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David Barnes: How neighbours’ suspicions and airport luggage theft helped snare Fife murderer

Barnes' downfall began when he was connected to the bag theft from Edinburgh Airport.
Jamie Buchan
Killer David Barnes.
Killer David Barnes.

Only one man knows how former army cook Ean Coutts died.

The father-of-three’s body was so badly decomposed detectives had no chance of establishing a cause of death.

His skeletal remains were found by chance in a cupboard at a disused business unit on the edge of Glenrothes in September 2020 – over a year after he was murdered by David Barnes, the man who was redecorating his Kinglassie flat.

Barnes – who must spend at least 23 years behind bars for the “despicable and evil” murder – went to painstaking efforts to cover his tracks.

Ean Coutts.

He told neighbours his victim had gone on holiday and later said he had moved to England and was never coming back.

The truth was that, after murdering him, Barnes, 33, was buying up thousands of pounds of goods and services using Mr Coutts’ bank card and details.

The discovery of the 60-year-old’s bones triggered a hugely complicated and challenging investigation for Police Scotland.

Inquiries took them back to a seemingly unconnected and innocuous turn of events four years earlier, when Bill Campbell stood down as a director of capital transport giant Lothian Buses.

Stolen suitcase

Mr Campbell had been working on updating his CV around the time of his retirement in March, after two years in an executive role at the company.

Later that summer, Mr Campbell spent some time in Switzerland.

In July, he flew back from Zurich to Edinburgh, via London City Airport.

He checked in one piece of luggage at the Swiss capital but never saw it again.

”It never came off the belt,” he remembered.

Edinburgh Airport

Mr Campbell, 66, does not remember packing a copy of his CV in his suitcase.

So it was confusing for him when police visited his home in Edinburgh on October 14 2020 and told him part of his resume had been found discarded at an industrial estate on the edge of Glenrothes.

He confirmed to police he had never been there and had no idea why his personal documents ended up there.

During the trial at Edinburgh High Court, HGV driver Daniel Anderson offered an explanation.

The 41-year-old, from Kinglassie, admitted he and Barnes used to steal luggage from Edinburgh Airport.

He claimed in 2015 and 2016 they took the bags and suitcases to Whitehill Industrial Estate in Glenrothes and discarded them in amongst the derelict units.

Barnes was charged by police with stealing a suitcase from Edinburgh Airport while acting with another on July 3 2016.

The charge was dropped during the trial.

Grim discovery

Mr Campbell’s resume – helpfully including his name and address – was spotted by Detective Sergeant Scott Roxburgh on September 28, 2020, on the floor of a disused building at the Glenrothes industrial estate.

The dilapidated graffiti-strewn property was next door to unit number 99, where Mr Coutts’ skeletal remains had been discovered by a group of explorers a day earlier.

Police at Whitehills Industrial Estate. Image: DCT Media

James Fenton, 37, said he liked to check out old and abandoned buildings and Mr Fenton, his partner and two others had earlier visited the old fever hospital in Thornton.

He found the remains of Mr Coutts – lying face down – in a cupboard area at the back of the unit.

James Fenton at the High Court in Edinburgh.

At first he thought it was a movie or theatre prop.

But when the awful truth dawned, he phoned the police.

Growing suspicions

Identifying the remains became the top priority for detectives – but it proved no easy feat.

A facial reconstruction was put together by specialists at Liverpool James Moore University and released to the public as part of a campaign dubbed Operation Rimau.

DCI Kevin Houliston with the reconstructed image.

Some weeks later, the skeleton was confirmed to be that of former army cook Mr Coutts, who lived alone on Main Street in Kinglassie.

Having drifted apart from his family, he had never been officially reported missing by them.

His neighbours believed – initially at least – that he had gone on holiday.

Neighbour comes face-to-face with killer

Close friend and Main Street resident Raymond Harper, 62, last saw Mr Coutts in August or September 2019.

“I had come home from work and I was preparing my dinner in the kitchen,” he said.

“I looked out and saw him walking up towards Laurence Park carrying a plastic bag in his hand.”

Mr Harper said he found his pal’s sudden disappearance concerning.

Around March 2020, he returned from his work at the paper mill in Leslie when he saw a light on at Mr Coutts’ house.

Police activity in Kinglassie. Image: Kenny Smith

”I thought he must have been back from holiday,” said Mr Harper, believing his friend had been in Morocco.

“I chapped on the front door but didn’t get a response,” he said.

“So I tried the handle and let myself in.”

Mr Harper came face-to-face not with his old neighbour but with workman David Barnes.

“He was standing behind a plastering table,” Mr Harper said.

“I asked him where Ean was, and he said he was still in Morocco.”

Other residents had questioned Barnes’ presence at Mr Coutts’ address.

Police outside Ean Coutts’ home in Main Street, Kinglassie

Keith Poole, a retired head gardener for a private estate, said sometime in 2019 he saw a young man – “possibly” Barnes – taking furniture out of the house and loading it into the back of a silver Volkswagen Golf.

He took a photo, adding: “I was amused he was trying to put a double bed into a small hatchback.

“I thought it was quite an achievement to be honest.”

Glenn Mulcahy, 55, also saw Barnes at Mr Coutts’ home.

Ean Coutts boarded up home in Kinglassie
Ean Coutts boarded up home in Kinglassie. Image: DC Thomson.

He asked him what he was doing there.

“He said he was doing some decorating while Ean was away on holiday.”

Barnes told him he was putting in new doors and skirtings.

But Mr Mulcahy later saw him walking out of the property with a big screen TV.

Missed appointment

The day before his murder, Mr Coutts attended a regular appointment with Department of Work and Pensions work coach Valerie Henderson.

She revealed he had recently been declared unfit for work and was due arrears of £2,017.

The 66-year-old, now a sales assistant, said a follow-up appointment was set for December 2019.

Mr Coutts failed to attend, which was very unusual because until then he had been a model claimant who always responded to messages.

A colleague went to Mr Coutts’ address to check on him but got no response.

An officer stands outside Mr Coutts’ property in Kinglassie.

In January 2020, PC Lauren Brown was deployed to check on Mr Coutts after further concerns raised by staff at the local job centre.

She carried out door-to-door enquiries and tried the pharmacy in Kinglassie where she bumped into Mr Barnes.

”He told me he was picking up prescription on behalf of Mr Coutts and was going to post it through his letter box,” she said.

Firefighters were used to force entry into Mr Coutts’ home.

Police forced entry to Mr Coutts’ home.

It was sparsely decorated with black bags full of rubbish in one room and a recycling chair in another.

In the kitchen she found a box of eggs that were several months past their use-by date.

‘Justice for dad’

In January 2021, after the remains of Mr Coutts were formally identified, upstairs neighbour Kevin O’Donoghue told police about the night his wheelie bin was stolen, some 16 months earlier on September 3 2019.

He watched from his living room window as Barnes loaded up the grey waste paper bin into the back of his silver Volkswagen Golf.

Mr O’Donoghue ducked out of the way in case Barnes saw him and asked him for help.

He even joked to his wife that he hoped it wasn’t his neighbour inside the bin.

Mr O’Donoghue texted Mr Coutts the following day, asking why his decorator went off with his recycling bin. He never got a response.

Barnes was convicted of murder after a five-day trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Mr Coutts’ daughter Louise said the verdict was a “huge relief” for the family, telling The Courier: “Dad has finally got justice for what happened to him.

“The way he died, there was no dignity.”

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