On March 16, 1996, Dennis Haggart, then 12 years old, went to sleep in his bedroom at his mother's house in Larbert, Stirlingshire. A short time later his eldest brother, John, who was 17 at the time, was also asleep in the house while their mum, Janet, enjoyed an evening out at a birthday party. As a mother of three boys, she had grown unfamiliar with the protocol of socialising so her night out was a rare chance to enjoy herself. That night John had been given the responsibility of looking after both Dennis and Lawrence, the middle brother, who was 15, and enjoying a night out of his own. Larry, the boys' father, lived in Dunipace near Falkirk, after his separation from Janet some years earlier.

The calendar significance of the next day - St Patrick's - was not lost on Larry. As an avid Celtic supporter he would be celebrating St Paddy's with his fellow fans, watching his beloved team from the stands at Parkhead. Every time he visited the stadium he imagined Lawrence, at that time a Celtic S-form signing, who was also a Scotland Under-15 internationalist, playing for the first team. Lawrence, of course, wanted it so much it was almost unbearable. But Larry, an ex-Alloa footballer himself, understood the laws of luck when it came to the game, having had first-hand experience of chance and destiny when it came to deciding the fates of his own football ambition. He knew that the road ahead would be strewn with pitfalls. Still, as most decent fathers do, he never prevented his son from dreaming.

Lawrence, whose great uncle was the Celtic legend, Neilly Mochan, came from a family steeped in football. Those who knew him were sure he was destined for great things on the football field. Indeed, friends and family were busy preparing themselves for when the youngster would sign professional forms with the Parkhead giants, a date which was pencilled in for December the same year. March 16 was a Friday. As Lawrence was the kind of boy who never usually came home later than he had promised, he returned to the family house just after 10pm. After his night out at Ziggy's in Denny he sat, by himself, in the living room, lost in dreams of free-kicks and volleys.

Violence and terror often announce themselves early and so it was when, in the small hours of Saturday morning, a burst of smoke woke up John and he quickly went to wake Dennis. When the two brothers went downstairs and opened the living room door there was little that could have prepared them for what they were about to see. Lawrence, who three days earlier had been capped for Scotland in a schoolboy international against Belgium, had been battered unconscious and tortured. There were appalling, deliberate burns to his feet from a gas fire. Lawrence was lying dying on the living room floor, his feet on a pile of burning material on the carpet. It was a brutal and ferocious attack, completely unprovoked, upon a youngster in the confines of his own home. Having inflicted horrific and patently lethal injuries upon him, his attacker then set fire to him by setting alight the clothing upon which

his inert body lay.

John dragged his brother from the flames and doused them with a pail of water and went for help.

Lawrence's head injuries, later described by a forensic pathologist, were similar to that of a road accident victim who had gone through the windscreen of a car. He died the next day as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, which resulted in a massive skull fracture, extending to the right side of the face, and brain damage (a piece of concrete slab was the most likely cause). There were no defensive injuries on Lawrence and no sign that he had been involved in a fight. It was likely he was taken completely unaware by his assailant.

''You never come to terms with it,'' says Larry Haggart. ''You know what's happened to your boy, physically it makes you sick, so you can never really deal with it. It's with you every day. I look at the other boys now and worry about them. I look at all the young lads playing for Celtic and wonder if it might have been Lawrence. It's a terrible pain, a raw pain. But you have to get on with it.''

St Patrick's Day appeared and disappeared in a fog of soiled green. Since then the colours, the celebrations, the day itself, so inextricably linked to the national rivalries between Celtic and Rangers, became a signpost of his own grief. But the inquests of football glories and failures paled when compared to the messy poring over of family business which sought to provide clues to the identity of a killer. And for Larry, analysing exactly what has happened to him and his family over the previous five years is an altogether more troubling, atavistic horror.

