SANDRA BROWN was sitting in the boardroom of Clarke's factory in Coatbridge on the last day of March this year. It was a proud moment for her. The charity she launched five years ago to help families affected by child abuse had just received a £10,000 award, and she was delighted at the recognition being given to the foundation that is so close to her heart. "It was an honour for us to have been nominated, then to win this wonderful award," she says. "I was thrilled. It was a special moment."
Suddenly, though, her heart skipped a beat. "I looked out of the windows of that boardroom, and I realised that I was looking straight out on to the Witchwood," she recalls, rubbing her bare arms and shivering, despite the fact that it's a close summer evening.
"The Witchwood," she whispers. This sinister-sounding spot is where Brown - who has just been awarded an OBE for her services to child protection in Scotland - is convinced that her father, Alexander Gartshore, who worked as a bus driver, disposed of the body of an 11-year-old Coatbridge schoolgirl. Moira Anderson went missing in 1957, vanishing into a snowstorm late one wintry afternoon - last seen boarding Gartshore's bus. Ironically, the bus's final stop was the cemetery.
It is one of Scotland's most notorious unsolved crimes. The Airdrie-based Moira Anderson Foundation was set up five years ago in memory of the girl whose disappearance almost 50 years ago still haunts Brown. Her tireless crusade to have Moira's killer brought to justice has led her to address parliament and challenge the legal system, while lobbying for changes in laws relating to child abuse and children's rights.
The 57-year-old former depute head teacher's story has been widely covered in the press. It has been the subject of a hard-hitting Channel 4 documentary, and Brown's riveting and revelatory book, Where There Is Evil, became a bestseller in 1998. She has recently updated the book for a new edition coming out in August, and now she is to be featured in Blood Ties, a BBC Radio Scotland series about the complications of family relationships. Her open, pretty face is familiar to many Scots, and she often gets recognised in the street, but her story is one that is constantly taking fresh twists and turns.
When we meet, in a smart Edinburgh hotel, Brown has more shocking secrets to reveal. But first she wants to explain what happened on March 31 in the Coatbridge engineering factory. "All of a sudden, in that boardroom, I felt Moira's presence everywhere. I know it sounds strange, but she was there with me; it was spooky," says Brown, covering her face with her small hands, unable to continue speaking.
Brown is convinced that Moira's remains are buried in the Witchwood. "In fact, I know where," she insists. She is certain that the child's body was disposed of in the Tarry Burn, which runs from a former ironworks into the Witchwood pond. She is convinced that her father was responsible, with the aid of two other men - all members of the same paedophile ring.
This chilling incident on such a happy day is just one of many that have ambushed Brown recently. Revelation after revelation about her father's sordid past, including the discovery that he committed incest with his aunt and fathered four children by her some 50-odd years ago, continue to besiege her like thieves in the night. He died on April 1, the day after Brown felt Moira's presence in that factory.
Only seven days before receiving the charity award, Brown had sat alone at her dying father's bedside in St James's Hospital, Leeds, hoping and praying for a death-bed confession. It was not forthcoming, although the 85-year-old Gartshore did shock his daughter by remarking how "bonnie" Moira had been - "too bonnie for her own good".
Brown says, "He also said that she had haunted him his whole life. My stomach was churning, but I spent an hour with him. He spilled some beans, although he still refused to give Moira's family and me complete closure." She had pleaded with her father to tell the truth and admit his guilt. "'You are going to a higher place, where you will have to give an account of all the stuff you've done. Make your peace now,'" I begged him. "I wanted a full confession, but I didn't get it. Instead, he gave me crumbs, but not enough crumbs. He just wouldn't give us anything to put us out of our misery. I told him that Moira's mother and father served the prison sentence, not him. He cried, was very tearful at that point.
"It breaks my heart that he couldn't find the courage to put the last few pieces of the jigsaw in place. But he told me enough for me to know that I have been right all along about his guilt. My father murdered Moira," says Brown.
"That Friday afternoon - March 24, when I saw him again, something I thought would never happen, and then exactly a week later feeling Moira's presence in the Witchwood - was one of the weirdest of my life. In fact, I've had an annus horribilis, but with some wonderfully exciting moments too," she says, referring to her OBE and the 10,000 award for the charity.
"I know it's a clich, but I call all the stuff that just goes on happening the fickle finger of fate," says Brown. "I often feel that I'm living in the middle of a Greek tragedy, with all these tantalising things happening. Sitting in the boardroom staring at the Witchwood was just another part of the strange chain of events, the odd links in my life."
