Suzanne Pilley’s dad tells of last time they met

Rob Pilley
Rob Pilley
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SHE leant over and gave her dad a “wee peck on the cheek” and disappeared inside with her bags of shopping.

With a wave, Rob Pilley drove off, happy in the knowledge his daughter was safely back at home.

It wasn’t an unusual occurrence – to be called up at the last minute to pick up Suzanne from the shops. It is what any father would do for their child, even a 38-year-old with their own independent life.

Suzanne Pilley

Suzanne Pilley

It was a normal, everyday event for a close-knit, loving family, one which would not even be remarked upon.

Except this day – and that peck on the cheek – will live with Mr Pilley for the rest of his life. It would be the last time the retired HGV technician would ever see his daughter. The name Suzanne Pilley would soon be the talk of Scotland. Speaking for the first time as part of a BBC documentary broadcast tonight, Mr Pilley, 68, told of the last moments he spent with his generous, happy-go-lucky daughter before the nightmare of her disappearance and the subsequent trial of David Gilroy – the man convicted of her murder.

“I was the last one to see her, in the family,” he says. “I’d picked her up from the shops with her messages and I dropped her off at the stair, and I, at the time, I was bad with my walking,

“I was waiting on getting operations done to my legs, and so I couldn’t help her up the stair with her messages. And she just gave me a wee peck on the cheek.

Suzanne pictured on supermarket CCTV with her killer David Gilroy

Suzanne pictured on supermarket CCTV with her killer David Gilroy

“And that was the last I seen of her. Never seen her again since.”

The nightmare began for Mr Pilley and his wife Sylvia, 69, on May 4, 2010, when Suzanne’s employer, Infrastructure Managers Limited, called to say she had not turned up for work.

“Well, we got a call from Helen in her work to say she hadn’t appeared, which was very unusual of Suzanne,” says Mr Pilley. “Because even if she was going to be late in the mornings, if the bus was late or she was only going to be five minutes, she’d always phone up her work.

“But, when Helen phoned up, I think it was about quarter to one in the afternoon, we thought ‘oh her mother texted her and everything’, but, just as time went on it just seemed to get worse.”

As time wore on, Mr Pilley, from Stenhouse, began to fear something “sinister” had happened. He headed to his daughter’s flat in nearby Whitson Road. Earlier, Suzanne had asked to borrow his Orange mobile phone so she could get free cinema tickets.

“I think it was about four o’clock I went down to the flat,” he says, “and I could see that she’d been in the flat in the morning, because as usual Suzanne wasn’t the tidiest of people, and just things lying on the bedroom floor, and I thought ‘well she’s been in, and got changed and went to her work’.”

But the hours continued to pass and there was no sign of Suzanne. Eventually, what Mr Pilley calls “instinct” drove him and his wife to contact the police.

“I don’t think we had thought ‘I’m never going to see her again’,” he says. “I don’t know what it was, but it was just so unlike Suzanne not to be in touch, I knew there must’ve been something sinister had happened.

“It was just a case of waiting on the police to say that something had happened. That’s when they says during the investigation they’d seen her on CCTV, and it was going – eventually arriving – going to her work.”

For the next two weeks police searched for Suzanne without success. On May 19, officers said they were treating her disappearance as murder after finding CCTV footage of her outside her office on the day she disappeared.

The development would mark the beginning of a near two-year ordeal for Mr Pilley and his wife, with detectives at Lothian and Borders Police using dogs, mountain rescue teams and dozens of volunteers as they scoured a 400-square-mile area of Argyll in the hunt for the bookkeeper.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says Mr Pilley. “You see the forests, you look for the car parks, it’s just trees and all you see is a hairline crack going through the trees, you don’t realise that it’s actually a road that’s going through there, and Suzanne could be in any one of these roads.”

The murder investigation, meanwhile, had focused on David Gilroy, Ms Pilley’s lover and work colleague. On June 23, 2010, he was charged with murder.

But it was not until February 20 this year that Gilroy’s trial began at the High Court in Edinburgh.

“It’s a completely new experience as far as I’m concerned,” says Mr Pilley. “I mean you see things on the television, trials that’ve gone on, but, when you see every detail that’s brought up, and, during the trial you think, well, they’re sort of condemning Suzanne to start with, and Suzanne’s not there to fight for herself, and we’re sort of not there to fight for her either, it seemed to be a bit one-sided, to start with, but there’s nobody there to speak up for Suzanne, apart from her mother right at the very start.”

