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HMA v William MacDowell


Sep 30, 2022

At the High Court in Inverness, Lord Armstrong sentenced William MacDowell to life imprisonment for the murders of Renee MacRae and Andrew MacRae. The punishment part - the minimum period spent in prison before becoming eligible for parole - was set at 30 years.


On sentencing, Lord Armstrong said:

"William David MacDowell, you have been convicted of the murders, on 12 November 1976, of Christina, known as Renee, Macrae, and her young son Andrew, and of a related charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

On the evidence at your trial, these murders appear to have been premeditated, planned and carried out by you in the most calculating way. It was not a spontaneous event which happened on the spur of the moment.  These appear to have been, in effect, executions.  You murdered your victims, and then disposed of their bodies and personal effects, including the boy’s pushchair, and then took various steps to conceal the crimes you had committed and to avoid detection. 

You are 80 years of age. I note that you appear before me as a first offender, with no prior criminal history.

I have noted what has been said on your behalf by Mr Macara. I note your continuing health difficulties, which arise in a number of forms.

I have noted the deletions made by the jury to charges 1 and 2, consistent with their verdicts.

The only sentence for murder is imprisonment for life.  However, I also have to impose a period which must pass before you could apply for parole, known as the punishment part of that sentence. 

I say, in passing, that I have no doubt that Renee Macrae’s relatives, and those who knew her, must have been deeply affected by this. Nothing that I can say or do can compensate for their loss, and I suspect that no sentence would ever be regarded as sufficient in their eyes. In that context, I have noted, and taken account of, the statement read on behalf of Renee Macrae’s sister, Morag Govans.

In relation to your convictions for murder, in respect of both charges 1 and 2, taken together, in cumulo, I sentence you to imprisonment for life.

In determining the appropriate punishment part, I have taken into account the whole circumstances of this tragic case, including, in particular, the gravity of the crime of murder of which you now stand doubly convicted, but also the fact that these crimes, having occurred some 45 years ago, are to be regarded as relatively historical, your status as a first offender, your whole personal circumstances, and what has been said on your behalf.

In fixing the punishment part, I must reflect the need to punish you for your crimes of murder, and to deter others from committing that crime. Taking all of that into account, had I been considering sentence in relation to these crimes, the crimes of murder referable to charge 1 and 2, alone, I would have fixed the punishment part at 27 years. 

I am required, however, in fixing the punishment part in your case, to take into account the gravity of those crimes, the crimes of murder, combined with the other crime of which you stand convicted, in respect of charge 3 on the same indictment.

In respect of that charge, which relates to the crime of attempting to defeat the ends of justice, in relation to charges 1 and 2, taking into account the whole circumstances of the case, the fact that the crime concerned is to be considered as being relatively historical, and your whole personal circumstances, the sentence I shall impose in respect of that charge, charge 3, is one of a period of imprisonment of 6 years.   That sentence will run concurrently with the life sentence which I have already imposed.

I consider it appropriate that the crime set out in charge 3 should be taken into account in determining the appropriate period of the punishment part of the life sentence which I must impose, and that the period which would otherwise be imposed, in respect of the crimes of murder alone, should be increased accordingly.  On that basis, having regard, as I must, to the need to limit the period of any increase to the punishment part, referable to the sentence imposed in relation to charge 3, to those parts attributable to retribution and deterrence, and taking into account also the provisions currently in force in respect of early release, the period by which I will increase the punishment part of your life sentence, beyond that part referable to the crimes of murder, will be one of 3 years.

In the result, therefore, I impose a punishment part in respect of your life sentence, in total, of 30 years.  That period will commence from today, and is the minimum period of imprisonment you must serve before you will become eligible for parole. The sentence of imprisonment for 6 years, which I have imposed concurrently with your life sentence, will also take effect from today’s date."