Alesha MacPhail murder: Bute residents in shock at terrible crime on '˜trusting island'

Rothesay is the kind of seaside resort beloved by generations of Scots holidaymakers. There's a ruined castle to explore, several beaches close by, and an impressive art deco pavilion currently undergoing a major refurbishment.

It’s the only town on the Isle of Bute, an island with a population of just over 6,000, and easily reachable from Glasgow.

Despite its proximity to the central belt, crime is rare here. Residents today struggled to convey the deep sense of shock they felt at the murder of Alesha MacPhail.

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The six-year-old, from Airdrie, was found dead on Monday by a member of the public in woodland on the site of a former hotel in Ardbeg Road, a residential street in Port Bannatyne on the outskirts of Rothesay.

Port Bannatyne, where the body was found. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPLPort Bannatyne, where the body was found. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL
Port Bannatyne, where the body was found. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL

The girl had been staying with her grandparents on the island when she was reported missing.

Police launched a murder investigation yesterday and warned parents to lock doors and keep an eye on their children.

Councillor Len Scoullar, provost of Argyll and Bute Council, has lived on the island since 1969. He told The Scotsman he could not recall any comparable investigation in that time.

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“I am very deeply saddened to hear this latest news about little Alesha,” he said. “It is so distressing for everyone in our community on Bute and dreadful for her family.

“On behalf of the people of Bute I extend deepest sympathy to all her family in this very tragic occurrence. I would also ask, if we can, to help the police in their efforts.”

Cllr Scoullar continued: “The police statement advising residents to take security precautions makes sense - because none of us here really have any trouble,” he said.

“While I lock my car, some of my neighbours leave their keys in the ignition. This is such a trusting and caring community, like most island communities are. That’s what makes it so deeply shocking.”

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One former resident, who asked not to be named, told The Scotsman: “A murder like this is unheard of. The only incidents you generally hear of are petty crime, theft, and road traffic offences.”

The Rev Owain Jones is parish minister at the United Church of Bute.

He told the BBC: “I think my personal reaction is just the same as everybody else’s - I am stunned.

“And I am lost for words and this is not something we are used to in our community. Whatever it is, it’s just tragic.”

Violent crime is almost unknown in connection to Bute.

In 2010, two men were jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering a woman from Rothesay who was planning to report them for abusing a young boy.

Convicted paedophiles Charles O’Neill and William Lauchlan had denied killing Allison McGarrigle in 1997 and dumping her body at sea.

Mrs McGarrigle, whose body has never been found, was reported missing in 1998 and declared dead in 2005.