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Couple seek closure from woods tragedy

By Fiona Reid
Annan and Eskdale
Couple seek closure from woods tragedy

A COUPLE living near to where a grandmother was found dead in suspicious circumstances have expressed anguish that the mystery remains unsolved.

HOPING FOR ANSWERS . . . Barry and Steph Thomson

Barry and Steph Thomson shared their concerns this week — the sixth anniversary of Edinburgh woman Betty Brown’s remains being traced to woodland beside their border home.

The grim find was made by Mr Thomson during a lunchtime walk with his dog Milly on Tuesday January 18, 2011 when he ventured into the wood on the other side of a narrow track beside the family property at High Gaitle, between Longtown and Gretna.

Cumbria Constabulary carried out extensive forensic tests on the decomposing body, which was later identified as that of Mrs Brown, who was reported missing from home in the city’s Gorgie district the previous May.

It is believed she died during a trip to Gretna to make an unexpected visit to her daughter and son-in-law and her grandchildren, who then lived in the village and are now in the Edinburgh area.

A lengthy investigation by detectives, highlighted in a BBC TV Crimewatch reconstruction, failed to produce a breakthrough while the Coroner giving an open verdict at an inquest concluded that the care home worker appeared to have been unlawfully killed.

During the hearing it emerged that Mrs Brown was only partly clothed when found and there were indications she could have been victim of a sex attack.

SIGHTING  . . . Betty Brown seen on a bus CCTV camera on an Edinburgh city service

In an interview with DnG24, Mr and Mrs Thomson, both 63, described their anxiety that no-one had been held to account for such a disturbing suspected crime so close to their home.

Mr Thomson, a defence worker at nearby Longtown Ministry of Defence (MoD) depot, said: “We really feel for this poor lady’s family. They have had no closure. I wish more could be done to clear this up. If only someone would come forward it might help police solve this.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Thomson, who retired from the MoD site in December, said: “It preys on our minds all the time. There is never a day goes by when I don’t think of this lady and what became of her. It gives me sleepless nights. We need to know what happened.”

The couple’s home backs on to the family business, High Gaitle Caravan Park, which is run on a day-to-day basis by their son and daughter.

They all thought it strange, explained Mr Thomson, that Mrs Brown, or anyone with her who might have had a vehicle, could have reached the spot in the woods where her remains were found without being noticed.

He said: “We rarely see anyone along here. There is another track into the wood nearer Longtown but it is much further away from where the lady was and it would have been harder to reach because of all the trees and scrub, particularly if it was in May.”

betty brown
INQUEST . . . Betty Brown

He described how he would not normally venture into the usually overgrown woodland, a 10-acre former gravel quarry site.

But on the January day when he spotted Mrs Brown’s remains, access was easier because of the time of year.

He was curious to take a look to see if there were signs of an otter after his daughter remarked about hearing unusual animal noises.

Mr Thomson, retracing his walk for DnG24  to the subdued concealed location where the body was found, recalled: “I was at the top of this steep banking, not far from the track, when I spotted what I thought was a dead swan lying at the foot of an old willow tree down below. When I looked more closely I realised it just might be human remains.

“I tell you, when you find something like that you cannot take it in. It doesn’t compute, because it is not a natural thing.

“At first I thought it odd that no-one had noticed before. I suppose it is because this spot is out of sight of the track. The vegetation has died back now because it is winter but for the summer months it would have been overgrown with nettles.”

WOODS riddle BA 3
TRAGIC DISCOVERY . . . Barry Thomson at the spot near his home where he made the discovery

Mr Thomson immediately contacted Cumbria police and the MoD Police at the nearby ammunition depot, who both swiftly responded.

A large investigation swung into action, including forensic specialists, and the remains were later matched to those of 56-year-old Betty Brown.

The native of Hawick, who lived alone in a flat in Edinburgh,  was seen in the city around 11.56 am on Friday May 28, 2010 when she was recorded on a CCTV camera on board a Number 3 bus in Nicholson Street.

It is believed she then got on board an X95 Edinburgh to Carlisle bus getting off at Longtown.

Following extensive enquiries and public appeals, Cumbria detectives traced a number of witnesses who reported seeing a woman matching Mrs Brown’s description as a passenger on the X95, later in Longtown and then walking beside the A6071 road towards Gretna.

On previous visits she had got off the bus at the Graham Arms Hotel from where she would have arranged to be picked up for the 3.5 mile trip to her daughter’s Gretna home.

In one of the Edinburgh sightings Mrs Brown was carrying two Aldi shopping bags, which were recovered by police in the woodland, close to where her body was discovered.

Sources close to the enquiry suggested that there was a ‘hypothesis’ that she was unlikely to have been a victim of a robbery as money she had withdrawn from a cashline machine in Edinburgh before travelling south was found near her remains.

longtown betty ui
BUS JOURNEY . . . Betty Brown is believed to have got off the bus from Edinburgh in the centre of Longtown

Mrs Brown’s mobile phone was traced and the calls checked but they are understood not to have helped in the investigation.

While the inquest heard that Mrs Brown had at times suffered from depression in the period before her death, relatives expressed the view she would not have taken her own life.

Cumbria Constabulary state that while the investigation is currently not active it keeps the file into the ‘unexplained death’ open in the hope further information comes to light or technological advances emerge in detection.

A spokesman said: “The death of Betty Brown remains unsolved and we have conducted enquiries expeditiously in recent years.

“If anyone does have information we ask them to contact us. Our thoughts remain with Betty’s family and friends.”


longtown betty ui
POSSIBLE SIGHTING . . . a woman fitting Mrs Brown’s description was spotted on this stretch of the Longtown to Gretna road


■ POLICE in Cumbria can be contacted on the non-emergency 101 telephone number. (Callers from north of the border should follow the ‘other force’ instructions, selecting Cumbria).


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