Mum reveals agony after son’s murder

Bernadette Duncan. Picture: Greg Macvean

Bernadette Duncan. Picture: Greg Macvean

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Lee Duncan’s mum today told how she visited her son’s grave to apologise for failing to “bring him justice” after the man accused of killing him was found not guilty of murder

Bernadette Duncan offered prayers and asked for forgiveness at the memorial to her son, who was discovered beaten to death in his Tollcross flat in February 2011.

Lee Duncan. Picture: contributed

Lee Duncan. Picture: contributed

Last week, Gary Parker was found not guilty of the murder after a three-week trial and walked free from the High Court in Edinburgh.

Mrs Duncan said she hopes fresh evidence may still come to light to convict whoever killed her son.

Wiping away tears, the 57-year-old paid tribute to her son as “a big softie” whose life spiralled into years of drug abuse despite the family’s efforts to wean him off heroin.

Mrs Duncan claimed she had finally been forced to throw Lee out of their home in Walker’s Wynd, Wester Hailes, after a series of drug raids by police threatened the family with eviction.

The grandmother is filled with regret that she was unable to keep her son at home and perhaps save him from tragedy, aged just 31.

Alongside Lee’s step-father, James Jones, 59, the couple has faced three heartbreaking years, beginning with the death of Mr Jones’ son, Paul.

And now Mrs Duncan is awaiting the results of a biopsy to discover whether she has developed skin cancer.

Parker, 45, was accused of killing Lee – his friend and neighbour – with a claw hammer in Lauriston Place. Blood from Lee was found on the tread of Parker’s new boots and the trial heard that Parker had confessed his guilt to a cellmate, but the jury returned a not guilty verdict.

Mrs Duncan, who works as a cashier at a city garage, said: “Whatever happened in court would not bring Lee back, but we wanted justice for him. After the verdict, we went down to Lee’s grave at Saughton to say prayers and apologise because we couldn’t bring him justice.

“I go to his grave every week to speak to him. I can spend hours there. We’re saving up to put an iron fence around his headstone with his name on it. It’s an important place for us to remember Lee.

“On his headstone, the inscription is ‘He made us laugh and he made us cry’, which is true. Then at the bottom it says ‘Goodnight’ because no matter where he was he would phone me for a chat and to say goodnight.”

Born in Hamilton, Lee and his family moved to Colchester and Berlin before settling in Wester Hailes when he was aged around eight. He began using heroin when he was about 20, but was on a methadone programme at the time of his death.

Mrs Duncan said: “He started mixing with the wrong people, starting smoking cannabis and moving on to other drugs then heroin. He was easily led. About three years ago, Lee was still living with us and the police raided our house three times because of him. After the third one, we were worried that if Lee didn’t leave we could all be evicted.

“He was in bed and breakfasts then he ended up in Niddrie, but he didn’t last long there. Lee fell in with some bad people who later set fire to his flat. He ended up in Tollcross. I can’t help think if he stayed with us then none of this would have happened.”

The trial heard that Mr Duncan was living in Lauriston Place, where he dealt drugs including heroin, cannabis and Valium to friends and neighbours while in a fledgling relationship with girlfriend Kirsty Nelson, 33.

Terrified of attack, he kept a hammer beside his bed for protection.

Mrs Duncan said: “The evidence at the trial suggested he was some kind of big drug dealer. Our family have nothing to do with drugs and we don’t condone it at all, but he only ever sold drugs to friends to make ends meet.

“Most of the clothes and other things in his flat were from us, or his sister Melanie, as birthday or Christmas presents.

“He was happy in Lauriston Place. He was very proud of the flat and kept it spotless, but he fell in with a bad crowd again.”

Lee’s body was found by Ms Nelson on the morning of February 25, 2011. She quickly alerted Parker, a downstairs neighbour, and he made the 999 call to police.

A postmortem revealed 15 injuries to Lee’s head and face consistent with blows from a hammer – some of them inflicted with the claw end.

In a cruel twist, Mrs Duncan said that the family learned Lee had been murdered after hearing the news on the radio.

She added: “I was at my work when Melanie heard that a Lee Duncan had been killed while she was listening to Radio Forth. She called our house and spoke to James. He had to come to the garage to tell me.

“We had to go to Lee’s flat and it was all cordoned off by the police. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I was in total shock.

“I think I could’ve accepted it if Lee had died from drugs – it was something I was prepared for. But for him to be murdered, I couldn’t accept that.

