Death pact brother’s illness stopped him gardening

Police officers at the scene in Gracemount. Picture: Jane Barlow
Police officers at the scene in Gracemount. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE older brother who died along with his sibling in a suicide pact was heartbroken after illness left him unable to tend his beloved garden, neighbours said today.

Robert McIlwain, 73, died from gunshot wounds alongside his housebound 71-year-old brother, John, in their home in Lockerby Gardens, Gracemount, on Thursday.

Mr McIlwain had long cared for his disabled brother but his own health had began ­failing in the last 18 months as he battled pulmonary fibrosis linked to asbestos exposure.

The increasingly frail ­pensioner was forced to abandon caring for his garden, and had to hire a professional to carry out the work instead.

The brothers – known as Bob and Jack – had also been keen golfers at one time, but were no longer able to play given their declining health and mobility. Residents in the scenic street said the brothers would have been “shocked” by the arrival of armed officers and a police helicopter as they were “very private”.

A neighbour said: “Bob loved to look after his garden, and even helped with other people’s, including mine, but he wasn’t able to do that any longer because of his health. It was hard for him to give it up. He had to hire a gardener to do it for him.

“I last saw him on Tuesday and he just waved at me as he stood at his door.”

Friend and next door neighbour Frank Parker, 82, a retired minister, said: “Jack had been disabled from birth by a hip problem, but he was still able to work and drive and get around. But Jack couldn’t really do much in his last years and was eventually housebound with Bob looking after him. Bob was reasonably fit until about 18 months ago. When he was young he worked with asbestos and that gave him problems with his lungs.

“I had no idea they had a gun in the house and was quite shocked when I found out. They never mentioned it, or said they went shooting or anything. The only activities they had were playing golf, which they had stopped doing, and the garden.

“They were good neighbours and good people.” Mr Parker’s wife Anne, 83, said the brothers wanted her husband to witness them signing their wills a few weeks ago, but it was not ready on time.

Mrs Parker believes the brothers agreed on a suicide pact so the other would not be left alone. She said: “I can only imagine that they had planned it and that it was done out of love.”

Another neighbour said: “I think it was a brave thing for them to do. Bob knew he wasn’t going to get better and he saw what was ahead of him. It’s very sad and they will be missed.

“They would have been shocked by the armed police and helicopter though. They were very private people who would have hated the idea of bringing all that commotion into the street.”

Bob McIlwain was born in February 1941 while his brother was born on Hogmanay the following year. Both were believed to have been bachelors, and neighbours said the brothers did not have close family. Their father, electrician Robert McIlwain, died in 1982 aged 67 while their mother, Nora, passed away in 1992 aged 74.

Neighbours said both had worked as gardeners, with Bob employed by the council’s parks department.

A floral tribute left outside their home yesterday read: “RIP Bob and Jack. Two lovely gentlemen. Its been a privilege to know you and call you friends. You will be missed by us all.”

The men were reportedly found with gunshot wounds to the stomach lying on top of a firearm in their home. Police raced to the house at around 5pm on Thursday and discovered their bodies.

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”.