Referee blows the whistle on hotel murder that never was

AS ONE of Scotland's top football referees Brian McGinlay is used to making split-second judgments under pressure.

So when the former whistler wandered into the picturesque Winnock Hotel - which overlooks a village green just a few minutes from Loch Lomond - he reacted immediately when he saw two guests struggling in the foyer.

But before he could intervene, he had to watch in horror as one of the guests "stabbed" the other with a large knife, leaving a body spreadeagled on the floor, apparently lifeless.

Shocked, Mr McGinlay made an emergency call to police on his mobile phone, to tell them he was an eyewitness to a violent incident in the hotel, in Drymen, Stirlingshire.

But as officers made their way to the normally peaceful venue, Mr McGinlay's concern was replaced by embarrassment when he discovered the hotel was staging a murder mystery weekend and what he had just witnessed was all part of the entertainment.

The hotel manager informed the former top-flight referee, who retired from officiating at matches in 1999, that he knew all about the "murder" in the foyer.

Mr McGinlay, who was at the 18th century former coaching inn to give an after-dinner speech, was then left to explain the mix-up to the police who had raced to the hotel to answer his call for help.

A hotel insider said: "Mr McGinlay was walking through the foyer when he heard a woman scream.

"He turned round and saw a man clutch his chest and fall to the ground with the woman shouting 'Help! They have just stabbed my husband'.

"He obviously didn't realise it was all an act and phoned the police before alerting the staff.

"But the hotel workers could hardly contain themselves when he said that the situation was under control and help was on its way.

"His face went bright red after he was told the murder had been faked and was only part of a murder mystery weekend for guests."

Mr McGinlay, now a director of Stenhousemuir Football Club, declined to comment on the incident.

But last night his agent, Bill Barclay, said his client was "too embarrassed" to talk about the mix-up at the listed hotel, in the heart of Scotland's first national park.

Mr Barclay said: "Everyone is having a good laugh at his expense, so he just wants to forget all about it."

A spokesman for the 48-bedroom Winnock Hotel said: "This type of thing has happened a few times, and it just shows how realistic the actors are."

Steven Bullock of "The Tentpeg Murders" runs murder-mystery evenings at the nearby Buchanan Arms Hotel in Drymen, but said his company now sticks to relatively sedate dinners, as in the past more dramatic evenings have caused similar problems.

"We've found that our customers take unkindly to being woken up at two o'clock in the morning by a bloody murder," he said.

As one of Scotland's most respected referees, Mr McGinlay handled important international games including the 1980 European Football Championships in Italy.

He is now retired and tours the after-dinner speaking circuit, earning 500 a time for his footballing memories.