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The Tragic Shooting of ACC Robert Chisholm Thomson MBE in 1940.

Edinburgh City Police

Assistant Chief Constable Robert Chisholm Thomson MBE

 

King George V Jubilee Medal, 1935

King George VI Coronation Medal, 1937

Membership of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 1937 (MBE)

 

Introduction

Robert Chisholm Thomson was born on 25 August 1901 at Lilliesleaf in the County of Roxburgh. His father was Thomas Thomson, a Journeyman Baker and his mother, Annie Wilson Chisholm or Thomson. His parents were married on 13 January 1900 at Selkirk, the town they had both been born in 22 years earlier.

 

He was educated at Stenton Public School and Dunbar Higher Grade School and Dux of both

 

He joined Edinburgh City Police in 1920 as a Police Constable (PC) and was posted to “B” Division at Gayfield Square. One year after the amalgamation with Leith Burgh Police, he was posted to work in Leith, then known as “E” Division.

 

He was promoted to Police Sergeant in 1925 and Inspector in 1927. He was sent to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to study the Police Box System and took a leading part in its introduction in Edinburgh. While carrying on his police duties, he studied for the degree of Bachelor of Laws at the University of Edinburgh and graduated in 1933. More than once, he acted as escort to members of the Royal Family during visits to the city. He received the honour of MBE in 1937. After holding the rank of Superintendent while acting as Chief Clerk at Headquarters, he was appointed Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) in May 1939.

 

Robert Chisholm Thomson’s career was cut short by the at best, reckless actions of a Royal Air Force sergeant home on leave in Edinburgh and armed with a 303 Lee Enfield rifle. What follows is a record of ACC Thomson’s life taken from public records and newspaper accounts of the time. The public records have been transcribed as they are and sometimes inconsistencies creep in. For the sake of accuracy, I have transcribed them verbatim.

 

The Early Years

The Census of 1901 records that Thomas and Annie Thomson were living  together in Lilliesleaf. Robert was born later that year in August. He is their first child. By the time of the next Census in 1911, the family had increased to six children and were living in Stenton in Haddingtonshire (East Lothian).

 

The Census of Scotland 1911

The following were listed living at ‘Airedale’ in High Street, Stenton in the Census of 1911.

 

Name & Age

Occupation

Place & County of Birth

Thomas Thomson, (33 )

Baker

Selkirk, Selkirkshire

Annie Thomson, ( 33)

Wife

Selkirk, Selkirkshire

Robert Thomson, (9)

Scholar

Lilliesleaf, Roxburghshire

James Thomson, (8)

Scholar

Lilliesleaf, Roxburghshire

Elizabeth Thomson, (6)

Scholar

Lilliesleaf, Roxburghshire

John Thomson, (4)

Scholar

Lilliesleaf, Roxburghshire

Isabella Thomson, (3)

 

Stenton, Haddingtonshire

William Thomson, (1)

 

Stenton, Haddingtonshire

 

The Census of 1911 was the first time it became compulsory for married women to declare the number of years they had been married, the lumber of live births and the number of children still alive at the date of census. Annie declared she had been married for 11 years, had 6 live children, all of whom, were still alive.

 

Register of Births in the District of South Leith in the Burgh of Leith, 1916

Betsy Dinnison Tulloch was born on 20 November 1916  in Yardheads School, Leith. Her father was William Tulloch, a Butcher’s Assistant, presently serving as Corporal 15716, Seaforth Highlanders and her mother, Frances Knight or Tulloch. This is the birth of the future wife of Robert Chisholm Thomson.

ACC Thomson is the man in the striped suit. This was taken at the end of a recruit's Course in the late 1930's.

Edinburgh City Police Weekly Records, 1920

The Weekly Record (WR) of Edinburgh City Police dated Tuesday 30 November 1920, records the appointment of Robert Chisholm Thomson as PC 321 B at Gayfield Square Police Station.

 

Edinburgh City Police Weekly Records, 1921

The WR of Tuesday 29 November 1921 records that PC 321 B Robert C Thomson was transferred to Leith as PC 705 E with effect from 30 November 1921.

