18th August 1960

Little Ross lighthouse keeper murdered

Little Ross lighthouse was designed by Alan Stevenson, son of Robert Stevenson and went into service in 1843. A little over a century later, one of the two lighthouse keepers on the island at the time was murdered. His body was discovered by a banker, who had come to the island for a picnic with his son.

Body discovered in bed

Speaking to the BBC in 2017, the son – David Collin – said, “both of us were surprised that there were no people in evidence… usually you saw the keepers somewhere but we thought perhaps they were asleep after being on watch half the night, so we didn’t pay too much attention.”

His father went into one of the houses where, Collin told the BBC, “we found an elderly man lying in his bed… he was tucked up in his pyjamas and there was a towel beside his head, partially covering his head.”

The ‘elderly man’ was 64-year-old Hugh Clark, who had been shot in the head by his colleague, Robert Dickson. Dickson had subsequently fled.

“Mystery of dead man in lighthouse”

It wasn’t immediately clear what had happened, with the Birmingham Daily Post of 20 August running the headline “Mystery of dead man in lighthouse” and printing that “police said yesterday that the body had been found in circumstances which may suggest homicide”.

Dickson was subsequently arrested at Selby toll bridge in Yorkshire, driving a car with a shotgun between the two front seats. On 22 August, he appeared at Dumfries Sheriff Court where he was charged with murder. He stood trial in late November that year and pleaded not guilty to the charge, as well as charges of theft. More than 50 witnesses and experts gave evidence at the short hearing, which lasted just a couple of days.

Dickson on trial

The prosecution told the court that Dickson’s plan had been to shoot and tie up Clark with the rope that was found on the bed where he was lying. He would then drop him into the sea. However, said the prosecution, Dickson realised that the plan was not viable when two of the bullets he used to kill his colleague struck the headboard, and the victim bled profusely.

Doctors testified that Dickson was showing signs of some psychological instability, and Dickson’s defence argued that the jury should consider a verdict of culpable homicide, rather than capital murder. Such a verdict would reflect the fact that Dickson was not fully responsible for his actions at the time of the killing. The jury disagreed, and on 30 November it pronounced him guilty of murder.

Dickson condemned

The following day, the Newcastle Journal printed that “Dickson… stood erect in the dock with both hands resting on the rail while Lord Cameron, raising the black cap over his wig, told him: ‘The sentence of the court is that you suffer death by hanging.’”

The date for his execution was set at 21 December, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison less than a week before his appointment with the gallows at Edinburgh’s Saughton Prison. However, on 11 December 1962, the Daily Mirror reported that “drugs smuggled into a jail enabled a prisoner to take his life… Robert Dickson, 27, serving a life sentence for murder, was found dead on Sunday in his cell at Peterhead Prison, Aberdeenshire. He had taken an overdose of sleeping drugs…”



Other events that occured in August

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