Daily archives: February 17, 2023

Murder, Lies and State Conspiracy 165

Donald John Morrison was the last man to speak to Willie McRae, unless his murderer talked. He invited me warmly into his neat Benbecula home, where I was visiting with my friend, his cousin Donnie.

Donald took my coat from me and hung it neatly in a cupboard. He then sat us in the front room, while he went to make us tea. On the wood and glass coffee table was a copy of Gareth Wardell’s Essays, thumbed and marked.

Donald John returned with the tea and two slices of pizza, warm and crisp, with sweet fresh cherry tomatoes on top, their skins split from the oven.

Donald John’s movements were fluid. He is remarkably spritely for a man in his late seventies, his back only slightly bowed, his eyes clear behind his spectacles, his hands deft and assured.

There is a calm island lisp to his voice, but he speaks compellingly, assuredly, with the policeman’s eye for relevance and detail. He was a central Glasgow beat policeman for decades, in times when Glasgow was a tough and dangerous city – and when there were beat policemen.

He comes across as more than friendly, positively kindly. But then at key points in his narrative, his eyes suddenly flash and you see the inner steel that he needed in the Glasgow polis.

It happens when he is angry, and there are parts of this story that make him angry indeed.

He knew Willie McRae professionally quite well, in the way that a policeman knows a lawyer. They would meet in court, and sometimes he would need to serve papers on McRae’s office on Bath Street.

Everybody knew the office, it was on the first floor, the biggest law practice in the city, its door protected by a steel shutter on a roller.

In early 1985 he saw Willie McRae more often than usual, because he had to attend on four separate occasions to burglaries of the law office. On every occasion cabinets had been forced and papers had been taken, but no money.

On the same floor of the Bath Street building was an office belonging to a Director of Celtic. That too was burgled, and when he attended that one, the Director told him he believed the break-in was looking for papers belonging to Willie McRae.

Then one day in March 1985, his sergeant came out to the beat and told Donald John and his partner that, whatever occurred, they were to stay away from the McRae offices that evening because a Special Branch and MI5 operation was in process.

That night Donald John was pulling a “doubler” – a twelve hour shift. He found that McRae had been taken into custody and a police cell, for Driving Under the Influence (which to be fair could have been done to Willie McRae almost any day of the week).

Donald John had seen this before.  In those days, the personal effects of a prisoner in the police cells were put into a large brown envelope and sealed. Special Branch would take away the envelope from the custody sergeant, open it, remove the prisoner’s house keys, and before the custody court the next morning at 9.30am they would return them and reseal.

It appears that evening the plan did not work, as Willie McRae did not have the roller shutter keys on him – they were in fact kept by the cleaner who came in and opened up at 7.30am every morning.

Donald John grinned that he could have told Special Branch that, if they had asked him.

Then on 7 April Donald John was walking his beat, when he spotted two men keeping surveillance on Agnews store. He immediately tagged them as policemen.

One, a tall thin man of around forty years with prematurely white hair, was pacing up and down outside the barbershop, as though waiting for someone. The second, a shorter and stouter man with curly black hair, was pretending to look into a plate glass shop window. Occasionally they would glance to check on each other.

Donald John was walking towards Agnews store, somewhat on guard, when Willie McRae emerged from the store and walked towards him. In each hand McRae held a bottle of Islay Mist whisky.

Donald joked that he would have to breathylise him. Willie replied that in a few hours he would be enjoying the whisky by a warm fire in Kintail.

They walked together to McRae’s car. Willie put one bottle on the roof while he opened the door, and Donald John caught it for him as it started to roll from the roof.

Willie placed both bottles on the front seat next to a bulging briefcase. Donald moved them onto the floor of the car, suggesting they would be safer as they could fall off the seat.

Willie looked at Donald John and patted the bulging briefcase, which had papers sticking out.

“I have got them this time, Donald”, he said. Then he repeated: “I have got them this time”.

They were probably the last words Willie McRae spoke.

As McRae closed the car door, Donald John Morrison looked up and saw one of the police surveillance team signal to the other with outturned hands, as though to indicate he had no idea what was happening, why a uniformed policeman was speaking to McRae.

I interrupted Donald John (the only time I needed to in the whole discourse) to ask him how McRae had seemed. He said he was neatly dressed and shaven, in a check shirt with a tie and a tweed jacket. He seemed on good form, “in fine fettle”. He had a sparkle in his eye and seemed to be relishing the idea of that drink by the fire in Kintail.

Donald John said apparently there had been a blaze at McRae’s home earlier that day but he gave no indication of it. There was absolutely nothing in his demeanour to indicate he was troubled: quite the opposite.

When he heard of the alleged suicide, Donald John was astonished and did not believe it. He had spoken to Roddy Mackay of Agnew’s Store, who had sold Willie the whisky, and he had also found McRae just as cheerful.

Morrison gave a full statement to the investigation, including everything detailed here. He recommended they also take a statement from Roddy Mackay.

A former beat collague of Donald John Morrison had joined Special Branch. He subsequently told Donald John that the whole investigation into McRae’s death was a cover-up and a tissue of lies by the police.

Donald John also found that Roddy Mackay had never been interviewed.

Over a decade later, once the Freedom of Information Act had passed, Donald John FOIA requested a copy of the report into the death of Willie McRae.

Donald John Morrison was astonished to find that his entire statement had been falsified and replaced with a fake statement onto which his signature had been photocpied.

In his “official” statement in the report there was nothing about surveillance, nothing about MI5 or Special Branch, and nothing about the whisky or the briefcase.

The official version of the death of Willie McRae is that there was no whisky or briefcase in the car, and that he shot himself in the back of the head whilst driving along, the gun flying out of the car window.

That remains the official story to this day.

Donald John was absolutely furious about the forgery of his statement. As this was obviously a serious crime in itself, he went to the procurator fiscal in Elgin to try to get a prosecution commenced against the Special Branch officers involved.

Eventually he was told that the Crown Office had ruled a prosecution would not be “procedurally correct”.

Donald John Morrison believes that, from the death of Willie McRae on, he was a marked man in the police because of what he knew.

Despite an exemplary record he was never offered promotion, though he says he did not want it. He was involved on three occasions in tackling and physically subduing armed robbers, but got not so much as a commendation. Frequently arrests he made were attributed to others.

Morrison says that it was made absolutely plain to officers, by the senior command, that they were expected to join the Orange Lodge, which he did.  There were only five Catholic officers – who he named – in his division. The McRae affair also caused him problems in the Orange Lodge, but that is a story, he suggested, for another day.

Morrison is a compelling witness. His testimony is detailed and precise. He ventures nothing beyond what he himself saw and did. He had not a word to say on why McRae was killed, because he does not know.

But he does know there was a bulging briefcase that McRae patted when he said “I have got them this time”. He knows that there were two bottles of Islay Mist. He knows that these things officially “disappeared”. He knows his statement was forged, and that it was done by Special Branch. He knows McRae was under British state surveillance.

I know that I met an honest and brave man. As we left, he stood there, eyes twinkling, and insisted that next time we came to the island we were staying with him, “with your wife and bairns too”.

It was a pleasure to be hosted by the remarkable Donald John Morrison. Just an honest beat cop, standing up against the murderers of the British state.


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