As we reveal exclusively that the nurse who treated Willie McRae says he was shot – and that it wasn't suicide – here is the background to the tale...

MYSTERY has persisted over Willie McRae’s death more than 33 years ago.

The leading lawyer was a senior SNP member and a prominent critic of the nuclear industry.

His campaigns rattled the Conservative Government of the time led by Margaret Thatcher. His activities included representing a group opposed to plans by the Atomic Energy Authority to dump nuclear waste in the Ayrshire hills.

He represented them at the 1980 Mullwarchar public inquiry; the campaigners won, which proved to be a major setback in plans for having nuclear waste buried, not only in Scotland, but in the rest of the UK.

On the evening of Good Friday, April 5, 1985, he left his flat in Glasgow’s southside for his holiday cottage close to Dornie in Wester Ross.

He planned to spend the Easter weekend there but never arrived. His maroon Volvo left the A87 and rolled down the hillside.

The following day an Australian couple on holiday noticed the vehicle lying on the moor, over a burn, and saw a man slumped inside.

They flagged down the next car to pass. The driver was a doctor Dr Dorothy Messer travelling with her fiance George Lochhead; and one of her passengers was an SNP councillor from Dundee, David Coutts – who was heading north with his wife Alison, and who knew McRae. The group believed McRae had been injured in a crash and flagged down another motorist to get the police and ambulance.

According to a document released under freedom of information by the Crown Office in 2005, officers at Fort Augustus Police Station received a phone call around 11.15am on April 6, 1985, to say a single vehicle accident had occurred on the A87 Kyle of Lochalsh to Invergarry Road.

The report said McRae ‘‘was removed to the Neurosurgical Unit at Aberdeen Infirmary where he was examined by a neurosurgeon who found a bullet wound in his right temple.

X-rays confirmed that there was a bullet in his brain.

‘‘At the time of the accident, when the police got to the scene, they treated the matter as a road accident because they did not see any weapon in the car and all that could be ascertained was that the deceased had some injury to his head. At Raigmore Hospital the head wound was cleaned and any immediate evidence of forensic value was destroyed.

“At approximately 3.30am on Sunday, April 7, 1985, McRae died of his injuries without regaining consciousness. From the position of the wound in the deceased’s temple it appeared to be self-inflicted.”

It stated: “Post mortem examination confirmed that the entrance wound was in the temple, suggestive of suicide.” But in the weeks, months and years after his death, questions persisted. A gun was not found when the scene was first visited by the police, but found when the scene was searched the following Sunday.

Crown Office documents state he had a history of depression. But evidence released by the Crown Office in 2005 revealed his car was packed with clothes, toiletries and documents for a working weekend away raising doubts whether he had killed himself.

An investigation was carried out by the SNP led by Winnie Ewing, then the party’s president. She reported to the SNP she was not satisfied with the official account of suicide: “I do not know what happened, but I think it is important that the truth emerges, despite the time that has passed. Why the State refuses to let the truth be known is a pertinent question.”

In 1991 Channel 4 broadcast a “Scottish Eye” documentary which found evidence suggesting McRae had been under surveillance by UK intelligence services and that his death had likely involved foul play.

On the Easter weekend of April 2015, Scotland on Sunday ran a story claiming McRae’s Volvo was moved back to the crash site by Northern Constabulary in an attempt to hide that the car had been moved before the bullet had been found – accounting for the discrepancies relating to the gun’s distance from the car.

Two years ago, the Sunday Herald reported the gun had gone missing from the police files. It also said that police had formally admitted for the first time that the weapon had not been swept for fingerprints.

It added that other items recovered from the area and from his person while he was in hospital, including files which, for many years, were said to be linked to his anti-nuclear campaigning, were also no longer in the possession of Police Scotland.

Police also said that the car and clothes, which may also have contained vital evidence were not subject to any forensic analysis.