There has, of course, been no end to the pain, nor lowering of the careful shield erected around them. Such a conclusion has not been possible. Even Larry's sister, Helen, whose birthday coincides with the tragic anniversary, is haunted every time the day comes around. Separated from her husband three years before the murder, Janet Haggart never returned to the family house, and soon moved with her two sons, John and Dennis, to live in Cowdenbeath, Fife. She still refuses to talk about the incident, preferring Larry (depite their separation) to speak on her behalf.

''Janet feels guilty about not being there. It was one of those things, it could have happened to anybody.''

As if to compound their suffering, what has made the last five years so difficult is that the family has had to go through the nightmare of hearing that Dennis was a suspect in the case. The police, complicit by their bungling and ineptitude, cast doubt on his innocence, to such an extent that they actively lobbied Larry to encourage his son to admit to his alleged crime. For the first year of the investigation, Dennis was treated as the chief suspect, and their lives were suddenly blown further apart. When the Haggarts began to recover from the shock they asked questions, although few of them were answered satisfactorily.

Within 24 hours of the attack a known paedophile, Brian Beattie, then 33, was questioned and then released by police without checking an uncorroborated alibi. His presence in the area should have set alarm bells ringing but it did not. Instead, Dennis suffered the humiliation of being suspected of killing his brother. All this because Central Scotland Police, who were investigating the crime, believed he was motivated by jealousy - that Lawrence's success on the football field may have compelled Dennis to murder him.

Beattie had a string of convictions for horrific attacks on young males including, in 1984, a sentence of seven years for breaking into premises and arson. He had been convicted twice previously by the High Court in Edinburgh, on the latter occasion sentenced to five years for crimes which included assault and abduction.

In that case, the 16-year-old victim woke at 3am to find Beattie, who had been released from jail four days earlier, standing over his bed. He covered the boy's face with a blanket and, after warning him that he had a knife, tied his shirt and wrists with a shirt and a wire. The half-dressed boy was forced from his home with a T-shirt over his head, but Beattie fled after his victim managed to pull the shirt off and saw his attacker.

It took almost two years after the incident for Beattie to be convicted of the crime. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Yet this was only possible after the initial investigation was discredited and a new investigating officer was brought in. Gradually, the details of how the police tried to build a case against Dennis emerged.

Larry claimed that a senior CID officer told him the police had evidence that his son was guilty, and twice insisted he ask him to confess. But no evidence was ever produced and no prosecution case brought against Dennis.

Superintendent Jim Winning, who was in charge of the original discredited inquiry, was relieved of his leadership when Detective Superintendent Joe Holden took over 18 months after the murder. Holden immediately moved the focus of the investigation away from Dennis and back to Beattie. Within a week, he brought in renowned English criminal psychologist Adrian West to interview the two brothers. West concluded that there was no way they had murdered their football starlet brother. Holden then set out on the trail of Beattie, which led to his conviction. But even when Beattie was brought to trial Dennis was again accused of murdering his brother when Beattie's lawyers led to an unsuccessful defence of incrimination, naming Dennis as the killer, based on the police's initial investigation.

When I meet Larry at his home in Dunipace we talk briefly of sport. It is late in the evening and a difficult time to talk about death. The day has slowed down into night and the sound in the house is of quiet repose. The subject of violence seems extraneous, but it hangs there, motionless, ready to exalt itself in our presence. It is now five years later and Larry still doesn't really understand why his son was murdered or why his other son was accused of taking his life. Yet he remembers the events easily, as if he was skating over the ice of his own memory, all the while being unable to fully comprehend their impact.

''I got a phone call, about three o'clock on Saturday morning. I was told he had been in an accident. I went

to the hospital. Even when I got there no-one really knew what had happened.''

Recounting the events of the death of his son, Larry, who is 39, is sitting on the edge of a large, comfortable sofa in the house he shares with his partner, Nicola. Beside him, images of Lawrence being presented with his first cap for Scotland; above the television another photograph of the young man, in a shirt and tie, looking energetic and confident. Little has changed for Larry since that night except, perhaps, that he drinks more (vodka is his tipple of choice) for no other reason than to dull the senses. ''My mother says you'll never find the answers in there but it's just something that calms me down a bit, makes me relax. It's a distraction in a way. Stops me from focusing. I'm not a morbid person but I can get moody and I know why. Building up to the anniversary is difficult. Even watching Celtic poses its own problems, because I'm always thinking of Lawrence.''