 

Edinburgh City Police Weekly Records, 1922

On Tuesday 24 January 1922, the WR recorded that PC 705 E was to be transferred from E Division to Headquarters with immediate effect with the collar number 8 HQ in the Chief Constable’s Office. This was a fairly rapid move into a plum job.

 

Edinburgh City Police Weekly Records, 1925

The WR of Tuesday 24 February 1925 recorded the promotion of PC 8 HQ Robert C Thomson to the rank and pay of Police Sergeant (PS), collar number PS 1 HQ, remaining in the Chief Constable’s Office.

 

Edinburgh City Police Records 1927

Robert Thomson was promoted to the rank and pay of Inspector in 1927 and remained in the Chief Constable’s Office.

 

Promotion to Lieutenant and Superintendent

If he was promoted to Lieutenant between the ranks of Inspector and Superintendent, it had to be between July 1931 and July 1933 as the Scotsman edition of 14 July 1931 reported that ‘Inspector Robert Thomson, of Edinburgh City Police, who was in charge of the pilot car which accompanied the Queen during her private visits, was presented with a pair of gold cuff links’.  

 

‘The Scotsman’ 14 July 1931

The Scotsman edition of Saturday 1 July 1933 reported the list of degrees awarded by the University of Edinburgh the previous day and among them under the heading ‘BACHELOR OF LAW’, was ‘Robert Chisholm Thomson’. In the accompanying notes was the following: 

 

“Amongst the recipients of the Degree of Bachelor of Law was a Superintendent of the Edinburgh City Police, Robert C Thomson, the Chief Clerk. He entered the police force in 1920 at the age of 19. As a schoolboy, he was Dux of two schools, Stenton Public School and Dunbar Higher Grade School. He completed the B.L. course well under the normal three-years’ period. At the outbreak of the war he had to leave school at the age of 13 to commence work, his father being on active service. He was on street duty at Gayfield Square and Leith for two years. In 1931 he acted as attendant and pilot to Their Majesties the King and Queen during their stay in Edinburgh and was presented by them with a pair of gold sleeve-links engraved with the Royal monogram.”

 

‘The Scotsman’ 17 July 1934

In an article in The Scotsman of 17 July 1934 concerning the Chief Constable of Edinburgh City Police, Mr Roderick Ross CBE, MVO being honoured by Their Majesties King George and Queen Mary, the following incident was recorded:

 

“Superintendent Robert C Thomson, Chief Clerk in the City Police Department, who acted as pilot to Her Majesty during the visit, was also commanded to attend at Holyroodhouse yesterday evening, and was received and personally thanked by Their Majesties. His Majesty commented upon the fact that this was the second occasion on which Superintendent Thomson had acted in this capacity and presented to him autographed and dated photographs of Their Majesties.”

 

Medal Roll of the King George V Jubilee Medal, 1935

Among the names recorded in the King George V Jubilee Medal Roll, 1935 is ‘Superintendent Robert Chisholm Thomson B.L. of Edinburgh City Police’

 

Medal Roll of the King George VI Coronation Medal, 1937

Among the names recorded in the King George VI Coronation Medal Roll, 1937 is ‘Superintendent Robert Chisholm Thomson B.L. of Edinburgh City Police’

 

The Coronation Honours List, 1937

The Dundee Courier newspaper edition of Tuesday 11 May 1937 reported on Scottish recipients of honours and awards. Among them under the heading ‘M.B.E.’ was ‘Robert Chisholm Thomson, Superintendent and Chief Clerk, Edinburgh City Police’.

 

In May 1939, Robert Thomson was promoted to Assistant Chief Constable under William Booth Rennie Morren.

 

Register of Marriages in the District of Leith in the City of Edinburgh, 1939

On 2 August 1939, at Duke Street Congregational Church, Leith, Robert Chisholm, (37), Assistant Chief Constable of 67 Brunswick Street, Edinburgh, married Betsy Dinnison Tulloch, (22), a Comptometer Operator of 1 Hermitage Place, Leith. The parents were as listed above.

