Twelve years ago today, the body of a young Swedish woman was
recovered from the beach at Prestwick. A local newspaper published a
brief account of her death including the statement:
A police investigation team quickly sealed off the area but there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.
Although the results of a post-mortem on Annie Borjesson were still awaited, it seemed the police had already made up their minds. The rush to judgement became the first of many disturbing questions about the case: questions unresolved to this day.
Twenty months later, on 27 July 2007, the then solicitor-general for Scotland, Frank Mulholland, replying to a letter from Eva Seiser of the Swedish embassy in London, repeated the initial police opinion – 'no suspicious circumstances' – and cited the post-mortem report.
We obtained a copy of this report, signed by the two doctors who
conducted the examination. They noted that the body was heavily contaminated by sand and seaweed, that the lungs were congested, that the air passages contained 'a frothy material.' Conclusion: death by drowning.
When the undertakers in Sweden opened Annie's coffin, however, they were surprised to discover 'big bruises' on her right arm and side as well as bruising behind her right ear. They insisted that these marks, far beyond anything recorded in the report, had not occurred after the post-mortem ('We consider we have the knowledge to state the difference between bruises and corpse patches on a body').
The striking divergence between the undertakers' observations, which
potentially pointed to an act of violence, and the post-mortem report alarmed the Borjesson family.
Pieces of body tissue removed during the post-mortem were examined by
RMV, the Swedish forensic service. RMV sent bone marrow to a professor
in Strasbourg for analysis. He found tiny diatom shells – algae – in the sample and identified them as navicula lanceolata.
It was an unexpected discovery. Far from confirming that Annie had drowned, it tended to cast doubt on the official finding – for navicula lanceolata is a freshwater rather than a seawater diatom.
In the opinion of marine experts consulted by the Borjesson family, death by drowning could be proved or disproved only by analysis of other organs. One of the experts offered to conduct an extended test pro bono. The Swedish authorities not only refused to permit such a test, but declined to give any explanation for this decision. Their counterparts in Scotland were equally unwilling to contemplate further scrutiny.
On 13 December 2007, the procurator fiscal at Kilmarnock wrote to the family informing them: '...Crown counsel have instructed that these [samples which would have enabled a deeper examination of the body tissues] will be retained and not destroyed but that they will not be released other than to a skilled person for a specific purpose.' Despite intense pressure, the Crown Office has steadfastly declined to release them – to a skilled person or anyone else.
The Borjesson family suspected that Annie did not drown at Prestwick, but that she was murdered elsewhere and that her body was dumped on the beach. In a case riddled with inconsistencies and obfuscation, and in the absence of conclusive forensic evidence, this remains as plausible a theory as any.
Why Annie decided to travel from her home in Edinburgh to Prestwick, a town with which she was unfamiliar, is a mystery. CCTV images from the
afternoon of 3 December 2005 capture her arriving by train at Prestwick Airport and leaving after a few minutes, apparently without talking to anyone. She is then presumed to have walked in the gathering dusk into the town and down to the beach with the intention of drowning herself.
The only positive 'sighting' appeared at first to give some credence to this theory. A local man was walking along the promenade around 4.30 in the company of a friend from England. They were distracted by the sight of a person on the shore at low tide, about 150 yards out, standing motionless at the edge of the water.
They continued their walk to the end of the prom and then turned for home. Twenty minutes had elapsed, yet the lone figure on the shore hadn't budged – he or she was still there, looking out to sea. They thought no more about it until the following morning, 4 December, when they saw that the police had sealed off the area and heard that a body had been found.
The significance of their evidence was underlined by solicitor-general Frank Mulholland in his letter to the Swedish embassy, when he wrote that 'a witness statement indicated that someone fitting her [Annie's] description was seen standing at the water's edge looking out to sea at about 1630 hours'.
The Borjessons heard no more about a promising early lead that someone resembling Annie had been seen talking to two men near the beach late that afternoon. Instead, the police accepted that the lone figure was Annie and that, shortly after 4.30pm, she walked into the water and drowned.
It was not until 2008, three years after her death, that the family acquired first-hand knowledge which compromised this scenario.
On a visit to Scotland, Annie's mother Guje and her friend Maria managed to contact the local witness, who agreed to meet them. He told them that it was his companion who had first drawn attention to the figure at the water's edge. They had thought at the time it was unusual and perhaps ominous, but were unable to say if it was a man or a woman.
Some months after Annie's death, the local witness was asked to go to the police station and repeat what he knew. He said that he couldn't tell them much because the person had been too far away. The police informed him that they did not believe there were any suspicious circumstances but that they were going over the case one more time to satisfy themselves. At no point was he asked if the person he had seen on the beach resembled Annie.
On 3 December 2013 at 4.30pm, we re-enacted the scene on Prestwick beach. It was a cold, clear, dry afternoon, similar to the weather on the corresponding day eight years earlier. The tide was well out – just as it had been on 3 December 2005. We asked a young woman of approximately Annie's age, height and build to walk 150 yards from the sea wall. Observing her from the promenade, all we could see was a dark, nondescript shape. This confirmed the testimony of the witness that identification was impossible.
Why, then, did the Scottish authorities give a misleading assurance to a foreign government? Why did they claim that the lone figure on the beach was 'someone fitting her description'?
After an exhaustive, months-long inquiry in which we studied hundreds of documents that had never previously been made available to the media, we compiled a dossier on the death of Annie Borjesson, including detailed information about events and people in her life in the weeks before her death, and sent it to Police Scotland with a request that the case be re-opened. The request was refused.
A personal coda
I was last in touch with the Borjesson family several months ago. A television company had expressed an interest in making a documentary about the case and interviewed me at length. Guje Borjesson, when I alerted her to this new development, was sceptical that anything would come of it (she was right: nothing did) and I sensed in her correspondence a deep disillusionment. After their tenacious campaign, it was clear that the family had lost faith in Scottish justice and had finally given up hope of ever finding out the truth about their daughter's death.
I too have given up hope. I don't believe the wall of obstruction in this case – a wall as solid as any sea wall – will ever be breached.
That is why this article appears.