On the surface he seems to be coping fine but watching a grown man suffer with his emotions is an alarming business. In the past he was always a happy-go-lucky guy, very sociable, but now rarely ventures out. He's much more withdrawn and suspicious of other people. Sometimes, when he comes into the room and looks at the pictures it suddenly just hits him - and he can see it all over again.

''It wouldn't do to dwell on what I would do if I saw him,'' he says, referring to Beattie, ''but it wouldn't be pleasant.'' Larry, who is a painter and decorator, is still involved in football, assisting with the coaching of Livingstone FC's youth team. It's something, he admits, which keeps him sane. ''I couldn't not do it.'' His eyes, heavy and glazed, are barely readable, except for the glint that reminds you they are a carbon copy of his son's. Larry and Lawrence. Like father, like son. He is not seeking sympathy, neither is he inviting me to understand what he is feeling. He just wants to talk about it, perhaps dilute the pain, even if it's only for one night.

Young Lawrence was good at most things, though sport, in particular, football, was where he excelled. He was good at school and was popular among his group of friends at St Mungo's High, Falkirk. Although Lawrence's career in football seemed certain, he still secured seven standard grades and planned to become a PE teacher in case he failed to make it as a footballer. He was still young, but was maturing quickly, more so with the added responsibility of being chosen to represent his country. He was becoming a teenager, starting to get taller, although his good looks prevented him from appearing gangly. The three brothers got on well together and any rivalry between them was born of nature, not malice. When Lawrence died the death affected both brothers. John was wracked with guilt, believing that he should have locked the doors of the house when Lawrence arrived home. Dennis, on the other

hand, while under constant police harassment, began to slowly convince himself that he may indeed have killed his brother.

Larry was there, every day throughout the six-week trial, listening as forensic experts and pathologists described the details of what exactly had happened: The random precision of repeated blows, the assaults and the setting alight of Lawrence's legs. It was all there. It was altogether unbearable.

''I could see Beattie sitting in front of me behind a glass screen. I tried not to look at him and I try not to picture him. Dennis was on the stand accused of murdering his brother. It was awful.''

Dennis was blamed in a special defence of incrimination for murder. Beattie had lodged two special defences of incrimination and alibi, claiming that he was in Edinburgh and later in Denny, Stirlingshire, on the night of March 15-16, 1996.

''I was very proud of Dennis because he did very well under intense examination. But I sat there thinking what I would do if I got my hands on Beattie, and I think about that a lot. But I can't do that too much because it just eats at me. The most galling thing is that he is trying an appeal against the conviction.''

Courtrooms can be dispassionate places and the details of his son's final hours have evidently taken their toll. He visits the Hills of Dunipace Cemetery every day to clean his son's headstone or deliver some fresh flowers. It's only five minutes away from his house and he tries to get there in the mornings. If he doesn't, he attends on his way home from work. It is a difficult pilgrimage and one which is tainted by the heavy regret that only a parent can harbour. If he had never split with his ex-wife then perhaps Lawrence would still be alive, he muses. ''As a parent you think you should be able to look after them and it's hellish when you discover that you can't.''

In October 1998 Central Scotland Police apologised for its conduct of the investigation into the murder and said that his family ''expected and should have received a much better performance'' from the force. Deputy Chief Constable Mike Currie met the boy's parents and two brothers at the force's headquarters in Stirling following the apology to explain what action had been taken over the family's complaints about the handling of the case. Detective Superintendent Jim Winning, who led the original inquiry, caused a storm of protest when he escaped disciplinary proceedings by retiring from the force on the grounds of ill health.

