The Crime Writers’ Association

April 2017: Edinburgh

Venue: Apex Waterloo Hotel
Organiser: Aly Monroe

Friday report by Kate Ellis

On Friday 21 April the Clan CWA gathered at the Apex Hotel in Edinburgh’s spectacular city centre for our 2017 Annual Conference.

After an extremely efficient registration and the collecting of wonderful goodie bags (which contained, amongst other things, special CWA coffee, tea, whisky, pens and notebooks) we met for the evening reception where we greeted old friends and new and consumed bubbly… along with the most delicious canapés (including haggis balls to which I was to become quite addicted!) After eating, drinking and chatting we took our seats and were welcomed to Edinburgh by two of its most famed crime writers, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith.

Sandy and Ian told us how Edinburgh is a remarkable city which has influenced many great writers of crime fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself lived and trained as a doctor in Edinburgh and, even though his Sherlock Holmes books are set in London, the flavour of the Scottish capital always seems to seep into the atmosphere somehow. Edinburgh is a city of light and dark and began life as a savage place. Later on it was at the forefront of the Enlightenment which meant that its violent history was soon well concealed by a veneer of civilisation. This dichotomy was (and still is) reflected in the physical surroundings; the wild, medieval darkness of the Old Town versus the Georgian rationality of the elegant New Town. However, with history lurking around every corner, that darkness has always lived on in the shadows and this has given the city its split personality. Sometimes in the past good came out of the evil: the terrible crimes of Burke and Hare who murdered so that they could sell their victims’ bodies to the medical school for dissection, led to the Anatomy Act, a great step forward in the training of doctors.

The city has long had a tradition of adventure stories (with whodunit elements) and many true stories of Edinburgh’s inhabitants have inspired the imagination of great writers. Robert Louis Stevenson himself owned a wardrobe made by the villainous Deacon Brodie (who was an upright citizen by day and a criminal by night). It is likely that Brodie was the inspiration for his most famous creation – the good Dr Jekyll who turned into the wicked Mr Hyde. Religion and outer respectability was considered to be very important in Scotland and this led to a good deal of hypocrisy and the concealment of the most terrible hidden sins.

The city of Edinburgh was built on stories and the title ‘Edinburgh, the Jekyll and Hyde City’ on the front of the conference programme couldn’t be more appropriate. Ian concluded that we crime writers are creatures of light and dark and that Edinburgh provides ideal inspiration for anyone who possesses a macabre imagination.

After such a fascinating and thought-provoking talk many of us decided to brave Edinburgh for ourselves but, rather than bumping into Mr Hyde or contemporary versions of Deacon Brodie or Burke and Hare, we enjoyed convivial meals with our fellow crime writers with not a murdered corpse in sight.

Saturday Report by Chris Longmuir

Saturday morning arrived, bright and sunny, and after a superb breakfast, in the company of some of the other delegates, we embarked on the activities of the day.

Tom Halpin, who was formerly the Head of CID Operations at Strathclyde Police and Deputy Chief Constable at Lothians and Borders Police, gave an entertaining talk which he called Reflections of an optimistic detective. The audience was spellbound as he regaled us with his experiences of various murders and the conflicting interests that arose during the course of investigations, plus his problems with the police hierarchy. Aly Monroe described his task as ‘a realistic and moving account’.

After the talk, there was a chance to mingle with the other delegates during the coffee break and to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. The atmosphere was electric and the room buzzed with voices.

Professor Lorna Dawson, Scotland’s top forensic soil scientist was on next with The application of earth science to the criminal justice system. Once again, this was an interesting and informative talk amply illustrated by slides.

Saturday afternoon was free time with two excursions on offer. One group set off for the Real Mary King Close which was a guided tour of the underground streets that lie below the High Street, otherwise known as the Royal Mile. The tour gives a flavour of what life was like in these narrow alleyways and is known for ghostly presences.

The second group was taken to the Writers’ Museum, a seventeenth-century residence close to Edinburgh Castle, which commemorates Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. They then visited The Museum on the Mound which is part of the Bank of Scotland. On this part of the tour, there was the opportunity to see what a million pounds looks like and to try to crack a safe.

Others explored Edinburgh to suit themselves and there is certainly plenty to see in Edinburgh. I think all the delegates were impressed by the city and they certainly seemed to be enjoying everything Edinburgh had to offer.

Later in the day, Martin Edwards chaired the AGM, which went smoothly with no contentious issues arising. The changes to the Articles of Association were voted in. Following the AGM the Creasey Bell was presented to Martin Edwards by Susan Moody, former chair of the CWA.

The gala dinner was the perfect ending to Saturday. The food was excellent, the company was good, and the evening was rounded off by the guest speaker, the Rt Hon Leeona, Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk, who entertained the company with an informative and witty after dinner speech.

I staggered up in the lift and then down the stairs to my room and collapsed into bed where I slept like the proverbial log.

Sunday Report by Radmila May

The two contributions on the last day of the conference echoed the forensic theme of the previous day, fitting in with the leading role of Scotland in the development of forensic science.