ChiefConstable William B R Morren MVO and Superintendent Robert Chisholm Thomson MBE with the Edinburgh Police Pipe Band having just won the World Championship under PM Hance Gates.

Police War Duties in Edinburgh, 1939

ACC Thomson had overall responsibility for Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and Civil Defence in the City of Edinburgh from before the start of the Second World War in September 1939. In connection with that work, in early 1940, he was on-call should Air Raid sirens sound at any hour of the day. He had a PC as a Driver and a Police Sergeant to assist him. 

 

The Air Raid Alarm over Edinburgh, 12/13thJuly 1940

Alexander John Macpherson, (34) a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force (RAF) on 48 hours leave from his base in England to his home at 9 Northfield Broadway, Edinburgh and who had been drinking in a public house earlier, also responded to the Air Raid in uniform and carrying a loaded .303 rifle began lookout in the vicinity of Willowbrae Road.

 

The Auxiliary Fire Service Incident

Shortly after the Air Raid siren had been sounded, John Walker, a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS of Peffer Road, Craigmillar, Edinburgh was driving three of his AFS colleagues to duty in Northfield Broadway, Edinburgh when he was signalled to stop the vehicle by a man in what he believed to be RAF uniform. The RAF man asked Walker if he knew the rules of the road. Walker explained he was an auxiliary fireman on urgent business. The RAF man told him to shut his mouth, pointed his rifle through the window of the car directly at Walker’s head and told him to put his hands up. Mr Walker complied with the request and also to drive the car into a side street and turned off the vehicle lights. Walker formed the view that the RAF man was under the influence of liquor.

 

The Shooting of ACC Thomson

Just after midnight on the night of 12/13th July 1940, ACC Thomson had been called out as a result of ARP and was the front seat passenger in a police car being driven by PC Robert Bruce Knox with PC Hugh R. S. Thompson and PS Harold Smith in the rear passenger seats.

 

The circumstances were that an Air Raid siren had sounded in Edinburgh around midnight on the evening of the 12/13thJuly and as a result, ACC Thomson was picked up from his home at 14 Bingham Road, Portobello to be driven to Police Headquarters in the High Street. The officers left Bingham Road then north towards Milton Road West which was also the A1. They carried on northwards in Milton Road towards Willowbrae (still on the A1) until they came to the junction with Northfield Broadway on their right.

 

As the open topped vehicle moved northwards in Milton Road West into Willowbrae Road approaching the junction with Northfield Broadway, PC Knox noticed a dark figure on the right. He drove on past the figure, the speed of the vehicle being between 35 – 40 miles per hour. The engine of the car made a considerable noise and he heard no shout from the figure. When the vehicle was immediately past the junction, he heard a shot. He looked round and saw that the ACC fall forward. The ACC said, “They have shot me”. The car was stopped, and PC Thompson got out and confronted what he saw was a man wearing an RAF uniform and carrying a rifle. PC Knox and PS Smith immediately took the seriously wounded ACC to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

 

The Arrest of Sergeant Alexander John Macpherson

The RAF man, now identified as the on-leave Sergeant Alexander John Macpherson, stated that he had fired on the police vehicle for failing to stop and that they had no right to be driving during an air raid. When told he had shot the Assistant Chief Constable and would have to go to the High Street Central Charge Office (CCO), he refused to accompany PC Thomson. Macpherson also initially refused to hand over the rifle. PC Thomson flagged down a passing vehicle driven by a Special Constable and together they took Macpherson to the CCO.

 

‘The Scotsman’, Monday 15 July 1940

The following story appeared in that days’ edition of the Scotsman newspaper:

 

SHOOTING AFFAIR

A.R.P. Chief Wounded

R.A.F. SERGEANT DETAINED

 

“A Sergeant in the Royal Air Force, Alexander John Macpherson, appeared in Edinburgh Burgh Court on Saturday in connection with a shooting incident which occurred early that morning as a result of which Mr Robert C Thomson, Assistant Chief Constable of Edinburgh is lying seriously ill in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. His condition yesterday was reported to be comfortable.

 

Mr Thomson, who was proceeding in a police car to Headquarters in connection with A.R.P duties shortly after midnight, was wounded in the lower jaw.

