As a gamekeeper on a sporting estate run by the 15th Earl of Home, William Stirrat rubbed shoulders with the aristocracy and members of the royal family. He was trusted enough to teach Prince William and Prince Harry how to shoot.
But Mr Stirrat’s life was wrecked when police wrongly concluded he was a crime baron, secretly running a drugs factory located in a Lanarkshire forest.
Mr Stirrat was convicted and jailed as a result of a deeply flawed investigation by drugs officers.
Finally 14 years on from his imprisonment, Mr Stirrat has been told he will receive sizeable damages for a terrible miscarriage of justice.
“The whole thing has been horrendous,” Mr Stirrat told The Telegraph. “I have been classed as a drug dealer, nobody would look at me.
“The number of discrepancies throughout the trial was unbelievable.”
The stress destroyed his marriage while his family lost their tied home on the estate where he had worked. He now lives alone in a council house in Logan, Ayrshire.
Mr Stirrat had been one of five gamekeepers on the Douglas and Angus Estate, where he lived with his wife and their two young children.
He loved his job and fondly recalls the occasional shoot with the young princes. Unlike most guests, the princes, then teenagers, would insist on joining the ‘keepers to clean their own guns and boots, and feed the dogs. His “claim to fame”, he says, is that he was with a young Prince William when he bagged a famously difficult “left and right” snipe – shooting a bird with each barrel in successive shots.
Mr Stirrat’s world came crashing down in 2002 when he was wrongly accused of running the amphetamine drugs factory from two secluded huts in a forest close to the country estate.
Police had set up a surveillance unit to try to capture the drugs gang, culminating in a dramatic high speed chase through the Scottish countryside.
The car being pursued by drugs squad detectives crashed in woods and the mystery driver fled.
Some 50kg of amphetamines – also known as speed – was found in its boot with a street value of £500,000.
Incredibly, Mr Stirrat, now aged 57, found himself accused of being the mastermind – based on surveillance evidence that was at best questionable and at worst fabricated.
A junior police officer on foot had claimed to see Mr Stirrat take the bags containing the drugs from the hut to his car; drive his vehicle for more than half a mile; then transfer the bags to another car.
The trial judge questioned how the officer on foot could have witnessed a series of events that took place a long way apart.
Mr Stirrat, nevertheless, was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison in 2004.
The judge Lord Emslie was astonished by the jury’s verdict. “At the outset, it is fair to say that throughout this trial serious questions arose as to the credibility and reliability of much of the evidence led by the Crown from officers attached to the Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency,” he wrote in a document questioning the jury’s verdict.
The judge said officers’ surveillance evidence that incriminated Mr Stirrat “either did not appear in any [surveillance] log at all, or were the subject of an incorrect log entry which had been altered at a later date, or were introduced into the relevant log days or weeks later by way of ‘debriefing’.”
A claim that one drugs squad officer had witnessed Mr Stirrat receiving a suspicious package, similar to packages later found in the drugs factory, was seriously doubted by the judge.
“This observation was apparently from a distance of one mile,” said Lord Emslie, noting that in previous evidence the officer had said the package was actually smaller than those found in the drugs factory and contained videos – rather than drugs.
Mr Stirrat would serve six months in jail before his early release with his conviction only finally quashed five years later in 2010.
The appeal court concluded that if two written statements, withheld from his defence lawyers and which were “irreconcilable” with testimony given under oath in court, had been available they may have delivered the “coup de grace” to what could be seen as an “infirm body of evidence”.
Now, a further six years on Mr Stirrat has been told by the Scottish Government he will finally receive compensation.
In an official document to gauge the size of his payout, which has been seen by The Telegraph, ministers admit their concerns about the case and the withholding a crucial evidence.
The Scottish Government document however rules out any “serious default” by police or the prosecution service, but found that there were exceptional circumstances that meant the money – expected to be a six-figure sum – will be welcome but will come too late for Mr Stirrat to regain lost years.
“I had been highly vetted before getting the job on the estate and I had never been in trouble in my life,” he told the Telegraph.
“I was a fish out of water when I was sent to prison.
“When I was found guilty it was an automatic dismissal by the estate. My wife and I split up after that.
“She was as dumbfounded as me but she couldn’t handle the pressure and people talking. She also lost her home because we had a tied house on the estate. Only my closest friends have stuck by me.”
His mental health has suffered since his conviction and he has been living on benefits for several years.
His attempts to return to his old life as a gamekeeper have been thwarted by police. In 2012, he applied to have his gun licence restored, which would have allowed him to seek work as a keeper again, but the police refused.
An assistant chief constable with Strathclyde Police said in a letter to Mr Stirrat, explaining why his gun licence application was being refused: “I am concerned, particularly, by your characterisation of those officers having ‘framed’ you and/or having fabricated evidence: I do not read the Appeal Court’s Judgement in those terms. I also note that you have – for whatever reasons seen fit to go to the press with these assertions.”
The owner of the estate where he worked Lord Home, son of the late prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, has wished Mr Stirrat well, saying in a statement: “Douglas and Angus Estates and the Douglas-Home family had an excellent relationship with Billy Stirrat and his family while he worked for us, we wish him well in the future and hope that Billy is able to reach a satisfactory outcome.”
Paul McLaughlin, of the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation in Glasgow, which has supported Mr Stirrat, said: “He was a totally innocent man going about his business and he has been left to carry the mistakes made by other people.
“His livelihood was destroyed, his reputation destroyed and although he has been offered compensation he is never going to get his life back to where it was.”
3 Dec 2016 – Gamekeeper William Stirrat who taught Prince William and Prince Harry … told by the Scottish Government he will finally receive compensation.
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