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High Court in Inverness: Trial of man accused of murdering Renee and Andrew MacRae in 1976, begins

By Ali Morrison

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Renee MacRae
Renee MacRae

A jury has been selected to decide whether Bill MacDowell killed Renee MacRae and her three-year-old son 46 years ago.

It is three years since Bill MacDowell (80), formerly of Inverness, was charged with the murders of 36-year-old Renee MacRae and her son Andrew in November, 1976.

The jury will sit for around four weeks at the High Court in Inverness, with Lord Armstrong presiding.

A total of 600 potential jurors were cited to serve because of the vast publicity surrounding the case during the past four and a half decades.

The statutory 15 members were picked yesterday along with 15 reservists as a precaution to reduce delays if any of those selected indicated they have personal knowledge of any of the individuals or the case itself.

Lord Armstrong told them that reading anything about it in the media over the years was not a reason to be excluded from serving.

Andrew MacRae.
Andrew MacRae.

The prosecution is being led by Alex Prentice KC with Murray McAra KC presenting MacDowell's defence.

The trial is expected to hear the first evidence this afternoon, some from beyond the grave in the form of police statements given by witnesses now dead.

Other more recent statements which were video filmed may also be shown if others are deemed too unfit to take the witness box.

Mr McAra told the judge on Monday that he would be lodging an inventory of defence witnesses and that his client would require regular breaks due to his state of health.

There had been earlier concerns about the accused’s fitness to stand trial after he injured his neck falling off a wall in what was described as a “bizarre accident” at his home in Penrith, Cumbria last year.

However after months of preliminary hearings, several medical updates and delays caused by the Covid pandemic, a date was set.

MacDowell's wife, Rosemary, who is a witness in the trial, has been driving her husband to court each day and wheeling him into the dock.

The High Court in Inverness.
The High Court in Inverness.

Special arrangements had to be made to remove the bench in the dock to accommodate MacDowell's wheelchair.

He has also been given dispensation to remain seated as the judge when he enters and leaves court as he is not fit to stand.

The indicting of MacDowell comes after two cold case reviews, one in 2004 and a second in 2019, when two quarries – one earth quarry two miles from Moy and another flooded at Leanach, behind Culloden Moor – were searched.

Nothing of significance was found and when police submitted a file after interviewing new witnesses and re-interviewing old ones, to the Crown Office, the decision was made to charge the octogenarian.

MacDowell is accused of assaulting Andrew and the boy’s mum at a lay-by on the A9 trunk road near Dalmagarry, Inverness-shire, or elsewhere, on November 12, 1976.

He is charged with causing them injury by unknown means, as a result of which they died, and thereby murdering them.

He is also charged with attempting to defeat the ends of justice by disposing of the two bodies by means unknown.

MacDowell is further alleged to have disposed of a pushchair, set fire to a BMW vehicle and disposed of a boot hatch from a Volvo to conceal the alleged crimes.

The bodies have never been found.

He denies all the charges and has lodged special defences of incrimination and alibi.

MacDowell incriminates Mrs MacRae's estranged husband, Gordon, and other persons unknown for committing the murders.

MacDowell also claims he was at his work with Hugh MacRae and Co builders all day on November 12, 1976 and after leaving was drinking with three other people in the Mercury Motor Inn until 7.15pm.

It is then claimed that he travelled to a shop in Castle Street before returning to his home in Westhill at 8.15pm, to remain there all evening.

View our fact sheet on court reporting here

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