The first speaker was James H.K. Grieve Emeritus Professor of Aberdeen University and his lively and informative talk was titled Where Can Dr Jekyll Hyde? – Reflections on Half a Century of Forensic Pathology. Edinburgh was, he felt, very much a Jekyll and Hyde city, half light, half darkness. Professor Grieve has had a most distinguished career, which includes serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Medicine at the University of Aberdeen and, since retiring in 1989, has assisted in the provision of forensic pathology services in the North of Scotland, which includes performing post-mortem investigations into around 550 deaths per annum. He told us that he misses teaching but feels that in instructing writers he is thereby instructing the public. His didactic roles include being the original of Dr James in ITV’s highly successful Vera series based on the writer Ann Cleeves’s fictional character Vera Stanhope. He feels that some TV series based on forensic science overestimate the ability of scientific resources to provide speedy results – accuracy is essential to establish Who? Where? When? How? but can be time-consuming.

Professor Grieve began by referring to the Locard Exchange principle: Every contact leaves a trace. The crime scene begins to deteriorate from the moment the death and when the body is first discovered. ‘A victim dies only once’ he said memorably. ‘A scene can be murdered a thousand times.’ Consequently every care must be taken by crime scene investigators not to further contaminate the scene of the death being investigated. The biggest change in the last 30 years has been the introduction of DNA techniques, which calls for even greater protection of the crime scene from the outset although he did warn us that DNA does not always provide an answer and sometimes the scene has to be recreated to replicate the original.

The pathologist must visit the crime scene, which must be protected from the outset particularly access and clothing by all concerned. The pathologist will make a preliminary assessment of injuries, and a time of death assessment may be made although such procedures cannot be done with total scientific accuracy but the pathologist may be able to estimate a possible time frame using certain factors including rigor mortis, entomology, and stomach contents. They will also suggest the cause of death, which may range from natural causes to unnatural such as homicide (either murder or culpable homicide) or accident. [It should be noted that culpable homicide does not completely equate with the English law on manslaughter: see the Culpable Homicide (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper and the accompanying note on the Supreme Court cases of R v Misra and Srivastava and R v Adamaho – RM.] Where there is trauma, interpretation should first have recourse to witness and/or scientific evidence, then to the pattern of injuries, and finally to common sense! Professor Grieve reminded us that in Scotland there are no coroners.

The second speaker was Tom Wood, the former Deputy Chief Constable for the Border and Lothians who retired from that position to become Chair of Edinburgh Council’s Action Team on Alcohol and Drugs. He concentrated on one notorious case in particular which was known as the World’s End Murders which dragged on for 47 years.

In 1977 the bodies of two teenage girls, Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, both 17, were found, that of Christine on a beach in East Lothian, and that of Helen in a field 6 miles away. Both bodies were naked, both girls had been beaten, raped, gagged, tied up and strangled. They had last been seen leaving the World’s End pub. Tom Wood, then a detective sergeant, was involved in the search for the killer(s) but at the time the high-profile criminal investigation, with a list of over 500 suspects and the taking of 13,000 statements, came to no conclusion and was scaled down in 1978. However, the manner of the killings indicated that they had been carefully planned and were probably not the first by the perpetrators.

The Scene of Crime Officer, Lester Knibb to whom Tom paid tribute, although only 23 had been highly meticulous and insisted that the mac of one girl with a semen stain be retained although in a pre-computer, pre-DNA age the investigation could not then be progressed. In 1977 the semen stain was DNA-analysed and it was established it was that that of a male but not that of any of the 500 suspects previously investigated.

In 2003 there was a broadcast reconstruction of the case by BBC Crimewatch and a number of previously-unknown witnesses came forward. Later that year the Forensic Science Service [closed in 2012 and replaced by the private sector and in-house investigations – RM] was enlisted and established that there was a partial match with the DNA of over 200 profiles in the National DNA Database.

One of those was that of Angus Robertson Sinclair, who had been convicted of a number of sexual offences against young girls and the murder in Glasgow of Mary Gallagher. And there was DNA of another man, Sinclair’s brother-in-law Gordon Hamilton. Sinclair was tried in 2007 at the High Court of Justiciary. Nonetheless, the trial judge held that evidence against Sinclair was insufficient to go to the jury and he was acquitted. However, there was considerable criticism of the decision, including from several senior judges, and this eventually resulted in the Scottish Parliament of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011 which made provision for the circumstances in which a person convicted or acquitted of an offence can be tried anew. Sinclair was retried in 2014 and convicted of the murders of both Christine and Helen; his associate Hamilton had died in 1966. [A similar change to English law was made by section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 – RM.]

Tom Wood told us how he and other members of the Borders and Lothians Police Force had been haunted by this case and the many hurdles that had had to be overcome before the final conclusion. He had been very much involved in the investigation throughout and in addition he had been in charge of investigations into the unsolved deaths of other women; it seems incredible that there were three serial killers on the loose in Scotland at the same time, all born at about the same time.

Both talks were followed by questions and warm tributes to both excellent speakers and were a fitting conclusion to a most informative and enjoyable weekend.


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