She pauses again, pushing back her thick, blonde fringe. "I've always known I am being guided, but it was surely fate that took me to that room," she says, explaining that the nomination for the award came after an executive of local engineering firm Clarke UK saw her performing her one-woman play, One of Our Ain, in Airdrie. Based on her book, a new version of the play is to be staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to raise further funds for the charity. It has a dramatic new ending now, since her father's death. To date, Brown's performances of the play, which she regularly rewrites, have raised more than 3,000 for the foundation, which has supported more than 500 families in Scotland, enabling them to take cases of child abuse to court. The charity's safe houses have been used by 26 families in the last year. "It is Moira's legacy," says Brown. "She will never be forgotten."
But, she continues, her soft voice filled with emotion, the legacy is not finished. Will it ever be complete? "It might be one day soon," says Brown, whose dedication to protecting children and determination to bring Moira's murderer to justice has seen her named Scotswoman of the Year. She wants justice for Moira, and for Janet Hart, Moira's sister who now lives in Australia, the only surviving member of the Anderson family. And she wants justice for herself, and for the six girls, five of them her own cousins, whom she believes were also molested by her father in Coatbridge at around the time of Moira's disappearance.
Of course there will be no trial now. "But there could be an end in sight," she says. She prays that this is so, for she insists that will have no peace until Moira's remains are found and laid to rest in a Christian burial. "Then it will be over - if something like this can ever be over. But we will find her," she vows. "Every day I feel that we are getting closer to the truth, no matter how unsavoury.
"Be in no doubt," she continues, "I know that my father abducted Moira, and that he got rid of her body with the help of two other men. He did not act alone. We will find Moira and give her family some closure."
Moira's parents died broken-hearted, not knowing what had happened to their daughter. The last time they saw her, late on a February afternoon, she was setting off, wearing a pixie hat and navy-blue gaberdine raincoat, into a bitter blizzard to run an errand for her grandmother. It later emerged, though, that she was actually on a secret mission to buy a birthday card for her mother. "It is unimaginable, the thought of losing a child," says Brown, showing me beautiful colour snapshots of her own two grandchildren. "I can't begin to contemplate anything happening to them, and I know my son and his wife would die if their children were taken away from them. These babies just lift my heart. In March I told my father that my granddaughter had been born. She came into the world as he left it. "
SOME people think I am obsessed," sighs Brown. "I'm not, but I am a driven person. I want the truth. And I will keep up the pressure. I'm not giving up." With the support of Tom Clarke MP, she is using the Freedom of Information Act to pursue the disclosure of a 15-page dossier that came to light in 2003. It is a death-bed confession made in 1999 by James Gallogley, a disgraced church elder.
A convicted paedophile and close friend of Brown's father, Gallogley said Moira's body had been dumped in an area by the Tarry Burn by himself, Gartshore and another man - whose identity Brown believes she knows. However, a thorough search of the area has never been carried out.
The dossier, which was addressed to Moira's sister, is believed to state that Gartshore sedated Moira with chloroform before abusing her, then hid her in the seat-box of his bus, where she died "from the cold", and finally disposed of her body. Gallogley named names, says Brown, including senior Crown Office figures, Scottish Office employees, members of the legal profession and high-ranking police officers, whom he alleged were part of a paedophile ring. Brown is convinced that this explains why the case has not progressed, despite the fact that Gallogley claimed Moira was not the only victim of the group.
Brown says the police are concerned that releasing the dossier might jeopardise the case, since an arrest could still be made. "My father was, of course, the prime suspect," she says, with some irony. She was promised that she would have the papers by Christmas. "Then they told us they would come in March. They didn't. But, of course, in March came the bombshell: the unsolicited news - in a semi-literate e-mail from someone whose name I didn't recognise - that my father was critically ill. I opened the e-mail. It said my father was in hospital, and deteriorating fast."
After consulting her two brothers - who urged her not to visit their father - Brown decided to go. "My husband Ronnie and I were travelling south anyway, so we went via Leeds. I didn't even know if my father would see me." Just in case, she took a dictaphone with her, but it was more than a week later before she could listen to the recording. "I couldn't bear to hear that voice again," she says. She has since shared that conversation with Janet Hart.
