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RENEE AND ANDREW MACRAE: Jurors at the High Court in Inverness are told the disappearance is a mystery not a murder as defence sums up

By Ali Morrison

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The Inverness Justice Centre.
The Inverness Justice Centre.

The disappearance of a housewife and son in 1976 remains a mystery and they were not murdered, a jury was told on the 12th day of the trial of an 80 year old man accused of killing them.

The jury is set to consider its verdict on Thursday on whether wheelchair bound Bill MacDowell murdered his secret lover and their son after hearing from the prosecution, defence and the trial judge.

Advocate depute Alex Prentice KC told them in a speech lasting around 100 minutes on Tuesday why they should convict MacDowell of killing 36 year old Renee MacRae and three year old Andrew.

On Wednesday morning it was the turn of defence counsel Murray McAra KC who did not concede the pair were murdered.

During his remarks, he said: "There are so many unanswered questions. The defence does not concede they were murdered or that Bill MacDowell has been implicated.

"It is still a mystery. To provide answers involves indulging in speculation not drawing inferences.

"You have heard a lot of questions from me but my final questions are if he had concern, love and affection for Andrew, his only son, how did he benefit from his death? Why did he murder his own son?"

He told the jury in a detailed presentation of his interpretation of the evidence and he put his case why a lot of it should not be believed.

It lasted almost 150 minutes and at the conclusion, he urged the jury to acquit his client of the three charges.

He told the jury of eight women and seven men: "Bill MacDowell has suffered 45 years of suspicion. He is now a dying man. At an early stage he was the principal focus of the investigation but the proof that he murdered them is lacking.

"It is speculation. It is not for the defence to prove that crimes have been committed and that the accused is implicated in them."

Mr McAra dealt with the age of the case and questioned why a prosecution had not been brought earlier as he said the evidence was largely the same as gathered in 1976.

He said: "Distant memories can distort the truth. Some people are more observant than others in this case and many were travelling in cars or lorries passing landmarks in a matter of seconds in the dark."

The lawyer began by a reference to Mr Prentice's opening remarks in his speech.

"It was not a blood curdling scream. What was actually told to the police was that the witness heard a distinct screech."

He then said there was evidence that the noise came from the other direction from the Dalmagarry lay-by where Mrs MacRae's burnt out BMW found. The Crown claim that the mother and son were killed there.

Mr McAra told the jury that there was doubts about whether a Volvo estate - a company car which MacDowell drove - was seen at the lay-by and on a nearby road.

He said this was crucial to the Crown case. He also urged the jury to discount an alleged confession by his client to a handyman and an offer to pay a convicted criminal to kill them. He said there were discrepancies that rendered their statements unreliable.

He added: "Killing your paramour and your only son must make him a callous, cold-hearted psychopath. But it would be a gross over-reaction, so grotesque it is absurd."

MacDowell denies murdering Renee and Andrew, disposing of their bodies, destroying evidence by burning the BMW and disposing of evidence like Andrew's pushchair, the Volvo boot hatch and the MacRae's belongings on November 12, 1976.

He has lodged special defences incriminating Renee's husband Gordon and an alibi claiming he was elsewhere at the time they went missing.

View our fact sheet on court reporting here

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