Alex Cameron’s body was found in a shallow grave at the remote West Lothian farm he rented to killer Jimmy Smith.
It has now emerged police tailed Cameron, 67, to the farm on the day of his death as they hunted for another drug dealer.
Officers eventually found their target Alex Sutherland hiding at Mr Cameron’s home in Newcraighall Road, Musselburgh, on January 19 this year after leaving the farm when they realised he was not there.
Hours later, Cameron was savagely beaten with a heavy fencing mallet and an axe by Smith, 58, who admitted killing his relative, but claimed he had acted in self-defence and denied murder.
It took a jury at the High Court in Livingston less than 60 minutes yesterday to return a majority verdict finding him guilty. They also reached a unanimous verdict convicting him of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by concealing the body and pretending to police he didn’t know where the missing man was.
The jury heard that Smith’s murderous scheme collapsed when police announced they were going to search the buildings and surrounding fields at West Cairns Farm in Kirknewton for Mr Cameron’s body.
When they arrived at the farmhouse, Smith put two envelopes – one marked “Police” and the other “Helen” [his wife’s name] – on the table in front of him and told officers: “I’m glad it’s over. I think that’s what you’re here for.”
Inside the “Police” envelope was a signed confession setting out how he had used the weapons to kill Mr Cameron.
He then pointed to where he had buried the body next to the stable block.
Smith – who made repeated calls to his victim’s mobile after murdering him in a bid to throw police off the scent – admitted that he’d killed Mr Cameron and disposed of his white Citroen Berlingo van in Edinburgh.
He then went to a corner of the kitchen and pointed to a large axe and a sledgehammer, stating: “I picked up these and just started to hit him with them.”
The builder claimed Mr Cameron had picked up a bag with a circular saw in it and shouted that he was “going to go for a gun” and “shoot that cow and all her f****** dogs”, referring to Helen, 58.
Mr Cameron’s body was later exhumed from the shallow grave where it had been concealed under paving slabs and a pile of horse manure.
His wrists and ankles had been bound together with electrical flex and blue polypropylene rope and his head and face were covered in blood.
At the start of the nine-day trial, the Crown conceded that Mr Cameron had links to various serious and organised crime groups in the Central Belt and connections “to do with Liverpool gangs”.
He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2011 for being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs after a cannabis cultivation was found at West Cairns.
He had told a social worker he would have to sell the farm – and find somewhere else for Smith and his wife to live – to pay a £525,000 compensation order under Proceeds of Crime.
The court heard evidence that animosity between Smith and the deceased was fuelled by the fact that the accused’s wife had helped the authorities convict Mr Cameron of the drugs offences by keeping a log of vehicles and visitors to the farm.
Sutherland, who was found at Mr Cameron’s home on the day of the killing, was subsequently jailed for 13-and-a-half years at the High Court in Edinburgh after he pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of heroin.
Detective Inspector Stuart Wilson, of the Police Scotland Major Investigation Team, said officers who followed Mr Cameron’s car had left the farm after realising Sutherland was not there – and insisted the murder victim was not their main observation target.
He said: “Police were looking for Alexander Sutherland and essentially followed the vehicle to the farm, but once they identified that Sutherland wasn’t there, their observation was stood down. There were still observations kept on the house at Newcraighall Road. They had been at the farm monitoring the vehicle in case Sutherland was there. They weren’t following Cameron.”
DI Wilson said he hoped the conviction would allow Mr Cameron’s family to begin to “put their ordeal behind them”.
He said: “Alex Cameron was subjected to a violent assault on West Cairns Farm and sustained a number of serious injuries, which ultimately resulted in his death.
“James Smith then went to extraordinary lengths to conceal his victim’s body before eventually confessing to his crime.
“It was quite a long and painstaking task to remove the body from the shallow grave. Then it was a case of building up the case against Smith. There was still a lot of work to do [despite the letter].
“As a result of the conviction, Smith will now spend a considerable period of time in prison and I hope that the family of Alex Cameron can now begin to put their ordeal behind them.”
Judge Lord Matthews told Smith he would be sentenced to life imprisonment and called for criminal justice social work reports before setting a minimum jail term at the High Court in Edinburgh on August 4.