At the hospital, Brown met her father's third wife, Sylvia, for the first time. Gartshore had deserted his first family in 1965, running off to Leeds with a 20-year-old bus conductress, who became his second wife and with whom he had three sons. Brown has had little contact with her half-brothers, although they have repeatedly asked her to reveal what her father told her as he lay dying. She said the conversation was private, but was outraged when a news story circulated after his death, saying that she had apologised to her father for her campaign and that she knew he was not Moira's killer.
Thoughtfully, she repeats something Hart says the that police told her parents after Moira went missing. "They told Mr and Mrs Anderson that no stone would be left unturned. It was, of course, a mockery, a travesty of what happened in terms of the investigation." But it is Brown who has left no stone unturned, watching in horror as the most appalling revelations have slithered out.
TWO YEARS ago, on her 55th birthday, another ghastly skeleton emerged from the Gartshore family closet. Brown had been on a weekend break with her husband Ronnie - "my rock" - the father of her two children, Ross and Lauren, both now in their 20s. When they got home, Lauren told her that a woman from West Lothian had called several times, and that she sounded very distressed. She was desperate to speak to Brown. "I neither recognised the name nor the number, but my daughter said she thought I should call her because she had kept saying it was important.
"This woman told me that she had been adopted, but that she thought we were related. She thought we might have the same father. I asked how old she was, and she said 55. 'You can't be, because I'm 55,' I said. But it was true. It's terrible, absolutely dreadful, because we now know that my father had four children to a woman that he could never marry - his mother's sister, Isa, his aunt. My mother married him not knowing that he had already fathered two children with his aunt. That, tragically, was not the end of it, though," says Brown. "He married my mother at the end of 1945, then had another two children by his aunt. So the affair went on, even after he was married to my mother.
"The damage that this one man has caused in his life is unbelievable. The ripple effects are horrendous. My poor mother didn't know any of this. It's me that has found out, as I've found out so many other awful things about him. This just crept out of the woodwork. It's disgusting," she says. "What a can of worms. All my half-sister wanted was answers. She had done all this detective work, until she found out who her father was. I gave her his address and she wrote to him, pleading for some answers. Needless to say, she got no response."
As Gartshore lay dying, Brown tackled him about the incestuous relationship with his aunt. "Yes, I got it out of him. He actually had four children with his own mother's sister. He also had four children to my mother - a baby girl born before me lived for only six days - and then he had another three sons with his second wife. I have a half-brother who is 28, the same age as my own son. It is totally strange. It's an absolute living nightmare."
Did Brown detect a scintilla of remorse in the dying man's face, or in anything he said to her? "There was a lot of self-pity and great anger towards Jimmy Gallogley, who was his pal," she replies.
But Brown, who is writing a second book about the stories she has come across through her charity, saves all her own pity for Moira. She still can't get over the fact that this story began with a chance remark in 1985, when a former neighbour told her that her father had served a prison sentence in Saughton jail for raping her 13-year-old babysitter. Brown, who was eight at the time, had been told her father's 18-month absence was due to his having had a nervous breakdown and that he was in a hospital children couldn't visit.
In 1992, at her grandmother's funeral, Brown, then a lecturer in child care, confronted her father, after recalling how uncomfortable her playmates had always felt around him. He told her that his father, her grandfather, had "never forgiven him for what happened to Moira Anderson", that she was on his bus and he had been the last person to speak to her. Later, Brown discovered that her grandfather was so convinced of his son's guilt that he had torn up the floorboards in his son's home, searching for the child's body. "It's incredible, isn't it?" says Brown. "A father convinced of his son's guilt. It is Greek tragedy."
She feels numbed by her father's death. "This is the person who brought me into the world. Biologically, yes, he's my father, but I don't think it's true that bad blood runs in families. I know my brothers worried when this first came out, that people would look at them and think the worst. But my brothers are honourable guys; good men."
As we part, Brown, her eyes bright with unshed tears, says, "My journey goes on. This is not the end of this terrible story. I've been attacked, had verbal abuse, rejection, even threatening e-mails. But I've also had the most incredible rewards, such as being honoured with the OBE. And I know that where there is evil, we must cast it out."
Where There Is Evil (Pan Macmillan) is re-published on August 1. One of Our Ain is at the Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh, from August 6 to 27. Contact the Moira Anderson Foundation (01236 602890, www.moiraanderson.com) for more information about the charity's work. Sandra Brown talks to Ruth Wishart in Blood Ties, on BBC Radio Scotland, July 12, 11.05am