Appin Murder: the 1752 miscarriage of justice

For several years, the body of James Stewart - or James of the Glen - hung rotting by a Highland loch following his execution by Government forces.

Friday, 7th October 2016, 6:49 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:59 pm
The memorial cairn to James of the Glen at Ballachulish. PIC

Wrapped in chains, his decomposing remains stayed on show, his bones collected one by one by a friend as they fell to the ground.

In 2016, more than 250 years later, his death is still considered to be among Scotland’s most flagrant miscarriages of justice.

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The story of the last Jacobite to be hanged

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The musket thought to have been used in The Appin Murder of 1752. PIC Ian Rutherford.

New theories transpire even now as to who truly shot government agent Colin Campbell of Glenure in the back with two musket balls as he walked through the woods at Lettermore .

The Appin Murder of 1752, which has since proved fertile ground for historians, lawyers, forensic scientists and novelists, is the Highland mystery that has never been laid to rest.

The murder of Campbell - known as Red Fox - was immediately considered the work of Jacobites given that he had been installed as a factor on the Stewart estates forfeited by the government following Culloden.

The musket thought to have been used in The Appin Murder of 1752. PIC Ian Rutherford.

Within two days, James Stewart had been arrested and taken to face trial at the Campbell stronghold of Inveraray Castle.

The Crown claimed Stewart was an accessory to the murder carried out by his half-brother Allan Breck Stewart, who went on the run after the killing.

The court heard the two men were “guilty, actors, or art and part of the heinous crime of murder”.

The jury was told that the case against James would not stand if the Crown was unable to prove the guilt of Allan Breck as the gunman.

No evidence was presented against James Stewart, who presented an alibi that he was several miles away at the time.

Found guilty, he was to be hanged on Wednesday November 8 at Cnap a’ Chaolais near the Ballachulish ferry.

Tied to a horse and accompanied by eights soldiers, he was led to his death. In his last moments, he forgave those who wished him evil and mounted the gallows before reciting words from Psalm 35.

“False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good..... Lord, how long wilt thou look on? Rescue my soul from their destructions.”

This has become known as Psalm of James of the Glen.

Disquiet over the conviction and execution has failed to ease.

In 2013, The Royal Society of Edinburgh held a meeting in Fort William to review the original forensic and ballistic evidence.

Professor Sue Black, forensic pathologist, led a team of experts in the re-examination of how the case was presented in court.

It concluded that two shots were fired from separate muskets from close quarters.

The panel also discounted that the man seen running up the hill at the murder site was Alan Breck.

Ealier, Anda Penman, a descendant of James, shortly before her death in 2001, claimed the murder had been planned by four young Stewart lairds and Donald Stewart was the most likely shooter.

Her theory sits with a strong traditional locally that Donald Stewart was the guilty man.

Others, however, disagree.

Just this year, Professor Allan MacInnes, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Strathclyde, claimed he had solved the case and that the murder was an “inside job.”

After studying the evidence, he believes Campbell’s nephew, Mungo, who walked with his uncle in Lettermore Woods at the time of his death, fired the shot in order to realise his own ambitions.

After the murder, Mungo Campbell inherited his uncle’s lucrative post.

Professor MacInnes described Mungo as a “nutter.”

Professor MacInnes said in June: “[Mungo] was a very difficult man and a very ambitious and ruthless man.

“Whereas I think James of the Glen was, you have to say, partial to a strong drink, he was a decent, God-fearing man, a typical Highlander in a sense, but Mungo was a nutter.”

Following his research, Professor MacInnes said the Scottish Government should issue a formal pardon to James of the Glen.