A former police officer today makes a series of startling accusations against the powers that be, claiming special branch had well-known political activist Willie McRae under surveillance before his death, stole his keys to enter his property ... and also labels the mysterious death as a ‘state-sanctioned murder’

AN EX-POLICE officer has made a series of startling claims alleging that Special Branch was monitoring the well-known SNP activist and lawyer Willie McRae in the lead-up to his death. The former constable also alleges that Special Branch colluded to “steal” McRae’s keys in order to break into his property.

Donald Morrison claims that Special Branch had McRae under sustained surveillance for up to 10 years, and illegally got hold of keys to gain access to his premises. McRae was also the victim of burglaries. Morrison, who knew McRae well, even goes so far as to claim that he suspects police of “involvement in McRae’s death”. Morrison said: “I believe what happened to Willie McRae was state-sanctioned murder.”

McRae was found slumped, unconscious and bloody in his crashed car near Invergarry in April 1985. He was taken to hospital where medics discovered a bullet wound in his head, above his right ear. He subsequently died. A gun was later found 60 feet from McRae’s car. There was no fatal accident inquiry but the death was recorded as suicide.

There has been long-running claims that McRae was murdered. McRae was a leading independence activist and former vice-chair of the SNP. He was also a successful lawyer. There has been speculation that he was investigating allegations of child sex abuse against politicians. McRae also campaigned against the nuclear industry. He was also a friend and wartime navy colleague of Lord Mountbatten.

Donald Morrison joined the police in 1971 and was based in the city centre of Glasgow. He knew McRae, who had law offices in the centre of the city, over a number of years. Morrison would serve until 1997. “I got to know Willie McRae pretty well over the years from the courts and his premises being on my beat,” he said. “We didn’t socialise together – I just knew him professionally.”

The first incident

Morrison recalls an event in “the mid-70s about five years after I’d been in the force though I can’t quite recall the exact date”, when he heard a message come over the police radio asking for him and a colleague to give their position in the city centre. “It was a Friday or Saturday night. The message was that we were not to go near the premises of Willie McRae that night because it was being watched by Special Branch”.

Morrison said: “We were told no uniform were allowed near the premises. It was also added that all marked cars and traffic cars were not allowed to go near the premises that night either. They didn’t say why, apart from that Special Branch were taking surveillance.”

The second incident

MORRISON claims that in 1978 – again he is unclear about the specific date – “I was pestered repeatedly to get hold of the keys to McRae’s premises, to get a copy of the key, by senior officers”.

He said: “I was friendly with the commissionaire on the door to McRae’s building and they knew that. They asked me to get in touch with him to see if I could get keys.

“I was clearly being asked to commit a crime. I felt very uncomfortable about that. I considered it a crime. I knew it was wrong. I’d never been asked before to do such a thing. The inspector told me it would enhance my career.”

On occasions, police work would take Morrison into McRae’s office, usually related to court work. “I’d see keys when I was there but I made no attempt to get them. They wouldn’t tell me why they wanted them.”

The third incident

NOT long afterwards, Morrison says, McRae contacted Glasgow police “complaining about a car going round and round his office at closing time”. Said Morrison: “He had the registration. I was asked to go and get a statement from McRae. When I came back to the station, I went with a senior officer to check the registration. There was no trace of the registration. I was told to go and see McRae and tell him the registration couldn’t be found. McRae said to me ‘Special Branch and MI5 don’t have their cars registered with the DVLA’. I took it from what he said that he knew he was under surveillance. I believed him due to the information that I already had.”

The fourth incident

MCRAE moved offices but still remained in the city centre within Morrison’s patch. Around March 1981, Morrison says, he was in conversation with a dog patrol officer when “a call came over the radio saying that McRae was being followed by Special Branch on the southside of the city and that he was suspected of drunk driving”.

“Special Branch wanted a traffic car to attend as they were in an unmarked car and couldn’t stop him,” said Morrison. “I knew right away what was happening.

“Special Branch had a practice once anyone was in custody who they might have an interest in. When anyone is in custody, all their property is taken off them and placed in a large brown envelope. If Special Branch have an interest in that person they will come along and open the envelope with a blade – not from the sealed end, but the other end. They’d open the envelope, take all the contents with them, including things like keys, copy them, then later come back and reseal the envelope. I saw them opening envelopes several times and taking keys away to be duplicated while the individual was in custody. It was a common practice. It must have happened to hundreds of people. It was still going on when I left in 1997.”

Morrison added: “Shortly after McRae was stopped that night his office was broken into – maybe towards the end of 1981.” Morrison believes “they wanted him inside a police station so they could get access to keys”. Morrison also speculated that stolen keys could have been linked to a fire which took hold in McRae’s house shortly before his death.

Morrison says that when McRae’s office was broken into “nothing was stolen. Petty cash boxes were untouched”. McRae’s offices were broken into a number of times, he said.

The fifth incident

MORRISON was later on night patrol in the city centre in 1984 – again, the precise date he cannot recall. “I saw a light on in McRae’s office – a wee bit of a corner of light in the window. I tried the roller door and it was locked. I knew there’d been break-ins prior to this so I planned to contact McRae through [the police control room] and let him know there was a light on. Before I did that, a man came along – this was the middle of the night – and said to me that someone was eyeing up a chemist on Sauchiehall Street and it looked like they were going to rob it,” he said.

“Given what I knew, I did suspect something was up with this guy, but I also thought I had to go along to the chemist. It was only five minutes away. As I left, I thought I heard the roller door of McRae’s office come down and close. I went back and the light was off, the door was locked and there was no sign of that man who approached me.”

