16 April 2014

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The Annie Borjesson case
Suicide or murder? As
the police investigate,
we produce a new clue
Kenneth Roy

I
Have a close look at this photograph. We have not published it until now.

The photograph was taken at 4.30pm on 3 December 2013 at Prestwick beach in Ayrshire. It was a bitterly cold, dry afternoon, similar to the weather on the corresponding day eight years earlier. There was a loose dog on the shore, just as there had been on 3 December 2005. The tide was well out on both occasions.

For the purposes of our experiment, we asked someone to walk 150 yards from the sea wall – the distance said to have been walked by someone else, now dead, eight years earlier. The tide was so low that our walker could have continued the same distance again without hitting serious water.

All that could be seen after 150 yards was a dark, nondescript figure. At that point, we took the photograph. If you look hard enough, you will see that figure in the centre of the photograph.

Now put yourself in the position of a local man who was walking along Prestwick promenade at the same time, in the same conditions, on 3 December 2005. Around 4.30pm, he was distracted by the sight of a figure on the shore 150 yards out. Twenty minutes later, as he returned home, the figure was still standing there, looking out to sea.

The following morning, the body of a young Swedish woman, Annie Borjesson, was found on the beach. Annie had been last seen at Prestwick Airport an hour and a quarter before the sighting of the solitary figure. It was assumed that she had walked from the airport into the town and down to the beach, there to prepare mentally for taking her own life. But it was never more than an assumption. It may be a flawed one.

For the police, the testimony of the local man was vital: it was the nearest thing to a positive ID of Annie Borjesson on the beach that afternoon; it completed their picture of her ultimate journey. Eighteen months after her death, the solicitor-general for Scotland wrote to the Swedish embassy in London informing them that 'a witness statement indicated that someone fitting her description was seen standing at the water's edge looking out to sea at about 1630 hours'.

But it seems this unintentionally misrepresented the witness's position. The witness told the Borjesson family, on one of their visits to Scotland, that the shape at the water's edge was so indistinct that he was unable to say if it was a man or a woman; that at no point did the police ask him if the person he saw on the beach resembled Annie Borjesson; that he had volunteered to the police that he could not be of much help because the person had been too far away.

The witness did his best. But he could not have identified a person fitting Annie's description. The photograph we publish today
proves it.

II
The confidence with which the Scottish authorities asserted that the figure on the beach did, however, fit Annie's description is one of many perplexing features of this unsolved case. We have dwelt on it only because it was so obviously a misplaced confidence.

There was another important justification for closing the file on Annie Borjesson, and it too was quoted in the letter to the Swedish embassy: the results of the autopsy report, which concluded that Annie drowned. But when her body was returned home after nine days, the undertakers in Sweden were taken aback to discover extensive areas of bruising which had not been recorded in the autopsy report and which, in their authoritative opinion, could not have been caused by post-mortem lividity. No explanation has ever been offered for the divergence between the undertakers' observations – which we have in writing – and the autopsy report – a copy of which is also in our possession.

There is a further disturbing contradiction. When the Swedish forensic service commissioned tests on Annie's bone marrow, the only diatom shells – algae – found in the sample were not seawater but freshwater. According to marine experts, the presence of such diatoms did not support drowning as the cause of death.

The Borjesson family suspect that Annie was not the figure standing at the water's edge at 4.30pm and that she did not die by drowning, but rather that she was murdered elsewhere and that her body was dumped on the beach. It should still be possible to confirm or dispose of this suspicion. But, for eight years, there has been no will on the part of the Scottish authorities to re-examine the case, despite a tenacious campaign by the family – a campaign in which the first minister became personally involved.

Last summer, with the Borjessons' co-operation, we embarked on our own investigation. The results were published in a special edition of the Scottish Review on the eighth anniversary of Annie's death.

We sent our report to Police Scotland with a formal request, backed by the family, for a fresh look at the case.

We suggested that the various witnesses to Annie's movements in Edinburgh, in the closing weeks of her life, should be re-interviewed; their names are known.

We asked that the Crown Office should accept that it would have been impossible to make any identification of the figure on the beach and that a misleading impression may have been given to the Swedish government.

We proposed an expert test, based on the tidal records for
3-4 December 2005, to determine whether Annie's body could have been washed up in the position close to the sea wall where it was found; there are specialists who are ready to be commissioned to do this work.

We challenged the authorities to release further body tissues for examination.

Finally, we called for a fatal accident inquiry.

III
Yesterday, we received a letter from Malcolm Graham, assistant chief constable (major crime and public protection) at Police Scotland giving us an interim report on the progress of our application.

Mr Graham informs us that a senior investigating officer has been appointed to review the SR dossier, that this review is continuing, and that it is being conducted in conjunction with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Mr Graham says he cannot provide further details of the investigation at this stage.

The Borjesson family have had many disappointments and setbacks in their quest for the truth about their daughter's death. This could end up being another. But it may be that, since the creation of the all-Scotland authority, there is a new willingness to re-consider the facts of this deeply troubling case, as well as others.

Last Christmas, there seemed to be no hope. This Easter, there is a little.


Click here to read the full dossier on Annie Borjesson

Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review