Police inspector John MacLennan was 'hounded' into suicide over homosexuality

Police inspector's death followed pressure from fellow officers amid force's double standards

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 8:18am

A solicitor involved in the controversial inquiry into the death of Inspector John MacLennan in 1980 has no doubts that he committed suicide, and that he was "hounded into killing himself" by Hong Kong's police hierarchy.

Murray Burton was responding to questions raised in last week's Sunday Morning Post about how MacLennan could fire off five rounds into his own body, and the conspiracy theories that have arisen over the motive behind the police force's homosexuality charges against him.

The 29-year-old Scot was found dead of the wounds on the morning he was to be arrested by the Special Investigations Unit - a specialist police unit charged with investigating homosexuals - on charges of indecency. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Hong Kong only in 1991. His death sparked the most expensive public inquiry in Hong Kong's history, costing HK$16 million.

Burton, 65, was the solicitor to the independent commission for the MacLennan Inquiry in 1981. He was involved in the investigation for its entire duration until the commission produced its report 14 months later.

"I can assure you there was no cover-up or whitewash. To this day I'm asked how is it possible for an individual to shoot themselves five times," Burton said. "But only one of the five shots was considered by ballistics and forensics to be fatal."

Burton said MacLennan was seated on his bed holding his revolver reversed. Some shots were fired into his stomach and abdomen area, as well as his chest. He did not shoot himself in either the head or the heart.

The fact that police officers did not bag MacLennan's hands at the scene was also a crucial mistake, as residue from the gunshots could have proved he shot himself. Instead it left open the possibility he had been murdered. But Burton was in no doubt that he was driven to suicide. MacLennan would have been the first police officer in the city to have been arrested for homosexuality.

"He was completely and unfairly targeted by the police authorities. There were much more high-ranking police officers at the time who were homosexual but were above prosecution," Burton said.

"MacLennan was hounded into killing himself. The night before, he was told confidentially by his superior officer that he was going to be arrested. You can imagine his state of mind. The whole inquiry had a huge effect on me."

Burton left private legal practice after the inquiry had released its report.