On March 13, the jury retired to consider its verdict.

“I think that’s the worst three days of our lives,” remembers Mr Pilley. “Just sitting there, you’re 15 men and women and you’re saying to yourself ‘well what decision are you?’. . . You know what decision the family’s made, but it’s a case of ‘has the prosecution got the message across to the jury?’, and you just hope and pray that he has.”

Gilroy’s conviction has at least brought the hope of closure to Mr Pilley and his wife, even though their daughter’s body has yet to be found.

He says: “After the first weekend after the result of the trial, Gary [Detective Superintendent Gary Flannigan] phoned me up, asked me how I was feeling and I just says to him ‘I feel as though there’s a big lump, a big heavy load been taken off my shoulders’, and I just feel, also feel that the door’s open.

“After the trial it’s ajar, and hopefully one day we’ll be able to close the door.”

For now, Mr Pilley and his wife are holding on to the memory of the life-embracing daughter taken from them so suddenly.

“I would say she’s always happy-go-lucky, she liked the outdoors life, she was always either swimming, running or cycling. She was always on the go.

“She always seemed to get on with everybody. So she’s sorely missed.”

Suzanne Pilley: The Woman Who Vanished, is on BBC One, tonight at 10.45pm

The nightmare unfolds

• May 4, 2010: Office worker Suzanne Pilley, 38, fails to arrive for work at Infrastructure Managers Limited and is reported missing by her parents, who she last contacted at around 8.30am that day. A week later, police say that she may have been the victim of a “criminal act”.

• May 19, 2010: Lothian and Borders Police begin treating Miss Pilley’s disappearance as a murder investigation after finding CCTV footage of her outside her office on the morning she disappeared.

• May 20, 2010: Police expand their investigation to a 400-square-mile area of Argyll, stretching from Tyndrum to Inveraray and the Argyll Forest.

• June 23, 2010: Police charge Miss Pilley’s former lover and colleague David Gilroy (pictured) with her murder.

• February 20, 2012: Gilroy goes on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

• March 9, 2012: The prosecution closes its case.

• March 13: The jury retires to consider its verdict.

• March 15: Guilty verdict returned.

• May 19, 2010: Lothian and Borders Police begin treating Miss Pilley’s disappearance as a murder investigation after finding CCTV footage of her outside her office on the morning she disappeared.

• May 20, 2010: Police expand their investigation to a 400-square-mile area of Argyll, stretching from Tyndrum to Inveraray and the Argyll Forest.

• June 23, 2010: Police charge Miss Pilley’s former lover and colleague David Gilroy (pictured) with her murder.

• February 20, 2012: Gilroy goes on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

• March 9, 2012: The prosecution closes its case.

• March 13: The jury retires to consider its verdict.

• March 15: Guilty verdict returned.

• April 18: Gilroy is sentenced to a minimum of 18 years.

Praise for police

THE father of Suzanne Pilley has praised the officers who led the hunt for her killer and the lawyers who secured his conviction.

David Gilroy, 49, was found guilty of Ms Pilley’s murder on March 15.

Rob Pilley, 68, said Lothian and Borders Police had given him and his wife, Sylvia, 69, all the support they could have hoped for as detectives searched for their daughter’s body.

Officers began their hunt after Ms Pilley, 38, was reported missing by her parents on May 4, 2010.

The search was later extended to Argyll and Bute, with officers focusing on Glen Croe Forest, near the Rest and Be Thankful on the A83. Ms Pilley’s remains have not yet been found.

Mr Pilley said: “I can’t fault Lothian and Borders Police. They’ve been there since day one. They’ve given us all the support that they possibly could.

“They’ve had us up to Argyll, showed us places where they possibly thought Suzanne may have been buried – different parts, all over Argyll.”

Mr Pilley also praised prosecutor Alex Prentice QC, who led the Crown’s case against Gilroy.

He said: “You know what decision the family’s made, but it’s a case of has the prosecution got the message across to the jury? And you just hope and pray that he has. And fortunately enough Alex Prentice’s team did a very good job in securing the prosecution.”

Mr Pilley also paid tribute to Ms Pilley’s friends and colleagues at Infrastructure Managers Limited (IML).

He added: “I think she was the one that always was there to make friends and she had a lot of good friends.

“And even all her work colleagues, we couldn’t ask for any better support from IML. They’ve been really, really tremendous in the help that they’ve given us and the support right throughout these last two years.