At the very start of the investigation of the Carluke murder case, the police allowed evidence that Beattie was not the murderer to simply vanish into thin air. They covered up the exact time of finding the body.

The official story at the trial was clear - on the evening of Friday 6th July 1973 Margaret McLaughlin walked through the local glen to catch a train to Glasgow. She vanished. The next day Inspector Harry Robson went to the glen and, at two minutes to three in the afternoon, he found her body.

But that was not the first "discovery" of the body.

George Beattie's mother first pointed me towards the truth. She said she first heard of the murder on the Saturday morning at about 11:30. I thought she was getting mixed up - the dead girl wasn't found until three and a half hours later.

Then I noticed in the transcript of the trial that the victim's mother was asked about the time. She told the court " About half past eleven."

I read on. One of the Mclaughlin daughters, Jane, told the court she phoned around until twelve. Why stop at noon? Margaret wasn't found until three hours later.

I asked the McLaughlin family priest when he had learned of Margaret's death. "That was certainly Saturday morning at half past eleven," he said, " because it was around noon that I was down in that area."

I began to believe this strange tale when I talked to WPC Linda Stewart. She was with the McLaughlin family on that fateful Saturday morning - investigating the matter as a "missing person inquiry." She got there at around 9:30. She hadn't been there very long before she noticed the Fiscal go by - and the local doctor. She then knew that the missing girl was dead.

So who had found the body?

The answer was quite simple - a local bobby, John Baker. I found him - he's retired now .

He said : "The grass was kind of crushed down as if something had been dragged, a sack or something. So being curious, I went down and she was just lying down under a tree."

I asked the key question - what time was this?.

Baker did not hesitate. " It must have been about twelve I think," he said. Later, Baker added he was sure he found the body between ten o'clock and eleven. That fits with WPC Linda Stewart's recollection. - More than four hours before the official discovery.

If Baker found Margaret Mclaughlin dead before eleven o'clock, when did the CID turn up at the glen? I asked two of the detectives on the case Both are still serving officers at Hamilton near Glasgow - D.S. Jim McCleary and D.I. Ian MacAllister. Both remembered being called out in the morning.

Four and a half hours were missing - why was this such a big secret?

The answer is quite simple. It was a catastrophic bungle that messed up an important part of the case. The undergrowth in the glen was a veritable jungle - the police decided to hide there in case the murderer came back to the scene of the crime.

So they waited - and waited.... and waited. It got hotter and hotter as the July sun rose over the glen. And finally one of them realised this was not such a good idea - in fact they were giving the murderer more time to dispose of the murder weapon and any of his clothing that had been stained by Margaret's blood. If he was running away, they were giving him more time for that too.

But most importantly, they realised that the pathologists would be furious if they discovered that they had lost the chance to take a body temperature while the glen was still cool in the morning.

How was this blunder to be covered up? Enter Big Harry Robson, the uniformed Inspector at Lanark. He had had nothing to do with the case until this moment. He was sent off to the glen. And he 'found' the body - again. It was just 2:58, as he later told the court under oath.

The pathologists were called in immediately. But it was Saturday afternoon, they weren't easy to find. In fact it was six o'clock before they took a temperature reading. They should have been there seven hours earlier.

Working out the time of death from the body temperature was now almost impossible. And rigor mortis, which may still have been setting in at 11:30, had now taken over the whole body - so another means of guessing time of death was gone.

It meant a lot of guesswork had to be done about when the girl had been killed. They plumped for eight o'clock.

The problem was that good evidence later emerged that the dead girl might have died several hours later. WPC Linda Stewart had taken a note on her "missing persons" questionnaire that Margaret McLaughlin had eaten a meal before setting out on the Friday. Yet the pathologists made no note of stomach contents in her dead body. Since it takes several hours to digest a meal this showed she died later than eight o'clock.

The police only learned this after Beattie was charged. If they told the pathologists, they might have to admit they had covered up the earlier discovery of the body. The pathologists might stop the girl's funeral and have another look at the stomach - and clear George Beattie. The police didn't want that - so they kept quiet about it all.

That was bad news for George Beattie, because he had a cast-iron alibi for every other moment of the evening - except those few minutes around eight o'clock. If the pathologists had been alerted to the bungle in the glen, they might have been more certain that Margaret McLaughlin died at around ten o'clock - as her empty stomach indicated. And George Beattie would not have had his life ruined for a crime he did not commit.

- Peter Hill.

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