 

Macpherson whose address was given as a training centre in England, was charged with “assault to the danger of life”. The City Prosecutor asked that he be remanded until next Saturday for inquiries, “particularly in view of the serious condition of the person assaulted”.

 

(The article continued with an appreciation of ACC Thomson).

 

Register of Deaths in the District of George Square in the City of Edinburgh, 1940

Robert Chisholm Thomson, (38), Assistant Chief Constable, Edinburgh City Police, married to Betsy Dinnison Tulloch of 14 Bingham Road, Portobello, died about 4.00am on 16 July 1940 in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh. 

 

His widow, Betsy, registered his death on 17 July.

 

‘The Scotsman’, Wednesday 17 July 1940

The Scotsman of Wednesday 17 July 1940 carried the following in the ‘Personal’ column:

 

“THOMSON:- At Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on the 16thJuly 1940, ROBERT CHISHOLM THOMSON, Assistant Chief Constable, Edinburgh City Police, beloved husband of Betsy Tulloch, 14 Bingham Road, Edinburgh. Funeral on Thursday at 2 o’ clock from the house of his father-in-law, William Tulloch, 1 Hermitage Place, Leith, to Seafield Crematorium. All friends kindly accept this (the only) intimation and invitation.”

 

‘The Scotsman’, Monday 22 July 1940

That day’s edition reported the following:

 

 

MURDER CHARGE

Against RAF Sergeant

POLICE OFFICER’S DEATH

 

“A Royal Air Force Sergeant appeared in Edinburgh Burgh Court on Saturday (20th) and was remitted  to the Sheriff Court on a charge of murder.

 

He was Alexander John Macpherson, and his appearance was the result of a shooting incident in the Willowbrae district of Edinburgh in the early hours of the previous Saturday. This resulted in the death of Assistant Chief Constable R. C. Thomson.

 

It was Macpherson’s second appearance in the Burgh Court, for on the day when the incident occurred he was remanded for a week for inquiry to be made into the case. He was then charged with “assault to the danger of life”.

 

The proceedings on Saturday lasted less than a minute. Macpherson wore uniform. Later he appeared at on petition in private at the Sheriff Court and was remanded.” (in custody).

 

 

The Glasgow Herald, Wednesday 7 August 1940

The following article appeared in the edition of that day:

 


“EDINBURGH POLICE PROMOTIONS

 

NEW JUNIOR ASSISTANT

CHIEF CONSTABLE”

 

Important police promotions in Edinburgh announced yesterday included that of Superintendent Francis Berry to Junior assistant Chief Constable. He succeeds Assistant Chief Constable Thomson who died recently from gunshot wounds when proceeding in a car to duty during an air-raid warning. In connection with his death, an R.A.F. Sergeant has been charged with murder.

 

Mr Berry will take over the general War Duties and A.R.P.  responsibilities which Mr Thomson had. A native of London, Mr Berry has a long connection with the C.I.D., of which he was Superintendent until transferred to the charge of “A” Division.

 

In succession to another recently appointed Assistant Chief Constable (Mr. Peebles), the “Chief” of the C.I.D. is now Mr. William Merrilees, promoted Superintendent. This appointment recalls the Kosmo Club case of seven years ago when Mr. Merrilees, then a Sergeant carried through important investigations.

 

Other promotions are:

Inspector William Davidson to Superintendent vice Superintendent Cunningham, retired. 

Inspector John Marshall to Lieutenant vice Lieutenant Pearce; Inspector Donal Cormack to Lieutenant, vice Lieutenant Merrilees. Police Sergeants Thomas Stobie and James Wilson to Inspectors.”

 

 

‘The Scotsman’, Monday 9 September 1940

The edition of 9 September 1940 carried the following article:

 

 

SERGEANT SENT FOR TRIAL

Sequel to Police Chief’s Death

 

“Alexander John Macpherson, a sergeant in the RAF, appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Saturday charged in connection with the death of Assistant Chief Constable Thomson.

