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Killer still protected by ‘wall of silence’ decades after Highlands murder

The murder of Jimmy Hassard took place in February 1989 and police are no closer to catching his killer.
The murder of Jimmy Hassard took place in February 1989 and police are no closer to catching his killer.

A village in the Highlands still holds its murder secrets, after labourer Jimmy Hassard was found beaten to death in February 1989.

Despite interviewing about 4,000 people, along with various local and London leads and anonymous tip-offs over the years, police were unable to make an arrest.

His loved ones were left without answers.

Mr Hassard, 47, was on an extended holiday from London and had been staying with his sister May and her family in the village of Caol where he grew up.

He was drinking in the Lochaber Bar at Caol on February 17 1989.

He left the premises about 1.15am.

But he never made it home.

Head injuries

When he was last seen he was wearing a green anorak-type jacket, grey checked trousers and a green and white Celtic scarf.

His body was found lying in a pool of blood a few hours later by a milk boy at a Caol housing scheme car park just 200 yards from the pub.

Police at the scene following the discovery of the murder victim in February 1989.

A post-mortem in Inverness revealed that he had died from head injuries.

An incident room was set up at Fort William.

Extra officers were drafted in from Inverness and Aviemore.

Mr Hassard was known to have had a set of black plastic rosary beads in his possession on the night he was murdered.

When his body was found on February 18 1989 they were missing, but police ruled robbery as a motive out.

The car park was a short-cut between the bar and his sister’s house.

Police believed that, between leaving the pub and his body being discovered, Mr Hassard may have been in company and visited a house nearby, and that he was murdered sometime after 2.15am, before being found at 3.10am.

But they were faced with “a wall of silence” in Caol and his movements after leaving the bar were a mystery.

The police were at a loss.

Sheltering the killer

Detective Chief Inspector Lindsay Lowson was brought in to lead the investigation.

“The harsh reality is that someone in the area has information that, for one reason or another, they are not coming forward with,” he said.

“We appeal to them to look to their conscience and get in touch with us, if necessary on the confidential telephone line, if they are sheltering the killer.

“It was a vicious attack on a probably fairly-defenceless man.”

Lindsay Lowson was brought in to lead the investigation.

Mr Hassard’s funeral was held on April 24 1989 at St John’s Church in Caol and he was buried at Kilmallie Cemetery in Corpach.

Around 40 officers from Northern Constabulary knocked on the doors of 1,000 homes at Caol following Mr Hassard’s death.

But nothing changed.

The investigation was quietly scaled down.

Mr Hassard’s sister, May MacKay, spoke to the Press and Journal of her continuing ordeal in July 1989 and urged her brother’s killer to give himself up.

Jimmy Hassard was killed in February 1989.

“It is hitting me more, now that I’ve had so much time to think about it all,” she said.

“It’s so hard to come to terms with anyone who would do such a brutal thing – but surely somebody’s going to crack soon.

“If James’s killer would only give himself up, it might be easier for me, knowing who did it and why. I could rest easier. I can’t help thinking and wondering about it all.

“James’s bags are still upstairs and that is depressing me. It’s only the housework that is keeping me going just now. Even when I was up in Aberdeen, staying with one of my daughters, I was totally depressed.

“I just keep thinking about James.

“I just hope his killer is suffering – and is made to suffer plenty more.

“He has certainly made us suffer enough.”

Cold case review

But then things took a turn in 2010.

Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Greenlees was assigned to head up a cold case review.

Police interviewed more than 100 witnesses.

Gordon Greenlees carried out a review of the case in 2010.

He said: “I am pleased with the progress we’ve made.

“As a result, information has come to light which has created new lines of inquiry.

“In particular significant new information has emerged relating to the movements of Jimmy Hassard after he left the Lochaber Bar at about 1am.

“In relation to this I would like to appeal to an anonymous female caller who contacted the police by telephone at 5.50pm on Saturday April 8 1989.

“The caller provided information to the effect that in the early hours of Saturday February 18 1989, Jimmy Hassard had been involved in a fight in a garden and on the pavement on Kilmallie Road near to the junction with Glen Nevis Road.

“It may be this altercation was seen by a number of people passing in a car and I believe they are in possession of information which may be crucial to the investigation.

“We strongly believe that a small number of individuals in the Caol community still hold vital information in regard to this crime and would again appeal to them for their co-operation, which would bring closure for the family and allow the interests of justice to be rightly served.”

Police believed that advances in forensic techniques and changed “loyalties and relationships” could hold the key to catching the murderer.

However, this also failed to provide any answers.

Villagers remained as tight-lipped as ever but police say the inquiry remains open and continues to be subject to periodic review.

The family’s wait for justice continues.

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