Edinburgh Unsolved: Mother tells of last words to murdered son

Lee Duncan was murdered in 2011.
Lee Duncan was murdered in 2011.

MILD-mannered Lee Duncan’s troubles began after falling in with the wrong crowd and getting introduced to drugs.

But after a stint in Saughton, the 31-year-old was trying to get back on track with a place of his own and a new girlfriend.

Tragically, the promise of a new life ended in a hail of hammer blows as Lee was brutally bludgeoned to death in his Tollcross flat one February night in 2011.

Neighbour Gary Park was tried but cleared two years later and to date, no one has been convicted of the frenzied attack.

Six years on, Lee’s mum and sister say Lee was living in fear at the time of his death and still hold out hope his killer will be brought to justice.

“He was always on the phone to me,” recalls Bernadette, 62. “He’d phone every day just to chat. My last words were: ‘is your chain on and is your door locked?’”

Lee grew up in Longstone and attended Longstone Primary before the family moved to Wester Hailes.

“He was at my side all the time as a kid - he was really close to me,” says garage cashier Bernadette, who still lives in the family’s Wester Hailes home.

“I’d go out shopping and he’d come with me and help me with it.”

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Older sister Melanie adds: “He was a really nice wee boy. He was really helpful and always wanted to help people. He’d go over to his gran’s and clean her windows.”

“He was into computer games and would spend hours playing them,” the city council revenues and benefits officer, 42, adds. “He struggled academically though and found it really difficult.”

Bernadette recalls: “Sometimes he didn’t want to go to school. He was good with his hands though. He loved woodwork and would make little boxes before painting them and bring them home as a gift for me.”

Lee went on to Firrhill High School but struggled with what was later diagnosed as dyslexia - leaving school at 16 with no qualifications.

Melanie says: “He tried to get a job but he couldn’t fill out forms and took ages to read things so it was difficult for him to find work.

Bernadette adds: “He worked for a while as a dish washer and porter at a hotel in town not long after leaving school.”

But when that job fell through, Lee found himself at home with little to do and easy prey for the Capital’s drugs scene.

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“He would just speak to anyone. He knew everyone in our street and everyone knew him. He wasn’t shy that way,” says Bernadette.

“I didn’t even realise he was taking drugs. We weren’t really looking for it. He was taken advantage of. They all took advantage of him because they knew he was different to them and he was terrified of them.

“I had to go out and fight his battles for him. If he was having an argument with someone in the street he’d come home and tell me.”

It was a rapid descent for Lee from smoking cannabis in his late teens to taking heroin in his early 20s. But after a brief stint in Saughton on drug and driving charges, he was starting to rebuild his life.

“I went to drug rehabilitation groups with him,” says Bernadette. “I felt he wasn’t getting any help and nothing was being done so I took responsibility.”

After staying in a halfway house in Niddrie, Lee got his own place in Lauriston Place - it was to be his final home.

“He didn’t tell anyone where he was because he wanted to stay away from people to change his ways. That’s when he changed his life,” says Bernadette.

Melanie adds: “He loved that flat and took care of it. He painted it and was always tidying and doing housework.”

Lee began a relationship with Kirsty Nelson, 33, the mother of a young child.

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“He’d come over every Christmas for dinner. He’d get a taxi here and then one back later. We’d go over to his flat for his birthday,” says Bernadette.

Melanie adds: “He was good to my kids and was a good uncle. They loved him.”

But Lee could never totally leave his past behind and was received death threats in the weeks leading up to his violent death. Those fears were to be realised as Lee was found in a pool of blood on the floor of his flat. He had been attacked with a claw hammer.

Lee’s body was found by Ms Nelson on the morning of February 25, 2011. She quickly alerted Mr 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.

Melanie first got wind something was wrong through radio reports of the killing. “He hadn’t phoned that morning when he’d normally be on the phone so I thought he might be doing something with his girlfriend.

“But then a friend phoned to ask me if I’d heard the radio - they were saying Lee had been found dead. It was terrible. We were trying his phone but it just kept going to answer machine. We were hysterical but we still had hope. I think we knew before we got there, we were just hoping.”

The frantic family tried to phone police before heading to Lee’s flat to find it cordoned off and were eventually told the horrific news.

“We were stood in the street crying and people were stopping to ask us if we knew what was going on - we just said we didn’t,” says Melanie.

Bernadette went to identify Lee the next day. “At first we were told they didn’t know whether we’d be able to because of his injuries until the swelling went down.

“They said we could the next morning but we could only see one side of his face.”

Melanie’s daughter Kayla-Lee, now 24, and named after her uncle was just two weeks into a gap year in Australia.

“She wanted to come home when we told her - she was so upset,” says Melanie.

“I couldn’t get it to sink in that he was dead. He’d phone me all the time and when the phone rang, I thought it has to be Lee,” says Bernadette.

Mother and sister went to court every day for the three-week trial. They heard Lee was dealing drugs, including heroin, cannabis and valium at the time of his death, something they contest.

”I wanted to stay in court and listen to everything, but when it came to the injuries I went out,” says Bernadette.

“I went back in because I wanted to hear it all,” adds Melanie. “It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.”

“The case went on and on. I went from a size 12 to a size eight with the stress,” says Melanie.

The court heard that Mr Parker confessed to Lee’s murder to a cellmate at the court - something he denied.

Mr Parker had an alibi, he was in his own flat at the time of the attack on Lee and blamed two other men for the killing.

Specks of Lee’s blood found on his new boots was explained by the fact he walked past the body after paramedics told him to open the curtains.

Lee’s murder has been devastating for the family. “I didn’t celebrate Christmas for three years after because he always came round,” says Bernadette.

“We don’t have Christmas dinner or anything, I just took flowers to his grave - same on his birthday and the anniversary.”

Lee, buried at Saughton Cemetery would have turned 38 a month ago today.

“It’s just never been the same without him,” says Melanie. “When strangers ask if I’ve got a brother I say it’s just me now.

“Otherwise I have to explain what happened and it’s too hard.”

Bernadette adds: “We don’t feel like we’ve got closure. We still have hope the person who did it gets found guilty and I hope he gets put behind bars for the rest of his life.”