 

The charge against Macpherson was that on July 13th, while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, he did (1) on Northfield Broadway near Northfield Farm Road, Edinburgh, assault John Walker, 2 Peffer Bank, Craigmillar and present at him a rifle loaded with ball cartridge and threaten to shoot him therewith; and (2) on Willowbrae Road at a part near Northfield Broadway, present a rifle loaded with ball cartridge at a motor car then being driven on that road, and did culpably and recklessly discharge the rifle at the motor car and did shoot Robert Chisholm Thomson, 14 Bingham Road, Portobello, Edinburgh, a passenger in the motor car, whereby he was so severely wounded that he died on July 16 in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, and did kill the said Robert Chisholm Thomson.

 

Macpherson, who was on bail, pleaded not guilty to the charges in a ringing voice.

 

Sheriff Principal Brown intimated that the trial would take place in the High Court on September 17.

 

This was Macpherson’s third appearance in Court. On the first occasion he appeared at the Burgh Court, Edinburgh where he was charged with assault to the danger of life. On the second occasion, following Mr Thomson’s death, Macpherson was charged with murder and remitted to the Sheriff Court. In the interval, the charge was reduced to culpable homicide, and Macpherson was released on bail. Bail was continued.”

 

 

ACC Robert Chisholm Thomson at a Recruits Course in the late 1930's.

The Trial at the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh 16 -17 September 1940

The trial of Alexander John Macpherson on the charges of culpable homicide and assault began before the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Aitchison, and a jury in the High Court at Edinburgh on 16 September 1940.

 

The case for the Crown was conducted by Solicitor General, Mr J. S. C. Reid K.C. and Mr L. Hill Watson K.C. was concluded on the first day and several witnesses for the defence were heard before the Court was adjourned until the following day. The defence was led by Mr Arthur P. Duffes, K.C. and Mr G. S. Reid, advocate.

 

Mr Duffes explained that Macpherson did not dispute and never had disputed that he fired the shot at the car, and that the result of the shot he fired was unfortunately to kill the official mentioned in the indictment. He thought that might assist the Solicitor General in dispensing with proving a lot of formal matters. The Lord Justice Clerk intimated that all matters must be proved, however briefly, by the Crown.

 

The Solicitor General led the prosecution case and Fireman Walker gave his evidence of being stopped and threatened with being shot with the rifle. As with all subsequent witnesses in turn, Mr Duffes cross-examined Mr Walker.  None of the surviving police officers in the car heard any warning or order to stop the vehicle.

 

PC Thompson gave evidence of his dealing with Macpherson in the aftermath of the shooting. He stated that Macpherson claimed he had fired on the car for its driver failing to stop when signalled, that the country was now under military rule and he (PC Thompson) had no power to arrest him. When told he had wounded and seriously injured the Assistant Chief Constable, Macpherson claimed he would do it again in the circumstances. He was not in the slightest distressed about it. PC Thompson also stated that Macpherson had been strongly smelling of drink. 

 

Two witnesses for the defence, pedestrians who had been nearby the second incident, gave evidence that they had heard the word “halt” shouted although, one stated that he had heard the shout after the shot was fired. He was also of the opinion, based on Macpherson’s demeanour after the incident, that he was drunk.

 

Another witness gave evidence that he had been drinking with Macpherson on the night of the 12th in the Abercorn Roadhouse and that he had no more that four half-pints of beer and two to three small whiskies.

 

Flight Lieutenant William Thomas Doherty of the RAF gave evidence that in July, Macpherson had been a Non-Commissioned Officer under his command and was a Drill Instructor for recruits. He was described as "the finest NCO in my squadron”. He was very conscientious and keen. In cross-examination, he stated that Macpherson could be rather impulsive and a strict disciplinarian.

 

The Lord Justice Clerk asked whether the accused being on leave at the time, had any right to discharge a rifle loaded with ball cartridge at a car simply because it did not stop. The witness said the only reason he could give was that verbal instructions might have been misconstrued or not quite clear and that the accused thought he was doing his duty in giving the challenge.

 

His Lordship said "It is a startling thing to be told that that an NCO on leave can discharge a loaded rifle at a car without knowing who is in the car. Do you really suggest there is any such instruction verbal or written?". Flight Lieutenant Doherty replied,  "There is no instruction now."

