Extraordinary 19th Century murder conviction on BBC ALBA

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“Forgive my speaking in Gaelic, since I have scant knowledge of the English tongue. Here you behold me as one speaking to you from the dead. Yet I acknowledge the crime most justly laid to my charge.”

(Hugh Macleod – 24th October 1830).

Shortly before he was hanged in chains, thirty year old Hugh Macleod was paraded through the streets of Inverness in front of a jeering crowd of 3,000.

He was the only Scottish defendant in history whose trial had admitted the evidence of second sight.

The old superstition of foretelling was still very much alive in the Highlands, where this intriguing tale of murder and execution took place.

Now, on BBC ALBA, the story is told in full for the first time: a crime that led to the exposure of a high-ranking member of society, an investigation that saw ancient rituals played out in a tight-knit community – and a man recognised as a gifted ‘dreamer of visions’ taking centre stage from the witness box.

The story unfolds in 1830, in far north west Sutherland. Murdoch Grant was a pedlar or ‘packman’ who made a decent return on the clothing and goods he brought north from Inverness, selling them on in scattered villages where the people had no access to shops. Often given a bed for the night as he went about his lengthy travels on foot, Grant was a popular character.

On March 11, there was a large wedding in the township of Assynt. Murdoch Grant attended, and enjoyed a sales boost from the many celebrating guests. He set off in the direction of Lochbroom, and was never seen alive again.

A month later, his badly decomposed corpse was spotted floating in remote Loch Tòrr na h-Èiginn.

The small community was thrust together in panic and before long, the word ‘murder’ had been spoken.

With no policeman near to hand, villagers turned to the local schoolmaster. Hugh Macleod, a dapper figure, promised to raise the authorities from Inverness.

But as the programme reveals, there was far more to young Macleod than met the eye. An only child and a bright one, his parents had indulged him from an early age.

As a teenager, he had developed an appetite for ‘damsels, dress and drams’. By the age of 21 when the death of Grant took place, he had fallen into ‘Sabbath breaking’ and ‘carousing late’ – despite his responsibilities as schoolmaster.

And no-one could ignore the fact that following Grant’s disappearance, Macleod was seen to be enjoying something of a windfall.

While the law took its course, another unlikely tip came from within the community.

A man long known as ‘Kenneth the Dreamer’ declared that he had experienced a vision of Grant’s murder in his sleep.

The net began to close in on Hugh Macleod, who had walked past the loch every day since, on his way to and from the schoolhouse.

Had he seen the grim evidence of his crime, rise slowly to the surface? Did he believe his authority would protect him? And why would the justiciary be in the end so willing to listen to the testimony of a man known only as a ‘dreamer’?

With expert opinion from a detective, lawyer, psychologist and journalist, this bizarre story of 19th century Highland crime is realised in rich drama reconstruction for BBC ALBA.

A Dream of Death / Bruadar a’ Bhàis, produced and directed by Diane Maclean of Sorbier Productions for BBC ALBA, can be seen on the channel on Thursday 10th March at 9.00 until 10.00pm.

Pictured is the character of Hugh Macleod in jail.