Eleven years ago this week, Suzanne Pilley was carrying out her usual morning routine before work.
CCTV cameras caught her going into a supermarket near her Edinburgh office. She was then seen walking along the street towards her work.
It was the last time Suzanne, a bookkeeper, was seen alive. That afternoon her parents reported her missing.
Within two weeks it was being treated as a murder inquiry and, the next month, a man was charged with murder.
The man was David Gilroy – her former lover and a colleague. Gilroy lured her to the basement of their office block and strangled her. After his conviction in 2012, he was ordered to spend at least 18 years in prison.
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Suzanne’s body has never been found. Her remains are believed to be buried somewhere in a forest in Argyll but Gilroy – who continues to maintain his innocence – refuses to give up the location. Her dad, Rob, died in 2019 without ever finding out what happened to his daughter.
The 38-year-old’s mum Sylvia and sister Gail continue to live in limbo and feel they cannot say their goodbyes until her remains are found and she is given a proper burial.
Such cases are relatively rare in Scotland – Suzanne is just one of a handful of women murdered whose killers have been convicted where no body has been found.
I think there has only ever been one case involving a man – and that was the death of John Coughlan, who disappeared from his Blantyre home in 1975 and never returned. Unusually, his killer, Michael Topham, confessed to murdering him in 1980 and told police his body was buried near the Queen’s estate at Balmoral but efforts to find John failed.
While Gilroy is refusing to admit his guilt, it’s highly unlikely he will ever give up his secrets.
He’s been too busy trying to save his own skin to give any consideration to the suffering he is inflicting on her relatives.
Readers may remember that I once confronted wife killer Nat Fraser, who was convicted of murdering his estranged wife Arlene, in Elgin in 1998.
Her body has never been found and Fraser, who was tried twice in court, was furious with me for asking if he killed her. He told me I was rude for asking such a question.
Nobody can deny the anguish such a situation creates for the families left behind and you’d have to be made of stone to think it’s anything other than torture for them.
But one day, despite their lengthy sentences, Gilroy and Fraser will be eligible for release – unless the proposal to create Suzanne’s Law goes ahead.
Under such a law, killers who refuse to reveal their victim’s whereabouts would stay in prison as further punishment. In an ideal world, this sounds like a perfect response to narcissistic, sociopathic behaviour – but pigs don’t fly and the world isn’t flat.
Without a body, the conviction is based purely on circumstantial evidence and, in some cases, this could be weak enough to sow the seeds of doubt.
While the evidence against men like Gilroy and Fraser is circumstantial, there is little room for any uncertainty regarding their innocence.
I think of evil men such as serial killers Angus Sinclair, Robert Black and Ian Brady, who also concealed their victims, refusing to offer any assistance in finding them, and feel satisfied that nothing less than whole life sentences were justified.
But I do feel conflicted about creating a law where freedom depends on co-operation.
What if, just maybe, the person convicted is innocent? And before anyone jumps on other circumstantial cases, in this particular instance I’m speaking specifically about the absence of what could be crucial evidence – the victim themselves.
I understand the motivation behind it – I mean if anyone knows where the body is the killer does, right?
But what if the wrong person is in prison and their liberty depends on disclosing something they don’t know the answer to? While I don’t believe prisons are full of innocent people, the basic principles of Suzanne’s Law (or Helen’s Law in England) give some cause for concern.
No system is infallible – we know juries can and do get it wrong, and so do the police. Every case, as they say, is judged on its merits or rather on the evidence presented.
Once the punishment part of a sentence has been served, surely the only role of the parole board is to decide whether the public are at further risk and act accordingly.
I’ve spent time with enough grieving families to have some understanding of the pain an unnatural death brings – it’s a lifelong sentence for them without the added heartache of not knowing where their loved one is.
But I still can’t shake the feeling that a law which holds killers to ransom is a step backwards for justice.