The Biggar Murder: Some Personal Recollections by Ronnie Laird

This abstract was supplied by The Henry Noble History of Dentistry Research Group. The full article can be found here.

by Ronnie Laird

Ronnie Laird

On the morning of 6th August, 1967, the beaten and strangled body of 15-year-old Linda Peacock was found among the gravestones of a local churchyard in the quiet Scottish market town of Biggar. The murder scene was only 500 yards from Loaningdale, a controversial approved school for pettymale offenders between the ages of 15 and 17.

The ensuing criminal investigation and court case—the latter headed by Scotland’s leading detective, William Muncie, supported by Dr Warren Harvey of Glasgow Dental Hospital and School and his colleagues— attracted widespread public attention and became a landmark in the history of Scots law. The case also established the authority of the relatively new science of forensic odontology.

The conviction of teenager Gordon Hay a resident at Loaningdale, set a precedent in that it was the first time in a British court that an accused person was identified and convicted principally on the evidence of peculiar bite marks on the victim’s body.

Editor’s note: An article on the Biggar murder was written for Dental History magazine [Vol. 4:1, pp15–21] by the late Dr Ronnie Laird, who at the time of the proceedings was a lecturer in pharmacology and prosthetics at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School.

Biggar Cemetery

Laird was part of the Glasgow dental unit that cooperated in making stone casts of the mouths of 29 boys from Loaningdale School. After narrowing the suspects down to five individuals, Hay was identified as the killer because of unique ring marks left on Peacock’s left breast, left because of pits in Hay’s upper anterior teeth resulting from hypoplasia and hypocalcification.

Biggar Plaster Casts

Laird reviews the background to the crime, describing Biggar in the 1960s and the attitude of the local farming community to Loaningdale School, which ran a liberal regime, virtually allowing disturbed young men to roam the locality at will. He also recalls the painstaking police and forensic dental investigations, and the activities of a press that was always hungry for details.

The reaction of the Scottish judiciary to the trial perhaps sums up the layman’s reaction at the time to this unconventional new practice of identification by bite mark: In 1968, Lord Grant called the Biggar Trial ‘unique, grave, serious, difficult and puzzling’. One wonders what he would have made of DNA?

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