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HIGH COURT IN INVERNESS: Sister knew "something dreadful had happened" to sister Renee MacRae

By Ali Morrison

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

The sister of Renee MacRae has given evidence on the fourth day of the trial of William MacDowell.

Morag Govans, an 84-year-old retired nurse from Inverness, said she had regularly received a weekly phone call from Mrs MacRae before her disappearance with three-year-old son Andrew on November 12, 1976.

MacDowell denies murdering the pair at Dalmagarry lay-by, 12 miles outside Inverness.

He also denies disposing of their bodies and attempting to pervert the course of justice by destroying evidence.

MacDowell has lodged special defences of alibi that he was elsewhere at the time and that Mrs MacRae's husband with unknown others were responsible for the crimes.

Her blue BMW was found ablaze that night and there has been no sign of the mother and child, his pushchair or their luggage since then.

The trial heard that Mrs MacRae had told some of her friends that she was going to visit Mrs Govans at her then home in Kilmarnock. Her other son, Gordon junior, was not with her.

Renee MacRae.
Renee MacRae.

But she had told her best friend, Valerie Steventon, that she and Andrew were spending the weekend with MacDowell.

Mrs Govans told prosecutor Alex Prentice KC that Mrs MacRae and Andrew never appeared and that she knew of no plans for her sister's visit.

"She wouldn't have travelled without telling me," she said. "Valerie phoned me and told me that Renee was away with Andrew's father for the weekend."

She confirmed that Valerie had told her that MacDowell was Andrew's father but she did not know beforehand.

"She didn't tell me who Andrew's father was but that he was a married man with two children and would never leave his wife," she said. "I told her that I hoped it was finished and that no good would come of it."

Andrew MacRae.
Andrew MacRae.

Mrs Govans then told of her anguish during the days that followed the disappearance.

"It was Renee's turn to phone me on Sunday," she said. "We spoke to each other once a week always on a Sunday and took turns.

"There was only once when she didn't phone and I told her that if she was ever away to tell me because I would be worried."

Mrs Govans added that when Mrs MacRae didn't return to Inverness on the Monday, a major police investigation was launched and she began to get worried.

"Renee was a devoted mother and she would never have abandoned Gordon," she said. "I was very worried. I knew then that something dreadful had happened to Renee and Andrew."

Asked by Mr Prentice, if her sister had known about the police enquiry, would she have ignored it?

"She would not have put me through that," Mrs Govans replied.

She then told the trial that she tried to get some information from the accused.

"I phoned William MacDowell, his wife answered and said he did not want to speak to me," she said.

"I wanted to ask him when he last saw her and if there was anything he could tell me.

"I also went to his house but he was not there. There was nobody in."

Earlier in the day's evidence, retired Beauly hairdresser, 80-year-old Sheila Fraser said Mrs MacRae had come to see her about two weeks before she disappeared.

She said she had heard that MacDowell was Andrew's father and that Mrs MacRae told her they were going away to Shetland to have a new life with him.

"She didn't say when but it was soon. She looked very well and very happy," Mrs Fraser said.

A workmate of MacDowell, 83-year-old retired surveyor John Davenport, also gave evidence, speaking of the accused joining regular after-work drinks at the nearby Mercury Motor Inn with three friends.

He said: “It was unusual. It hadn’t happened before as far as I recollect.

“He came in about 6.30pm (on November 12, 1976) and said he was meeting his wife at 7pm.

“He asked me to get drinks and gave me the money. He mentioned meeting his wife a couple of times.

“Then he left at 7.05 or 7.10pm.”

Retired chartered accountant, 79-year-old Laurence Grainger told the jury that he had a business meeting with Mrs MacRae’s husband, Gordon, which lasted into the evening of November 12.

He said that it had finished between 7.45pm and 8pm and that Mr MacRae had only left it two or three times, for about 15-20 minutes at a time.

The trial continues.

View our fact sheet on court reporting here

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