A short story: The Grace Patton murder

A short story: The Grace Patton murder

by Christopher Anderson
article from Wednesday 11, October, 2017

AROUND 1957 as a new recruit I was teamed up with a more experienced policeman to patrol the Granton Harbour area in Edinburgh, a known hot spot to the police.

Rab and I walked around dealing with the odd bit of bad behaviour from the local kids but really just making our presence known as it was normally covered by the police van which that day was elsewhere.

In those days we had no personal radios so all calls to the station were done on land lines, so with this in mind Rab and I stopped at the police pillar to make our routine phone call. We were informed that a call had come in from the manager of Patton’s fishing line and that he wished to speak to the police urgently. We made our way to his office and were met with a guy who was in a real panic.

He explained that one of his boats, the Grace Patton, was due to be decommissioned and as this boat had been with the company a long time and everyone was sad to see it go there had been a meeting with his bosses and it had been decided to let the boat go out for a catch one last time and that the proceeds of the catch would go to the captain and crew as a thank you.

Normally when this is done the share is split differently, two shares to the captain, one share to the boat owners and one share to the crew so this excursion was extremely popular with the lads and they had all been keen to mark the last voyage with a good catch and nostalgic stories of the past.

However he had received a radio message from the captain to say that there had been a serious assault on board and that they were returning to port. The captain explained that the crew had begun celebrating before they had even left the harbour and were pretty drunk, and that some bad blood between the cook and the driver of the trawler had come to blows, the captain himself seemed to be inebriated. The manager told the captain to return to port immediately.

The two of us and the manager walked down to the jetty to wait for the trawler who we could now see making its way towards the harbour. Even to a policeman’s untrained sailing eye the trawler looked like it was heading for the harbour wall instead of the gap where it should have entered to enable the boat to dock – and true enough it ran aground outside the harbour.

The only thing to do was to wait until the tide turned and the boat could be floated in, which happened about two hours later. Once docked Rab ordered me as the younger of the two to climb on board and make my way to the cabin. On entering, I saw a crew member slumped across the centre table unconscious and his head badly injured covered in blood, there was blood everywhere all over the table and cabin, this looked pretty serious as if this guy had been bludgeoned to death.

There was also another unconscious crew member sprawled over two cabin beds on the opposite wall, he too had blood on him but did not look as injured as the guy lying presumed dead on the table. As a new recruit I had never seen anything like this and shouted for back up which consisted of the elderly Rab who with the help of the inebriated captain managed to climb on board.

The captain explained that they had all started celebrating the moment the boat left the harbour on booze that had been brought on board to wet the demise of the Grace Patton, but it had got out of hand when the cook had made a meal and the driver called into question his culinary abilities. The cook had picked up a huge bottle of tomato ketchup and smashed it over the driver’s head. Sticking a finger in the “blood" a taste quickly confirmed that instead of the guy having bled to death from his injuries he was in fact sleeping from a rather large thump to the head and was basting in a marinade of tomato sauce.

He was taken to the Western General where he was found to have a two inch gash on his forehead and discharged only to be arrested along with the crew and taken to Gayfield Square police station, where the desk sergeant, who had been informed of what had happened, launched a diatribe about charging them using some mercantile marine act. He went on for ages and everyone including the charged crew members were impressed with his knowledge of this particular crime.

They were put in the cells and we all congratulated the sergeant on his knowledge to which he replied, ”I didn’t have a bloody clue, I will have to go and read up and see if I was anywhere near the mark"

They all attended the Burgh court the next day and all had to pay a small fine each. Rab and I had to go even though it was our day off, but no malice was held between us or the crew who by this time had all sobered up. Even the chef and the driver were now best mates again although all mourned the loss of the share that had been coming their way, but that aside, the murdered man, the accused, the crew members of the ill fated Grace Patton and Rab and myself ended up having a dram or two at the local hostelry, just to toast the lady’s demise.

PC 30B Chris Anderson served in the Edinburgh City Police (1954-84) and was a valued member of its Pipe Band that won the Grade 1 World Championships in 1963, 1964, 1971, 1972 and 1975. In his eightieth year (2012-13) he wrote many articles  for ThinkScotland.org based upon his wealth of policing and piping anecdotes and following his passing in September we are pleased to publish as a tribute a mixture of unpublished stories and old repeats every Wednesday for readers to enjoy.

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