“I can’t seem to move on. I feel that we have no answers. I know I heard the case in court, but it doesn’t feel like closure with the verdict.”

The family has been struggling to come to terms both with the loss of Lee and the jury’s decision. Mrs Duncan said: “We are so heartbroken by everything that has happened. I can’t thank the CID detectives enough for what they did. They put in a lot of resources for Lee’s investigation and really gave it everything they had. I felt very confident before the trial of a guilty verdict because of all they evidence they gathered.

“If new evidence comes out, I would like the police to investigate again.”

Mrs Duncan and Lee’s father, Joseph, divorced when he was a boy and she and Mr Jones have been together for 21 years. Lee’s father, who lives in Australia, travelled back to Edinburgh for the funeral and returned for part of the court case.

Mr Jones said the family had been battling a series of traumas in recent years, and was now awaiting the result of his partner’s cancer tests.

He said: “This nightmare started three years ago when my son Paul died. He had battled a drink problem and died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and medication. It was devastating to have to deal with the death of my son, then a year later Lee was killed.

“I was trying to be strong for Bernadette, but it was hard with all this to go through. But she has really been a superhero to me, the way she has kept going and keeping the family together. I don’t know how she does it.

“To be surrounded by all this death, we feel like we’ve not had time to grieve.”

Mr Jones said that his step-son had a “lot of difficulties” in life through his dyslexia, but his mother was a “rock” who battled for years to get him off drugs.

He added: “Bernadette was always the person who supported him right through his problems. Neighbours would say to her, ‘you’ve got to throw him out the house’ and she would say, ‘never, he’s my son’.”

Mrs Duncan also said that the family would try to hold on to the good memories they share of her son.

She said: “Lee was the kind of person that would talk to anyone and he had lots of friends. He was that type of person, but he was easy for people to take a lend of. Lee was not a fighter, he was a big softie.

“Lee was a really funny person. He would make you laugh so much, on purpose and by accident. He would help anyone and he loved his family.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “If any new evidence was to be brought to the attention of police, then it would be considered in consultation with the Crown Office in order to ascertain whether there would be grounds for a fresh 
investigation.”

‘I’m completely innocent . . his drugs were rubbish’

GARY Parker today insisted that he was “completely 100 per cent innocent” of the murder.

The 45-year-old, cleared by a jury last Wednesday, insisted he was “devastated” by his friend’s death.

Speaking to the Evening News, Parker, who has now moved out of the Capital, said: “I wouldn’t have killed Lee for drugs because his drugs were rubbish.

“Lee was a friend. I bought cannabis from him and heroin a few times, but not much because it was very low grade.”

Parker said he met Lee shortly after moving into Lauriston Place in October 2010, five months before his body was found on February 25, 2011.

“My deepest sympathies go to Lee’s mum and his whole family. I hope that they get the person who killed Lee one day, but it wasn’t me. I can understand how they still think I’m guilty because I was the man put on trial.

“I have a daughter and a son aged 24 and 22. If anything happened to them I would be devastated. I hope that his mum can go on with her life.

“When the detectives told me ‘we’re charging you with the murder of Lee Duncan’, I just said ‘OK’. One of the detectives said I must be the coolest man in the world because of the seriousness of what was happening. I said, ‘I don’t mind, I didn’t do it’. I was very confident of being found not guilty.

“The only time I was anxious was the first day of the trial because I’d never been in the High Court before.”

Parker, right, who is also a grandfather, said he “fully cooperated” with the investigation.

He said: “I gave full statements to police after Lee was killed right up to when I was charged. I gave the police all my clothes, my boots. I gave them fingernail scrapings, everything. The forensics searched my flat for 12 hours and found nothing.

“I was at Lee’s between 7pm and 7.30pm on February 24. We had a cup of tea and a joint and that was the last time I saw him.”

The jury heard evidence from Gordon Wilson, 35, who was held in a cell at Edinburgh Sheriff Court with Parker, and claimed the accused man confessed.

Parker denied making any confession and also dismissed threatening texts he sent to Lee in the weeks before his murder.

He said: “The confession was all fabricated. I was only with the guy in the cell for 30 or 40 seconds. How did I have time to give him the whole story of a murder?

“I’m off street drugs now. The doctor upped my Valium and sleeping tablet prescriptions and the Prozac for my depression. I’m just trying to put my life back together.”