Righting the wrong of murder mystery at heart of Kidnapped
Fresh insight into a shot that rang out in a remote Highland glen almost three centuries ago, and led to the death of an innocent man, has reignited one of the country’s most enduring murder mysteries.
The cold-blooded killing of Colin Campbell has become a legend in Scottish folklore, not least because it was immortalised by author Robert Louis Stevenson in the classic novel Kidnapped.
For more than 260 years historians, crime experts and amateur sleuths around the world have been fascinated by the real-life whodunit which is far more intriguing than any fictional murder.
Now, after detailed and painstaking investigation of ancient legal documents, a distinguished historian has identified a new prime suspect in the murder of ‘The Red Fox’ and called on the government to right one of Scotland’s longest miscarriages of justice.
The Stewarts of Appin had fought with the Jacobites in 1745 and after their defeat at Culloden their lands were confiscated and given to the Campbells as a reward for supporting the Hanoverian throne.So, when, on the morning of 14 May 1752 Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure was shot dead on the wooded slopes around Loch Linnhe, while going about his government-appointed duties as Factor, suspicion immediately fell on the Stewarts. Chief suspect was a local firebrand by the name of Alan Breck Stewart.
A huge man hunt failed to find Alan Breck so his foster-father, James Stewart known as James of the Glen, was arrested instead on suspicion of being complicit in the murder.
Tried by a jury made up of mostly Campbells the result of the court case, presided over by the Duke of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, came as no surprise. James was hanged in November 1752 and his body left to rot on the gibbet as an example to others.
“I come from that area of the country and like most people I was always thought the killing had been carried out by one of the Stewarts of Appin,” said Alan MacInness, Emeritus Professor of History at Strathclyde University.
But, after detailed examination of witness statements, ballistic evidence and trial documents Prof. MacInness is convinced James Stewart is innocent and that it wasn’t Alan Breck or any other member of the Stewart clan who killed Colin Campbell.
“It was an inside job. The only person who had the opportunity, the means and the motive was the dead man’s nephew Mungo Campbell,” said Prof. MacInness.
“Mungo was a very shadowy character and very difficult. He didn’t really get on with the rest of his family. By his own admission he was a ruthless man who would stop at very little to achieve his goals.
“He inherited his uncle’s wealth and job as Factor which he used to ingratiate himself with the military and the government. He was a very ambitions man.
” The first thing Prof. MacInness noticed in reviewing the evidence was that none of the witnesses reported seeing any smoke from a weapon.
“Campbell was allegedly killed by a long range shot from a musket. In the 18th century muskets retained smoke for some tome after shots were fired but nobody saw any.
“Witnesses also claimed to have heard only one shot yet Campbell was hit with two bullets. The chances of two shooters firing muskets at exactly the same time without any smoke seems unlikely. The most plausible explanation is that Campbell was shot at close range by a single person firing two pistols simultaneously.
“The only person who had the opportunity to do that was Mungo Campbell. He was on his own with his uncle for more than eight minutes and when you look at his statement as to what happened many of the things he says were not possible.”
Prof. MacInness also points to Mungo Campbell’s behaviour after the shooting and during the trial. His intimidation of witnesses points to a cover-up.
“The prosecution for the murder of Colin Campbell was handed to the Campbells of Barcaldine, it was effectively privatised. They were allowed to run their own investigation and Mungo Campbell spent his time beating up witnesses and taking their testimonies,” said Prof. MacInness.
While the prosecution took several months to organise their case against James the defence was given just a day and a half to prepare.
“The case against James of the Glen should never even have got to trial. There was absolutely no grounds, technical or circumstantial, to convict him. James should be exonerated. The circumstantial evidence that does exist is far stronger against Mungo than James,” said Prof. MacInness.
In 2008 Glasgow lawyer John Macaulay campaigned for a pardon for James of the Glen and requested the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission re-examine the case but his efforts were unsuccessful.
Last year the Scottish Government announced it would not recommend to the Queen that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy should be used for a posthumous pardon. A spokesman for the government said that while elements of the trial may be questionable there was no evidence to clearly exonerate Stewart.
However, Professor MacInness disagrees. “There is absolutely a case for James of the Glen to get a pardon. He was an innocent man hanged for something he had no part in,” he said.
“I wish the Scottish Government would stop being so conservative and show a little more radicalism.”