr McCrae's body.

He also believes the gun had fallen into a small waterfall and the

fast running burn had transported the weapon from the site of the


However, Mr Coutts says that while removing Mr McCrae's body from the

car, PC Crawford's cap had fallen into the burn. He said he bent down

and retrieved it yet saw no sign of a gun.

The evidence contradicts statements made by former Solicitor-General

Peter Fraser that the gun was found directly under the door of the car.

The case was closed formally by Mr Thomas Aitchison, the

procurator-fiscal in Inverness, who decided the death was not

suspicious. Mr Fraser made the personal decision not to order a Fatal

Accident Inquiry into the death.

Last night Mr Aitchison said the case came under the Official Secrets

Act and he had been reminded at his retirement four years ago that he

was still bound by the Act.

''I was told not to talk about this case to anyone,'' he added.

A Crown Office spokesman told The Herald that all fiscals sign the

Official Secrets Act ''as a matter of course'' and there was nothing

suspicious in Mr Aitchison's comments.

Some aspects of Mr McRae's lifestyle have been used by the Crown over

the years to indicate he was potentially suicidal.

Yet on Friday April 5, 1985 he showed little sign of being a man about

to take his own life. His diary was full and he remarked to a number of

people that he was close to completing some important project. ''I've

got them, I've got them!'' he told friends excitedly, but expressed

fears that Special Branch was closing in on him.

They now say they believe he was carrying secret documents relating to

Dounreay at the time of his death.

Mr McRae had won a notable victory against the UK Atomic Energy

Authority in 1980 when he presented the principal legal opposition to

plans to dump nuclear waste in the Mullwharcher hills, Ayrshire.

He was planning to repeat the performance at the inquiry to reprocess

nuclear waste at Dounreay: his legal firm was named on the list of


Last night a colleague of Mr McRae claimed that on the night of his

death he was carrying vital and confidential reports which showed

glaring holes in Dounreay's health and safety record.

The Herald was shown copies of these reports, which reveal problems

with various parts of the nuclear facility including areas of weakness

in Highly Active Analytical Cells and the discovery of a radiation field

from gamma particles hidden within a reprocessing plant.

Mr Peter Roche is a former activist for the Scottish Campaign to

Resist the Atomic Menace (Scram) who now works for Greenpeace. He said

it had been long-believed that Dounreay was being used as an unlicensed

emergency store for high quality plutonium, and Mr McRae may also have

had evidence of this.

In either case he was seen as a liability to Britain's controversial

nuclear industry.

A copy of the Mullwharcher report he is also said to have been

carrying was nowhere to be found after the incident. His other copy went

missing after a break-in and fire three years earlier at the Edinburgh

headquarters of Scram.

A year before his death, an elderly rose-grower and nuclear protester,

Hilda Murrell, was found murdered after important files had been stolen

from her home in Shrewsbury.

Mr McRae's home had often been broken into, he believed by British

secret services.

Mr John Conway, a retired police officer with the Northern

Constabulary has said: ''Because of who and what he was, William McRae

for years had been a 'known person' not only to the security service

MI5, but also to Special Branch officers of Strathclyde police and the

Northern Constabulary.''

Last night Mr Coutts added: ''Until the powers that be can prove

Willie's death was a suicide I am convinced there has been a massive


''I hope that as a result of The Herald's article we now get the

inquiry we have waited 10 years for.''

Mr Michael Strathern, a co-founder of the Willie McRae Society, said:

''It was only in 1990 that Peter Fraser said the gun had dropped from

the car. Earlier he said it was 'a mystery' how the gun was found so far

from the vehicle.''

A spokesman for the Celtic League said the new evidence had made the

case for an open inquiry into Willie McCrae's death ''irresistible''.

''He was certainly the most knowledgeable and capable anti-nuclear

campaigner in Scotland and had been a thorn in the flesh of the British

State for many years.''

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* John Macleod -- Page 7