GEORGE BEATTIE - A MAN OF LIMITED INTELLIGENCE.
The character of George Beattie with its many failings is central to this legal disaster. If ever a young man talked himself into trouble it was Beattie.
The police might have been warned. Anyone on the housing estate in Carluke who knew George could have told them that he was the type of man who would tell a tale to boost his image. Beattie didn't have much going for him, so he invented a world that gave him greater comfort. He was, as the Scots say, a 'blether'. But people didn't take him seriously - his nickname at school was the 'big saftie': no one ever dreamed that he might be involved in the murder.
In 1973 George Beattie was 19 years old. He was a well-built youth of medium height. He had a slight moustache along his upper lip - he only shaved once a week. He lived at 48 Unitas Crescent with his parents. The Beattie home was in the third block of houses beyond the shortcut to the playing fields, fifteen small grey council houses along from the spot that the victim Margaret McLaughlin passed as she turned away from Unitas Crescent. The Beattie home, as all the houses on this side of Unitas Crescent, backed on to the playing fields.
Beattie had always lived on this estate. He went to school in Carluke and then took on short term jobs in local laundries. Later he got a job as a lift boy in a large department store in Glasgow. He worked for a confectionery factory in a local village for several months, and suffered his first experience of being "framed". He was in charge of a van which "lost" some of its stock. It transpired that someone had forged Beattie's signature and stolen some sweets. Beattie had not noticed the discrepancy and was accused of negligence. He was dismissed.
He returned to working in a Carluke laundry, then became a porter at a hotel in nearby Symington. Finally in early 1972 he found more permanent work as a brakesman in the railway yards at the Lanarkshire Steelworks in Craigneuk.
He was eighteen, approaching manhood. In general he had a good reputation. He was known in the small police station in Carluke as an informant. He had twice helped them with information in connection with the theft of some copper wire from the railway. P.C. John Baker, the senior constable, regarded him as law-abiding.
The only trouble the Police had ever had with him was a minor affair. A neighbour called the station after Beattie had kicked a small boy's backside when he found him crawling under his father's parked car. The "country copper's" view was that Beattie's actions were probably the correct response in the circumstances. He had averted what could have been a nasty accident.
Beattie's health was generally good, though he had a slight heart murmur and a problem with his knees which made them lock from time to time. He shared a family weakness for bronchitis. He did not smoke, and hardly ever drank alcohol. He was below average intelligence - generally accepted as slightly backward and somewhat immature for his age. When he was about to move up to the secondary school at the age of ten there had been a suggestion that he should be sent to a special school. But nothing had been done.
George had frequently been absent from school because of childhood illnesses. He was a hopeless scholar who played no games and made few friends. He was also a natural target for bullies because he would never fight back. Some parents thought that his mother was a little too over-protective. George was big enough, they said, but he just "didn't have the guts".
So school was generally a disaster. In fact, because of a clerical error, Beattie had actually left the Carluke High School at the age of fourteen - one year before he should have done.
Five years later, his education, or lack of it, hardly equipped him to defend himself against the more normal hazards of life - never mind the power of a murder investigation led by Chief Superintendent Muncie.
But Beattie lived in a world of his own. He was passionately fond of railways and spent all his spare cash on a model layout he had at home. He owned ten engines and twenty coaches and was a member of the Scottish Railway Society. So keen was he, that he actually bought some shares in a private railway company in the Highlands. That gave him status. A share certificate, rather like a diploma, to put in a frame on the wall.
His local reputation largely depended on this hobby. He never had any girl friends, his passion was simply for trains. Everyone had seen him train spotting on the Carluke station platform. Most of the railway staff knew him either by name or by sight. He usually waved to the drivers of the trains as they went through.
His passion for trains probably accounts for an odd occurrence in his life. Just after he left school, George ran away from home - and finished up in Dundee. Ultimately he was discovered in the Mayfield hospital there, pretending to have lost his memory. He said his name was Robert Nelson. The doctors were suspicious however, and soon established his true identity. After questioning him further, they came to the conclusion that George had simply indulged his passion for riding on trains and had got as far as Dundee before running out of money. His older brothers travelled across Scotland to take him back home.
There were eight Beattie children in Carluke. The oldest, William, was 29 years old and a foreman on a building site. He was married with 2 children. Then there was Jimmy - 27 years old and also married with two children. He was a salesman.
Robert, 25 years old was a bus driver. Married, he had no children Then came Tommy - 24 years old, a lorry driver. He, like Willie and Jimmy, was married with two children. These three had all left home of course, but there still four of the Beattie children at home. Ena, George's elder sister was 23. She worked in a large department store in Glasgow. Then came George. Younger than George was John - 14 years old. He was still at school, but worked a milk round in the early morning. Finally there was Carol. She suffered from epileptic fits and needed constant care from her mother.
The victim in this case, Margaret McLaughlin, was four years older than George Beattie, so he had only seen her at a distance whilst at school. Although Margaret was of a pleasant and open disposition, she was not the kind of girl Beattie could easily befriend. She was Catholic, he Protestant, so there was little reason for them to ever get together socially. In any case, whereas the other youths on the housing estate hung around Margaret, George Beattie was far too bashful for that.
In spite of this, George actually knew Margaret better than some. When he worked at the department store in Glasgow in 1970 she had regularly taken the same train to Motherwell that he caught to go to Glasgow. They had been together on the platform, and passed the time of day. Margaret was friendly like that. Sometimes, walking through the glen he had carried her bag.
At the Lanarkshire steel works Beattie had a reputation for telling tall tales. The man who shared a locker with George, Colin McClair, said that George had a reputation for making up fantastic stories which nobody believed. Another brakesman, William Campbell, said that George often exaggerated about his drinking habits. " But we know they are all lies," he added.
George's eldest brother William saw George as a day-dreamer. " He fantasised a lot," he said. "He could go for a walk and lose himself just going down into the woods, looking at the stars, the trees. "
William had heard George telling "whoppers" and thought this tendency to exaggerate came from having four older brothers.
" We did shooting, fishing and the like where he was the odd man out. He'd never really done anything like that. He always had to try to live up to our image. So he was inclined to fantasize a wee bit, all younger brothers have a tendency to do that."
His sister Ena, who was perhaps closest to him, saw it in him too. "He liked to dream a bit" she said," I think he liked to make himself out to be just a bit more important. But let's face it, sometimes we all do that, just to make ourselves look more important."
This was the man who was put under such intense interrogation by the police at Carluke that he had something of an epileptic fit - and was given no medical help at all when he suffered that fit. Words were put into his mouth without him realizing it - and then taken down again as he repeated them. He had no benefit of attorney during this period. He had to fend for himself against police officers who believed they could prove a case of murder against him.
- Peter Hill.
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