 

"Of course, you agree if you had a situation of a real emergency you might need to leave a good deal of discretion of an officer who saw an emergency. But you don’t suggest that on an officer, whether commissioned or non-commissioned, is entitled to fire indiscriminately at a car because it is contravening some regulation regarding lights?" Witness replied "No".

 

Superintendent William Merrilees of the City Police stated that when the accused was cautioned and charged he replied that he had nothing to say until he saw his commander.  Replying to a question put to him by the Lord Justice Clerk, Superintendent Merrilees said there was no order requiring vehicles to stop in the Edinburgh District during an air raid warning.

 

Evidence for the Defence

Four witnesses, three men and a woman,  gave evidence that they had heard the challenges made by Sergeant Macpherson before he fired the shot.

 

Evidence of the Accused

Alexander John Macpherson gave evidence in his own defence. He was 34 years of age, married with two children. He resided at 9 Northfield Broadway, Edinburgh near the scene of the incidents involved in the charges. From1923 to 1931, he had served in the Cameron Highlanders and been a Staff-Sergeant. He was in the Reserve until 1938. At the outbreak of war, he had rejoined the Army and was sent to the Royal Air Force as a gun-instructor. 

 

On July 11, he obtained 48 hours leave from his station England. He arrived in Edinburgh next morning and went home. He remained indoors until about half-past six in the evening. He returned home after a walk with his family before nine o’clock. He then went to the Abercorn roadhouse. To the best of his belief all the drink he had was four half-pints of beer and two small whiskies. When he left, he took two bottles of beer with him, but he did not drink it. He was in bed when he heard the air raid alarm. He got up and accompanied his family to the shelter. He took his rifle with him. It was always a soldier’s duty to carry his arms. “If I saw any aircraft or parachutist or anything appertaining to the Nazi” continued Macpherson, “I would shoot him at sight”. He understood that to be his duty, he explained.

 

Referring to the stopping of the AFS car, Macpherson stated that was because he always understood that the main highway was to be clear in air raids for mobile columns. He stopped the car as a precautionary measure. He did not threaten to shoot although he did use the words, “Halt or I fire”.

 

Macpherson maintained that he had orders from his Wing Commander to stop cars during air raids if it was thought they were acting suspiciously. He thought the police car had been driving too fast and with too much light showing. (It was proved in evidence that it was not). “ When I enlisted to serve the King” proceeded Macpherson, “I did not mean to serve in the barrack square. I serve where the enemy attacks my country”. He denied that on the night of the shooting he was the worse for liquor. “I only did my duty” he said.

 

Asked in cross-examination if he still thought that what he did on that night was right, Macpherson said “I am sorry that a man was shot and died. What I did was my duty, and duty is not always a pleasure. I did not want to hurt anybody. There is no one more sorry than I am that an able man died”.

 

Closing Submissions by the Prosecution and Defence

The Solicitor General in his closing submission to the jury said the only controversy in this case was - Had the accused the right to do what he did? That point was made more important by the firm attitude taken by the accused in the witness-box, that what he did that night, he was duty-bound to do. In the Solicitor general’s view, this soldier who was not on duty and who was not under implicit orders, was never entitled to take action of a violent character except in one or other of two situations. One was that he was asked or required to help by some authority on the spot and the other was, if the situation was such that a reasonable man would think that there might be grave danger to the state if immediate action were not taken. It was far too extreme for a man on leave to go and fire a rifle, which did in fact, kill a man. He said at once that if one caught a spy red-handed, whether one was a man in the Army or not, it was in reason that one should take the most extreme steps  to stop him. But could they apply that criterion to a car whose only fault, if it was fault, was that it was going too quickly and showing too much light? As a matter of fact, the light and speed of the car were quite legal.

 

Mr Duffes, defending Macpherson stated that there was no defence of Justifiable Homicide and invited the jury to consider whether they had got from the Crown any clear indication as to what the law was regarding proceeding at speed in a car during an air raid warning or with a light showing and whether they had any clear view as to what was or was not the discretion of a person in the position of his client, on leave and in possession of a rifle. 

