An elderly scientist has been handed 20 years in jail for murdering his ex-wife 45 years ago as chilling letters from the victim begging for a post-mortem if she died suddenly surfaced. Christopher Harrisson, 82, was found guilty of murdering fellow academic Dr Brenda Page, who had fled their abusive marriage.
Dr Page was found beaten to death in her Aberdeen flat, on July 14, 1978 by a worried neighbour, after she begged her lawyer to get a post-mortem examination done if she died suddenly. Harrisson, from Aberdeen, spent decades denying his crime but was snared by DNA examination and forensic techniques.
A minute flake of paint found on Dr Page’s bedroom window - which had been forced open - matched the paint on Harrisson’s Mini Traveller car. One sperm sample found in bedsheets in Dr Page’s flat was 590 million times more likely to have come from Harrisson rather than any other male, the court heard.
Genetic scientist Brenda was 32 when she was killed, and was described as "extremely kind and intelligent". Police hailed greater understanding of domestic abuse for helping to boost the investigation when it was reopened in 2015.
Original statements, some still in manuscript from the 70s, and carefully recorded testimonies of witnesses who had since passed away became powerful circumstantial evidence. In one letter, Dr Page asked her lawyer to ensure she received a thorough post-mortem should she ever die suddenly.
Thousands of documents were re-examined in preparation for the prosecution and many witnesses were in their 70s and 80s, giving evidence by live TV link. Harrison denied murder but was convicted at the High Court in Aberdeen. He is now likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Harrison was arrested and charged in March 2020, and although some of Brenda’s relatives have passed away, her sister was vindicated to see him jailed after always believing he was responsible.
It was one of Scotland’s longest murder investigations, and the abuse Brenda suffered is now recognised as coercive control. National Procurator Fiscal for Homicide and Major Crime, David Green, said he hoped the sentence brought some degree of comfort to the family of Dr Page. He said: “The relatives of Dr Brenda Page have waited a very long time for justice and our thoughts are with them as they come to terms with today’s outcome.
“Christopher Harrisson took the life of their loved one and subjected them to further torment by maintaining his pretence of innocence for many years. Our skilled prosecutors were able to ensure that a jury saw through his callous deception.
“Evidence collected at the time painted a picture of a bullying and manipulative man but it has taken breakthroughs in science and forensics to allow us to prove the case beyond any doubt. A man once recognised as a skilled scientist himself has been brought to justice through scientific expertise.”
David Green, who leads on murder investigations for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), added: “COPFS does not view any unresolved homicide as ‘closed’, and the public should be assured we will not stop seeking justice, no matter how long ago the offences took place.
“I would urge anyone with any information on unsolved murders to report it to the police, confident that we will treat any report we receive with the utmost gravity. Harrisson is an old man now but he is finally facing the consequences of his cruelty and violence.”
In a statement, Dr Page’s family said: "We as a family are absolutely delighted with the verdict of today’s trial. Brenda’s murder, nearly 45 years ago at the incredibly young age of 32, has affected the family and so many of her friends, work colleagues and of course Police Scotland.
"Not a day goes by when we don’t think about Brenda and the horrendous ordeal she must have suffered that night. Brenda was an extremely kind, intelligent woman with her whole life ahead of her. It hurts us to think of the great things she would have undoubtedly achieved.
"Forty-five years is a long time to be at liberty whilst the family have endured such tragedy, sadness and loss. Reliving these events over and over again each time Brenda’s case was re-investigated or publicised in the media was difficult to say the least.
"It is a great sadness that some of our family and friends are no longer with us to see this day but we are delighted that Brenda’s sister has finally seen Christopher Harrisson found guilty of the brutal crime she always knew he committed."