Cupar soldier’s dad: It’s time to move on

Darren Lackie

Darren Lackie

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ON April 3, 2011, Cupar soldier Darren Lackie died of head injuries sustained while on holiday in the Portuguese resort of Albufeira.

But exactly 16 months later, his family are scarcely any closer to finding out exactly what happened to a 21-year-old described by his commanding officer in the Black Watch as an “outstanding” lance corporal.

Now, with Portuguese investigations concluded, Darren’s dad Graham wants to let people come to their own conclusions about the events that led to his son’s death.

Graham (53), who moved to Devon this week after spending several years working locally as a postman, spoke to the Fife Herald about his tireless quest for the truth.

He said: “This is the result of the investigation I asked for when I first met with the Portuguese authorities all that time ago.

“From the start I thought that something wasn’t right about it all.

“I can’t take it any further now, but I need people to know the facts so they can make up their own minds.

“A few people have said to me at times that I should just leave it.

“But I defy any parent not to keep asking questions if they were in this situation — Darren can’t do it, so I have to do it for him.”

Afghanistan veteran Darren was killed while enjoying a relaxing holiday with his girlfriend Ashleigh Wilson between tours of duty.

At a full military funeral in Cupar’s St John’s Church, colleagues paid tribute to a “brave” soldier who was destined for big things.

Since then Graham has been pushing the Portuguese authorities to properly investigate Darren’s death, which police and paramedics initially put down to a drunken fall.

After more than a year of frustration, he now has a copy of the final report by the Public Prosecution Service of Albufeira.

The report reveals that Darren was found on the pavement outside a bar on Avenida Sa Carneiro in the early hours of March 31.

He had taken Ashleigh back to their hotel following an evening out before heading into town again by himself.

The report states: “Darren Durrant Lackie was in Portugal on holiday since March 26 with his girlfriend Ashleigh Wilson at the tourist complex Oura View Beach Club, Albufeira.

“The girlfriend of the victim informed those responsible of that complex that she had fallen asleep on the bedroom sofa at 10pm on March 30 when she was in the company of Darren.

“In the morning when she woke up, she found that Darren was not there.”

Darren had been taken to hospital but succumbed to his injuries three days later.

A forensic autopsy found that he died of swelling to the brain caused by injuries to the skull inflicted by a blunt instrument.

Toxicology tests also showed a small amount of barbiturate sedative in his system.

Prosecutors then put a number of questions to the doctor who carried out the post-mortem — including, crucially, whether Darren’s injuries could have been caused by a fall.

The doctor responded: “Such injuries are not compatible with a fall on the ground of his own height without dragging and are compatible with having been made by a third party.

“They seem to have been provoked by marked transference of energy (great violence).

“From the injuries found ... the application of the force was upon this area, with violence.”

Although police could not find any eyewitnesses to the incident, they interviewed several people who saw Darren immediately before or afterwards, including one man who went to his aid after hearing a loud bang.

He told police that there was already a crowd of people around Darren when he arrived on the scene, adding that the bar Darren was found outside had a reputation for assaults on tourists.

However, the manager of the bar said that a man thought to be Darren was “quite drunk” on the night in question and was seen staggering away from the bar — and might even have been thrown out.

Darren had earlier been at another bar, which he and Ashleigh had been frequenting since they arrived in Albufeira.

A staff member there said he had served Darren six or seven pints over two different spells during the course of the evening, the latter of which involved him drinking on his own.

The barman had offered to call a taxi at around 1am but Darren refused, saying he wanted to buy a hotdog on his way home.

Graham said: “I’m not trying to say Darren was an angel — he was a soldier.

“But so many things in the report don’t add up.

“I know he didn’t do anything wrong that night, and he wasn’t just another tourist who got drunk and fell over.

“He was a six-foot-three Afghanistan veteran for a start.”

Graham went on: “You’ve got the doctor’s findings, the toxicology report, the people seen standing around him shortly after the incident and the fact that when Darren was found he didn’t have any of his personal possessions — no money, no cigarettes, nothing.

“Then there was the episode with his mobile phone, which was also missing.

“When they found a signal 11 months later it was traced to a maid working in the hotel who had apparently found it in the room.

“I just have to take their word for things like that.”

At the end of her 10-page report, Albufeira’s assistant public prosecutor came to the conclusion that the case should go no further.

She wrote: “Having exhausted all of the diligences deemed as pertinent it was not possible to gather any elements liable to confirm that the death of Darren Durrant Lackie was due to assault or fall provoked by the assault of a third party, rather all point in the sense that it was an unfortunate accident, namely he fell by himself.

“Regarding the conclusions of the expert doctor ... these do not allow in themselves to conclude upon the intervention of a third party that would have assaulted the victim or caused him to fall.

“Thus, in light of the insufficiency of evidentiary matter, I am determining the closing of the current inquiry records ... without hindrance that these be re-opened should in the meantime new elements of evidence come to light.”

With little more he can do to find out what really happened to his son in the early hours of March 31, 2011, Graham acknowledges that he may have to give up his long fight for the truth.

He said: “It’s difficult, but we have to try to move on.

“If someone is responsible for his death then they’re not going to come forward and admit it now.

“But it’s been very frustrating — where else in Europe would the police find someone dying in the street and not launch a proper investigation straight away?

“If a body was found in the Bonnygate it would be a big deal.

“The police wouldn’t just assume the person had fallen over and hit their head.”