WHEN crime scene examiner Jody Busby attended a disused RAF property in Steinish, near Stornoway airport, on 29 November, 2011, she was confronted with a harrowing scene.
There, lying face down in the derelict property, was the body of Liam Aitchison, the first murder victim in the Western Isles in 43 years. Wearing only a T-shirt, underpants and socks, the bloody extent of his injuries was clear to see.
The victim of a sustained assault, he had 20 stab wounds to his head, neck and torso, with further blunt force trauma, including fractures to his nose and jaw, and defence wounds on both hands and arms.
“In my eight-year career, it is one of the most horrendous scenes I have been to,” Ms Busby would later recall.
The find left Liam’s family heartbroken and the wider Western Isles aghast at how such a barbaric murder could have taken in place in what is one of Britain’s safest communities.
The killing sparked a vast investigation, involving 126 police officers, who spoke to 520 witnesses and accumulated more than 1,000 pieces of evidence.
Officers did not find a murder weapon during the investigation. It is believed it was ditched at sea, along with Liam’s clothes. Instead, the greatest assets at the disposal of investigators were ordinary people, who did as much as they could to help bring the killers to justice. As Liam’s father, Norrie, said: “From the testimonies of witnesses, it was plain to see how well-loved Liam was. His death brought great sorrow to all the communities of the Western Isles.”
YET even now, nearly 18 months after the brutal crime and three weeks after the trial of Johnathan MacKinnon and Stefan Millar began, the exact motive for the 16-year-old’s murder remain unknown.
In the months before his death, Liam had moved from South Uist to Stornoway and began working on a fishing boat. The job, however, did not provide a regular income, and the “free spirit” relied on a small number of friends for financial support and accommodation.
Among those he befriended was Millar, who also worked in the fishing industry. Soon, their circle included MacKinnon.
It was a meeting between the three on 22 November, 2011, that led to Liam’s tragic death hours later.
Liam and Millar went to MacKinnon’s home where they sat drinking and listening to music. MacKinnon punched Liam at one point as “a joke”.
The court heard MacKinnon kept in his bedroom a meat cleaver that he had stolen from the boat he worked on. He later sliced his hand open after messing about with the weapon “trying to be cool”.
The trio left the house in the early hours after MacKinnon’s mother, Bella, got fed up with the noise they were making. Soon after, MacKinnon lashed out at Liam after a bottle of his aftershave fell out of the teenager’s pocket. The theft may have continued to anger MacKinnon as the three trudged through the streets to the abandoned building in Steinish.
The dilapidated property was known as a place where youngsters met to drink alcohol. It was there MacKinnon and Millar violently turned on Liam.
On the evening of Saturday, 26 November, Liam’s girlfriend, Ellen MacLennan, went to Stornoway police station amid concern for Liam, whom she had not seen or heard from since the previous Tuesday evening.
THOSE unaware he had been murdered thought he may have gone to Glasgow or was avoiding police after missing a court date.
MacKinnon and Millar hid the real truth by claiming they had last seen Liam alive in the early hours of 23 November as he headed to a friend’s house. But on 29 November, a missing person case became a murder inquiry after Robert MacLean, a coastguard volunteer, found Liam’s body in the desolate, single-storey Steinish property.
After news got out, MacKinnon and Millar sought to elude justice. The former – who would later serve a jail sentence for another matter – maintained a stony silence. The latter, asked by a girl if he planned to attend Liam’s funeral, texted to say he would send flowers.
Soon, however, authorities established Liam had been in the pair’s company on the evening he was last seen alive. By December, they had been charged, and they made a court appearance on the day of Liam’s funeral.
Millar was remanded in Porterfield Prison in Inverness and it was there he made the mistake of confessing to a cell-mate. Dominic Long told the jury how Millar had “bragged” about his involvement in the killing.
The 17-year-old was initially a reluctant witness, until prosecutor Iain McSporran put the photo of Liam’s badly beaten corpse in front of him.
A shaken Long then went on to state that Millar had “told me he killed him” and that “they had taken him to an abandoned place and killed him”.
In court, the jury heard how MacKinnon’s blood had been found on a door handle of the room in which Liam was murdered. His blood was also found on the carpet and on one of Liam’s socks.