Man who killed brother-in-law ‘cared more about donkey’

A man was jailed for life today after brutally murdering his criminal brother-in-law and burying him in a shallow grave under manure.

James Smith, top, killed Alexander Cameron and buried him at West Cairns Farm. Pictures: Police Scotland/Vic Rodrick

James “Jimmy” Smith bludgeoned Alexander Cameron to death by striking him on the head with an axe and a heavy fencing hammer, and was today accused of caring more about the death of his pet donkey than his victim.

A judge at the High Court in Edinburgh ordered that Smith, 58, should serve at least 17 years in prison after he was earlier convicted of murder.

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Lord Matthews told Smith: “You were convicted by the jury of the murder of Alexander Cameron and an attempt to defeat the ends of justice by taking various steps, the worst of which were that you hogtied his body and then, using a mechanical digger, you buried him amongst a collection of debris.”

“This was a dreadful way to treat a fellow human being,” said the judge.

Lord Matthews told Smith, who has previous convictions for serious assault: “The deprivation of another person’s life using weapons has to be treated severely.”

Defence solicitor advocate Murray Macara QC said that Smith had been placed in segregation in prison after threats were made.

He told the court: “I understand the threats made against him have also been extended to his wife and family.”

He said Smith faced a number of health problems and the prognosis for the future was not good.

Smith had previously admitted responsibility for the death Mr Cameron, 67, by repeatedly striking him on the head with the tools during the attack between January 19 and January 25 at West Cairns Farm, Kirknewton, West Lothian, but denied the crime was murder.

He claimed during a trial that he acted in self-defence and that threats had been made to shoot his wife Helen.

Smith tried to cover up the crime by burying Mr Cameron, formerly of Newcraighall Road, Musselburgh, East Lothian, under horse manure and paving slabs at the farm. He was also convicted of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

Smith claimed that he feared he was going to be killed when Mr Cameron ran at him. He said he fell over trying to avoid being struck and grabbed “two large hammers” and swung one to the back of his victim’s head.

He prepared a confession saying: “Pulling myself up I then went into a frenzied sort of numbness and was striking him several times on the head. All that I can remember thinking was ‘I can’t let him shoot Helen.’”

Mr Cameron’s body was later recovered from the makeshift grave where it had been hidden. His wrists and ankles had been bound and his head and face were covered in blood from “blunt force trauma” injuries.

The victim was reported missing after failing to turn up at a family funeral on January 22. Police saw him three days earlier.

When officers turned up at the farm Smith put two envelopes on the table - one marked “police” - containing a signed confession.

He said: “They were going to shoot Helen. We were tired of threats.”

Mr Cameron was said to have links to serious, organised crime groups in Central Scotland and connections with Liverpool gangs.

He was previously jailed for six years after a cannabis crop was found in kennels at the farm in 2009 and was ordered to pay more than £525,000 under a crime profits confiscation order. His realisable assets were said to include the farm where he met his death.

Mr Cameron suffered a crushed skull in the fatal attack carried out by his brother-in-law.

A spokesman for the murder victim’s family said after Smith’s conviction: “Alex was a much-loved father, grandfather, brother, family member and friend to many.”

“James Smith is a coward and a callous, evil, cunning and manipulative person who showed more compassion during evidence for a farmyard animal than he did for a human being.”

“He struck a pensioner about the head and body with blunt instruments, bound his hands and feet and buried him in a shallow grave.”

During evidence at Smith’s trial he broke down as he talked about having to get his pet donkey put down in the days after he killed Mr Cameron.

His counsel Mr Macara put to him that it might seem he was a bit more upset by the donkey than about Mr Cameron. Smith responded: “I loved that wee donkey.”