Legal advice was sought by Central Scotland Police in a bid to block the early retirement of Winning, who was in his late 40s and had been with the force for more than 20 years, but he was allowed to retire immediately. Disciplinary action, said Currie, was taken against three officers of sergeant rank, two of whom were transferred to uniform duties. Detective Inspector John Bunyan, who was second in command of the original inquiry, was cleared of almost all disciplinary charges over his involvement in the heavily criticised investigation.

In May 1998 the Haggarts carried out their promise to sue Central Scotland Police over their handling of the inquiry into their son's death, lodging a complaint against them, accusing the initial inquiry team of ''mishandling'' the first year of the two-year investigation. ''We are not suing them because we want money, it's because of the way they treated the two boys. The public apology was satisfactory but I would have preferred Mr Winning to apologise for his involvement.''

The Haggarts' principal complaint was that the police persisted in focusing the investigation on Dennis, despite producing no evidence against him. Officers, said Larry, completely mishandled evidence from the scene of the crime; a senior CID officer told him face-to-face that Dennis was guilty and that the police had the evidence to prove it; officers twice insisted that he confront his son and ask him to confess; police maintained no regular contact with the family other than frequently turning up unannounced to take Dennis and his older brother, John, for questioning, sometimes for 12 hours at a time.

''All we wanted to do was help. People were putting it into Dennis's mind that he had done it so he began to think that he might have. I can see how they do this to people.''

In a further criticism of the police and the prosecutor-fiscal service in Falkirk, Larry said that after the police submitted their report on Dennis the family heard nothing for two months. When Larry eventually inquired into what was happening, he was told by the fiscal's office that they had ''forgotten'' to reply. Two days later he received a two-line letter saying Dennis would not be brought to trial. ''We were very naive. We were brought up to believe in the police so we were just going along with what they were saying.''

When I ask him if it crossed his mind that Dennis may have been involved he pauses and looks away. ''I was taking my advice from the police and I had to eventually sit down and say to him 'what really happened?' He didn't know, but the police were saying he definitely knows something. I felt like shit. It was horrendous. I felt awful. He's never held it against me but I wonder what was going through his mind when I was asking him if he had killed his brother.''

One of the hardest parts of the case was knowing that people in the local community were talking, pointing the finger, which was terrible. He was always aware that people were looking, thinking that his son must have done it. ''You know what people are like.'' Then he pauses. ''People say that time is a great healer but I can't see it that way. I just see it the exact way that it was. That my son was brutally murdered and he is not coming back.'' Larry misses his son enormously and nothing can bridge the chasm which is there.

How difficult is it, I wonder, to watch Dennis following in the footsteps of Lawrence? ''They were two different characters altogether, two different type of boys and two different kind of players, so I don't really compare. Dennis looked up to Lawrence as a footballer but now he has come into his own. Of course, there were rivalries, they were boys, but there was never any jealousy.''

When he is down, which is often, he sits alone and watches football videos of his son and freeze frames their fading colour, when he feels the need to remember the good things: Lawrence running about the park, Lawrence tackling, Lawrence shooting. A posthumous diary of kinetic comfort. ''I had a lot of good times. It was short but it was a pleasure. Lawrence was the bubbliest character, a wee gallus guy, full of life. It was all girls and football. A smashin' wee guy.''

It's the fiscal law of working class males. Become a footballer and all the world will be yours. To some extent it's the same with the parents. They invest in boots and studs and bask in reflected glory and realisation of their own, unfulfilled dreams. There he is. There's my boy. ''I know he can't stand in front of me any more. I know I'll never be able to watch him from the terraces of Parkhead, or even a junior football ground, but at least I know where he is. I can visit him any time I want at the graveyard.''

Death, of course, is usually always ugly, intoxicating and public. But rarely was it so full of shadows, apprehension and malevolence. For the Haggart family their dream died on St Patrick's Day, and Larry is troubled by the mourning and darkness that remains. Yet he seems neither bitter, nor obsessive, just determined. Tomorrow, and the next day, he will head for the Hills of Dunipace Cemetery, present his flowers, wipe the headstone and dream again of Lawrence.