POLICE are treating the deaths of two elderly brothers found dead at a house in Edinburgh as a suicide pact.
The men, named locally as John and Robert McIlwain, aged 71 and 73, were reportedly discovered by police with gunshot wounds to the stomach lying on top of a firearm at their home in Lockerby Cottages, Gracemount.
The tragedy has left the community in shock.
Police were said to have received a call from one of the brothers, who had warned he was going to kill himself. It is understood the force is now looking into claims that the men had both been licensed firearms holders and were terminally ill.
Neighbours said both men had health problems and speculated their deaths might be the result of a suicide pact, with one woman claiming her husband had been expecting to witness their wills.
The two brothers – known to neighbours as Jack and Bob – were understood to be bachelors and had worked together as gardeners before they retired because of ill health.
The Evening News has also been told that one of the brothers was more seriously ill than the other and had been housebound for the past year.
One neighbour said: “We think the McIlwain brothers have carried out a suicide pact.
“Bob and Jack McIlwain were lovely gentlemen. They lived together. I think they have always been together, they were very attached to each other. One of them had been disabled since youth. They just cared for each other.
“My husband was expecting to go in and witness their wills. The way that everyone spoke it sounded like they were realising the end was near.”
Officers launched a major response but said today they were not looking for anyone in connection with the deaths.
Neighbour Anna Parker said: “They were super neighbours and we are in a state of sorrow to lose them. Latterly, Jack, who was the one that was really disabled, had been housebound.
“They both had chronic illnesses, pulmonary fibrosis. Both were on oxygen. It was an industrial disease. I believe it was asbestos.
“They have been living here for eight years. They were very close, good neighbours.”
Police said they were alerted to a disturbance at a property in Lockerby Cottages in Gracemount at around 5pm yesterday, and on arrival they sealed off neighbouring streets.
The community was gripped by panic as a huge section of Lasswade Road close to Gracemount High School and not far Liberton Hospital was closed off to rush hour traffic, with bewildered workers unable to return to their homes.
Residents said they had seen armed officers entering the building, while the Police Scotland helicopter circled overhead, and two ambulances were also called to the scene.
A friend and neighbour of the brothers said the two men had looked after one another, and confirmed they had been suffering serious health problems in recent months.
He said: “Both of them had health problems and they were really looking after each other. Jack had breathing difficulties and some days he could barely draw breath.
“I went to their house to see Bob last week and Jack was there. I spoke to them both and they seemed fine. I saw Jack again in the garden on Monday and asked him how he was. He said ‘OK’.
“I knew Bob quite well. He used to work for the council’s parks department before he retired. He did general maintenance at the workshops in Gracemount.
“Jack had a mobility scooter and he drove a car before that. He drove Bob about because he didn’t drive.
“They never spoke about family or anything. They would just chat away about this or that.
“They were both really likeable people. Bob would always be helping people with their garden or whatever they needed.
“They were really nice guys and it’s shame. This was obviously something they decided for themselves.”
Lockerby Cottages is a quiet leafy cul-de-sac off Lasswade Road owned by the Lockerby Trust, set up in 1894 for “distressed gentlefolk who had fallen on hard times”.
An imposing gateway leads on to 16 semi-detached houses and two bungalows occupied by 34 people.
Catriona Blackwood, assistant factor for the trust, appeared visibly shaken by what had happened. She was among the people being kept back by the police cordon as officers investigated the incident and gathered evidence from the scene, and said she wanted to get in to comfort the occupants. Along with her brother, factor David Salmon, she is on the interview panel which decides who lives here.
She said: “I know all of them well. They are people I have known ever since I interviewed them before they moved in.
“They are all people who have retired and all people who have been allocated the houses by the trustees. I can genuinely say that any one of them would have been personal friends of mine had I met them in other circumstances.”
Ms Blackwood described the Cottages as a ”lovely quiet private road” occupied by retired people who had fallen on hard times or who had been in “deserving but poorly paid jobs”. That tranquility was shattered last night, and many residents returning home for work were turned back, with large groups gathered at both sides of the police cordon.
Sophie Moran, 18, of Gracemount Drive, said: “We got to Lockerby Crescent and we got told to ‘Get back’. We also saw four police with guns.”
Tyler Buchanan, 17, of Gilmerton Dykes, was one of many people who saw a police helicopter circling overhead.
One man, who has lived on the Carnbee estate for a number of years, could not get home because of the police cordon and said he had no idea what was going on.
The cordon was only lifted shortly after 8pm.
A Police Scotland statement said: “Police in Edinburgh attended a property in Lockerby Cottages near Gracemount at around 5pm.
“On gaining entry, two elderly men were found seriously injured and were pronounced dead at the scene.
“Inquiries are continuing but police are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.”
COTTAGES BUILT FOR BANK COLLAPSE VICTIMS
The site of the Lockerby Cottages previously housed Burnhead Mansion, built in the early 19th century by John Duncan.
The mansion fell into decay with the building of new housing schemes after the Second World War, and it and the surrounding land were bought up by the Lockerby Trust, which had already purchased two acres of the land in the late 19th century to create the Lockerby Cottages, also known as the alms houses, to house people who lost everything when the City of Glasgow Bank collapsed towards the end of the 19th century.
The modern development was created in 1978 by Miller Homes and the buildings are looked after by the Trust. Currently, it is a home mainly for pensioners.