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Moray mum dies with unanswered questions following 29-year fight over death of teenage son

Margaret Riddel.
Margaret Riddel.

A north-east pensioner has died plagued by unanswered questions about her teenage son’s death – despite spending decades fighting for a fresh inquiry.

Neil Riddel, from Aultmore near Keith, was found dead in a field near the family home in March 1991.

Margaret Riddel, who has now died aged 81, disputed the official verdict that her son died as a result of suicide by overdose and began challenging a string of perceived inconsistencies.

She was convinced the teenager died in police custody, and that the force “covered up” what really happened.

Weeks earlier, Mr Riddel had lodged a complaint about being assaulted by officers – and his family have repeatedly raised doubts that the amount of medication in his system was enough to kill him.

Yesterday Ian Riddel, Neil’s brother, revealed that his mother continued fighting until her final days and said any further progress would be her lasting legacy.

He said that a letter written by the family’s lawyer to Scotland’s Lord Advocate, just two days before the 81-year-old lost her battle with cancer on Boxing Day, convinced her there was still hope of a breakthrough in their campaign.

Neil Riddel.

Mr Riddel has vowed to pick up his mother’s quest for further investigation into his brother’s death.

He said: “The whole thing absolutely destroyed her. She was never prepared to let it lie though, the family has never accepted it was a suicide.”

The recent letter to Lord Advocate James Wolffe called on the Crown Office to reopen an investigation to examine alleged wrong-doing in the investigation.

Mr Riddel added: “I read it to my mother two days before she died. She said ‘that’s good’, she was really pleased about it.

“There are things happening now that have been set in motion by her.

“She always knew some avenues we could take to find out what happened would be refused – but knew there was always another way to go.

“She always had a plan, she would never have given up. I still think we’ll get the answers one day.”

Separate investigations already carried out by the police and Crown Office have determined that there was no foul play involved.

But the family have questioned why the teenage apprentice blacksmith was reportedly badly bruised when discovered and why they were not allowed to view his body.

In 2016, Moray MP Douglas Ross, who was an MSP at the time, demanded police reports which have been withheld from the family be released to them.

A call was made to the Scottish Government the following year for a fresh investigation, amid concerns the Keith police officers the teenager had complained about had participated in the original probe into his death.

But that was also rejected.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explained that Holyrood had “no role to play in the investigation of crime” with police stressing inquiries into Mr Riddel’s death supported the original suicide conclusion.

The timeline

1991: Neil Riddel’s body is found in a field near his family home at Aultmore. The cause of death is recorded as suicide through a drug overdose.

1992: A fatal accident inquiry is held, but the apprentice blacksmith’s family claim that statements from two friends Mr Riddel was thought to be out with that night are not presented as part of the probe. His death is ruled the result of a “probable overdose”.

1996: The Riddel family request a second death certificate previously withheld from them. It indicated that the toxicological analysis was still “awaited” at the time the 19-year-old was buried.

1998: Grampian Police review the case and found no faults with officers’ handling of it.

2008: Solicitor general Frank Mulholland QC instructs the area procurator fiscal for Grampian, Morag McLaughlin, to re-examine the evidence in relation to the death.

2011: Mrs McLaughlin completes her review, and it is passed to the Crown Counsel for consideration. The Crown Counsel also backs the original verdict.

2015: The Riddel family present police with a dossier arguing their case, but top officers reject their appeal for a new investigation.

2016: Moray MP Douglas Ross vows to do his utmost to get answers to some of the “unanswered questions” which have plagued the family.

2017: The Scottish Government reject the family’s appeal for a fresh investigation.

2019: Margaret Riddel dies aged 81.