 

The Question for the Jury

The Lord Justice Clerk in his charge to the jury said in reference to the first charge that they must ask themselves if they could explain the accused’s conduct towards the auxiliary fireman, Walker, if he was in his sober senses.

 

The real essence of the second charge lay in the words “did culpably and recklessly discharge” the rifle. He explained that a person was not criminally responsible for an act of negligence. Before they could convict, they must be able to say that the accused acted with such a gross and wicked recklessness that his conduct ought to be regarded as criminal conduct. If it could be proved that there was “reasonable ground” in justification of the accused action, the act would not be criminal. But his Lordship emphasised It would not do for a soldier on leave to discharge a loaded rifle in the public street and take a human life and then seek to escape responsibility for his act by saying that he thought he was doing his duty.

 

They must ask themselves whether there was any reasonable ground such as might influence a man in his sober senses, for the accused acting as he did. There were every day of the year, his Lordship supposed, thousands of men on leave and they had their rifles and ammunition with them, he supposed, so that they might report at once if an emergency arose. But it would be indeed, a very serious thing if the community were to be at peril  of soldiers discharging their rifles  when their challenges were unheeded. His Lordship must direct them that the question they had to consider was whether the accused, taking the evidence as a whole, including his own evidence, had any reasonable excuse at all for discharging a loaded rifle with the lamentable and tragic consequences that resulted. 

 

The Jury’s Verdict

The jury, after an hour’s absence, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty of both the charge of assault and the charge of culpable homicide. They made a recommendation that the accused be dealt with as leniently as his Lordship might see fit in view of his good record and the circumstances.

 

Counsel for the defence informed his Lordship that an officer of the Air Force was present who was prepared if it were desired, to produce the accused’s military record which was unblemished.

 

The Passing of Sentence 

The Lord Justice Clerk in passing sentence, said that by his conduct the accused took a human life and deprived the community of the services of a brilliant officer of police. His Lordship thought however, that he was entitled to take into account that the crime did not arise out of malice but out of recklessness and, it might be, out of an excess of zeal. His Lordship also took into account that accused had an honourable record in the Army, and he also took into account the unanimous recommendation of the jury which he was glad the jury had made. 

 

Taking all those things into account, his Lordship thought he was justified, notwithstanding the lamentable consequences of what accused did, in not passing sentence of penal servitude. The sentence he passed was that Macpherson be imprisoned for six months.

 

It is believed that after serving his sentence, Sergeant Macpherson returned to his duties in the RAF.

 

Register of Corrected Entries as a Result of a Precognition, October 1940

Given the circumstances, the Procurator Fiscal’s Office (PFO), Edinburgh carried out precognitions to establish the cause of death. The cause of death was an infected wound caused by a bullet to the lower jaw. This was confirmed by the PF, T. G. Muir on 1 October 1940 and an entry was made confirming same in the Register of Corrected Entries in the George Square Registrar’s Office.

As a result of the shooting of ACC Robert Chisholm Thomson, a number of promotions were made in Edinburgh City Police.

 

 

The End of the Story

This was an absolute tragedy and perhaps the only mitigation for Macpherson is that in early 1940, France had fallen, the evacuation of Dunkirk had taken place and the Battle of Britain had commenced over the skies of southern England. It is difficult to imagine the strains men such as he had experienced but to apply that experience to the relative peace in Edinburgh which although it was to experience bombing raids during the war, these were nothing like ‘the Blitz’ that affected London, Kent and Essex during that time. He had no authority to stop the AFS car or any need to threaten Fireman Walker. He certainly had no justification to open fire on a vehicle simply for failing to stop with the resulting tragic consequences for Robert Thomson and his wife. He was treated very leniently indeed, considering that he inflicted more damage to the war effort in Edinburgh  that night than anything the Luftwaffe did.

 

Betsy Dinnison Tulloch or Thomson remarried in the District of St Andrew in Edinburgh in 1948. She died aged 93 in Leith in 2010.

 

If you are able to add any information to this story, please get in touch via the website, www.enquiries@scottishpolicemedals.co.uk. Thank you.

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