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Sadistic fiend had attacked four others

Elaine Collie was killed at age 47 by neighbour John Reid.
Elaine Collie was killed at age 47 by neighbour John Reid.

A year after his marriage in England, Jason Collie heard the devastating news that the aunt in his wedding photos had been tortured and strangled by her next-door neighbour. He writes about his family's long battle to keep the murderer behind bars

The stranger who came up to my father Fred at Edinburgh's High Court offering his condolences was the inadvertent catalyst to what has been a 12-year mission. The man did not know my aunt, Elaine Collie, nor live in the city where she had been murdered six months earlier. But he knew her killer, John Ian Reid, moments earlier taken away to begin his life sentence.

Fourteen years earlier in the fishing town of Dunbar, Reid had lured his daughter to his home, bound and sexually assaulted her.

The police in the mid-1980s were less sympathetic towards complainants of sexual assault, especially if there was a hint of alcohol involved, and dropped the case.

When her father learned "Jock the rapist", as Reid was known, would be sentenced for the murder of a 47-year-old spinster in Edinburgh, he wanted to offer his condolences.

He did not know he gave impetus to the idea that there was so much more to Reid than what we had just heard in court.

Defending barrister, Donald Findlay, QC, had told the judge, Lord Cameron, there was nothing in Reid's previous convictions to suggest this man was capable of the sadistic torture, sexual assault and murder of my aunt. Some assaults were akin to fighting, he said.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The teenage girl from Dunbar was one of at least four cases in which Reid got a get-out-of-jail free card from the Scottish justice system.

In some ways, given Findlay's less-than-accurate summation and a prosecutor who inexplicably did not challenge this claim, Reid could have considered he had again not done too badly as Lord Cameron sentenced him to life, with parole only to be considered after 15 years.

What he did to my aunt can never be fully reported given its horrific nature.

As a family we had hoped for 20 to 25 years. Fifteen years meant Reid could be free aged just 56.

The police officer in charge of the case, an old-school Scottish gent called Bert Swanson, also indicated there was more to Reid's past than a glance of his record showed.

Reid had been leading up to this his whole life. If it had not been Elaine Collie, it would have been someone else.

A couple of years passed and my father directed his efforts towards such things as representations to the Scottish Government about sentencing for violent offenders and a memorial seat at a beauty spot where Elaine liked to walk.

But still there was the spectre of Reid's past. By 2003, we had two dates from these simple "assault" cases to work from.

A trip by my father and I to Edinburgh's public library uncovered the court stories and, by the stroke of fortune that reporters had done their jobs, we had the victims' names.

The next day we were in Dunbar and speaking to Reid's first victim, a married woman he attacked in a churchyard and spared only because someone happened past.

She knew of Elaine's death and she and her husband welcomed in two strangers to recount her ordeal.

The other victim, a woman attacked in Edinburgh's main bus station and again fortunate she was able to fight free and find safety, was more difficult to trace.

This was the time of only fledgling social media and my wife Sarah, also a journalist, managed to come up with potentially the name of the school Victim C, as she's known in our dossier, went to.

A message through Friends Reunited eventually received an answer.

There was intermittent contact with my father every few years as Victim C, now a mother herself, took time to feel ready to talk of that dark night in 1986.

In September 2010 she opened up fully, revealing a calculated attempt to abduct a lone woman.

That same week the young girl whose father we met 11 years previously also was ready to speak. Once again there was a clear recollection of what happened down to the smallest detail.

You cannot overstate the courage of these women.

Each of them was clearly affected by their ordeals and have naturally thought following Elaine's murder: "That could have been me."

Yet not only were they able to speak to us, they were deeply sympathetic over what had happened to Elaine.

Reid is only about 20 months away from his first parole hearing. Six weeks ago we pieced together the strands into a dossier to present to the Scottish justice system.

There is the overview and the evidence Lord Cameron was misled, a psychologist's report we have paid for and those three brave women's accounts.

We knew from 2009 this information was unknown by the prison psychologists treating Reid and who will be making assessments for the Scottish Parole Board about his risk of re-offending.

Yet if the system does not have all the pieces of the puzzle, how could it view the full picture?

Initially reluctant to receive the dossier, the Scottish Prison Service eventually agreed to a meeting just over two weeks ago. It was fruitful and one of their senior officials reassuringly said: "Now we have this information in our possession, we can't unpossess it."

The work is still not done. Getting it to the Scottish Parole Board is the next step, along with a submission, possibly in person if current proposals are adopted, at any hearings.

Will Reid be freed in 2014? Highly unlikely. But it may happen one day.

We accept this. This is not some irrational refusal to accept anything other than that man dying in prison.

But what we will not allow is another victim like Elaine. Reid slipped through the cracks four times.

If the one thing we can do in her memory is to fill in the cracks for the system to prevent another tragedy then that is what we have to do.

- Herald on Sunday

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