Morrison says McRae was broken into that night. McRae later showed him “old army blankets with drawing pins still attached” that Morrison believes may have been used to black out windows during the break-in. “Half his diary had been torn out, but the cash box was there and untouched,” he added.

The sixth incident

MORRISON also recalls another break-in “near the end of 1984 or early in 1985, I can’t put a precise date to it, but not long before his death”. Morrison says “a call came over the radio to attend McRae’s premises regarding a break-in”. Morrison was informed that “highly confidential correspondence” had been found. The controller said that Special Branch was attending. There was talk among police that the material was politically sensitive. Morrison says that McRae either couldn’t be raised on the phone or wasn’t contacted.

When Morrison arrived at the premises, plainclothes officers were there. “One told me to stand across the street and stand guard until they said otherwise. They took flatpack cardboard boxes out of the boot of their car. They went into the offices for over an hour and then started coming out with boxes full of material and put them in the car.”

The boxes were taken to a police station were Morrison later saw the paperwork inside being photocopied. “I knew all the plainclothes detectives, all the CID, and I didn’t know these guys so I believe they must have been Special Branch. In an emergency, if you can’t raise the key-holder then you could hold on to their property, like documents, for them. But the usual practice is to secure the premises. You never, ever, not ever, photocopy material if you can’t get a key-holder. I felt what was happening was illegal at this point.”

He says a senior officer in the police station asked him and another constable to get a second photocopier to speed up the process. Morrison spoke to a detective and asked to borrow his office photocopier and was told “certainly not, get to f*** with those boxes, get them out of here. It seemed he knew what was going on. I thought ‘good for you’. I’m glad he said that. I certainly felt what was happening at that point was wrong”.

McRae subsequently appeared at his premises and contacted police asking about his property. “Four of us took the files back to McRae’s office. He was shouting, and was not a happy chappie. He was bawling that we’d no authority to take his files.” A senior officer was called to come to McRae’s office. “He told McRae a blatant and deliberate lie, he said the files were taken for safe keeping,” Morrison adds.

Final incident

ON Friday, April 5 1985, McRae was to drive north to his holiday home for the weekend. He would die on the journey. Sometime before lunch that day, Morrison was on patrol in the city centre and saw two well-dressed men acting strangely near McRae’s office. They seemed to be surveilling a nearby off-sales. Morrison says he “watched them as they looked very suspicious”.

Minutes later, he added: “I saw McRae coming out of the off-sales with two bottles of whisky and cigarettes. I thought ‘they have him under surveillance’. I walked up to him and pretended I was going for my notebook. I said to him – as a joke – ‘blow into the bag, sir’. We talked for a short time. He said he was going away for the weekend.

“He got into his car – it was clatty with ash from cigars and cigarettes – there was a bulging briefcase, a suit bag, checked shirts and rolls of paper tied with pink ribbon. I looked at the two men who were in the street and they appeared annoyed like ‘what’s that f*****g cop doing speaking to him’. It crossed my mind to tell him – but I didn’t, I wasn’t aware of what would happen after this. McRae said he was going through paperwork over the weekend. He patted his bag and said ‘I’ve got them’. I didn’t ask who he’d got or what he was talking about.

“I stopped the traffic so he could do a U-turn to drive off. Then I saw the two men rush along the street and get into two cars and drive after him. I couldn’t see the number plate – it was over 200 yards away – but I have no doubt in my mind they were Special Branch.”


MORRISON claims the events he alleges he witnessed have led him to believe that “Special Branch were involved in the death of Willie McRae”. He added: “I feel McRae’s death was state-sanctioned murder.”

Morrison says that following McRae’s death he stayed silent as he became fearful for his safety and didn’t want to draw attention to himself. “I felt it would be wiser to keep quiet. I was scared for my life. I saw what happened. I was the last person to see McRae alive. I feared for my wife’s life too – and that if I opened my mouth I could have been done as well. I am speaking out now, giving the full story of what I know, as I am 80 years old and I am sick of all the lies.”

Nearly 15 years after Morrison retired, the Crown Office requested files on McRae’s death in 2011 following calls for the case to be reopened. Morrison says at this stage he gave a 15-page statement to the police but “nothing was done with it. I just hit a brick wall”.

In 2015, the Crown Office said a Fatal Accident Inquiry would not be held into McRae’s death and the Crown was “satisfied with the extensive investigations into the death”.

“All I want is a proper, honest inquiry,” said Morrison. “On the issue of Special Branch stealing the keys of suspects in custody – that in itself should be investigated. It was still going on in the late 1990s. Even if we forget the McRae case, the issue of Special Branch gaining illegal access to house keys and office keys is a recipe for fitting someone up. They just need to go into a suspect’s house and plant evidence or remove something like hair and plant it at the locus of a crime.”

What the police say

THE Herald on Sunday put Morrison’s allegations to Police Scotland, namely that as a former police officer he was claiming that Special Branch was surveilling McRae before his death, that he believed Special Branch “stole” McRae’s keys as well as the property of other individuals, and that he suspected Special Branch of being involved in breaking into McRae’s premises. The Herald on Sunday also passed claims by Morrison to Police Scotland that he believed Special Branch was “involved in the death of McRae”, and that he alerted police in 2011 but no action was taken.

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Geddes issued this statement in response: “Following a thorough investigation into the death of Willie McRae on April 6, 1985, officers concluded there were no suspicious circumstances and, as with all sudden deaths, a report was sent to the Procurator Fiscal.

“Reviews by Northern Constabulary and the Crown Office into the matter in 2010/11 did not raise any new matters. Police Scotland remains satisfied that the investigation was conducted thoroughly and the case was concluded once the report was sent to the Procurator Fiscal.

“Any further information or evidence reported to Police Scotland on any case will always be considered.”