Scotland on Sunday Sun 12 Feb 2006

Criminal cover-up exposed
Why justice must now be done

Shirley McKie

ANYONE who thought classic miscarriages of justice were limited to foreign legal systems will be shaken out of such complacency by the treatment of Shirley McKie at the hands of Scottish justice.

Today we reveal the findings of an inquiry into her case which identified evidence of "cover-up and criminality", "manipulation" and "collective and cultural collusion" among staff of the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO).  Yet the report's recommendation that there was sufficient evidence to support criminal charges was not acted upon by the Crown Office.

Why, when senior police officers had reached so serious a verdict, was nothing done?  No action was taken against the SCRO staff accused in the report.  No instit-utional reform of the SCRO was carried out.  The agency continued in denial until, last week, £750,000 was awarded to Shirley McKie, in the evident hope of bringing clos-ure to the issue.

And the culture of complacency continues.  The First Minister Jack McConnell, told MSPs last week that investigations "have proved that the fingerprint evidence used in this country is reliable...and that the people involved deal with it honestly and accur-ately".  He insisted "an honest mistake was made".  The only conceivable inference to be made is that the First Minister has not seen the crucial report.

The report, whose devastating findings we reveal today, was the result of an invest-igation by the then Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside James Mackay, and the force's chief CID officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Scott Robertson.  It beggars belief that the conclusion by these two independent, senior and experienced police officers that there had been criminality in the conduct of SCRO staff did not lead to action by the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, or the then Justice Minister Jim Wallace.

How was it possible that a report containing allegations so serious could be margin-alised?  Why did no one within official or ministerial circles recognise the gravity of the situation and the need for action?

The basic facts are well known.  Shirley McKie, while serving with Strathclyde Police in 1997, was accused of entering a murder scene against orders, on the grounds her fingerprint was found there.  She vigorously denied the charge and was tried for perjury in 1999.  If found guilty, she could have served seven years in jail.  Fortunately, two American fingerprint experts were able to disprove the faulty evidence of the SCRO: the fingerprint was not Shirley McKie's.  Since then, she has struggled to vindicate herself against the intransigence of the SCRO.  Last week she was finally awarded £750,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

That chain of events is quickly narrated.  But for Shirley McKie it has been a nine-year ordeal during which she has lost her career, her private life has been destroyed and her health damaged.  Yet she is a completely innocent woman.  At the same time, SCRO staff have escaped accountability despite the recommendation that they should be subject to criminal prosecution.

The alleged purpose of any such criminality was to bolster the SCRO claim that the fingerprint found at the crime scene belonged to Shirley McKie; if successful, it would have sent her to prison.  The SCRO is directly accountable to Scottish ministers and, primarily, to the Justice Minister.  Did Jim Wallace see the Mackay report?  If not, why not?  If he did see it, why did he not act?

In the course of DCC Mackay's inquiry, the flawed fingerprint claims of the SCRO, already discredited in court by American experts, were also refuted by two European experts and by three others from the national training centre at Durham.  The Durham experts queried the "independence" and "integrity" of the SCRO officers' procedures and believed there had been "manipulation of the evidence".

Now that this material is in the public domain, there is only one course that Jack McConnell can pursue: he must order a fully independent public inquiry.  This news-paper has not made a habit of prescribing this course of action, for which there is often an unjustified clamour.  But the McKie case is so grave a blot on our justice system and exposes so many lacunae in communication between officials and ministers that no lesser option will suffice.  If justice is to be seen to be done, the First Minister should announce a public inquiry without delay.

- ENDS -

Informative reports and quotes follow about the case that was settled on Tuesday, 7 February 2006, just prior to the civil hearing that would have been a grave exposé and embarrassment to Scottish Executive Ministers and the entire legal justice system in Scotland.

"The 58-page report by former Tayside deputy chief constable James Mackay is based on 301 witness statements and 795 documents.  The report reveals staggering malpractice at the heart of a major justice institution, the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO).  It asserts that fingerprint personnel in the SCRO must have known they were in the wrong even when they were standing by their flimsy evidence.  Devastatingly, it suggests that they were willing to take McKie to court, and jail her if necessary, to protect their reputations." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

The four fingerprint analysts whose evidence led to Shirley McKie being tried for perjury in 1999 were Hugh McPherson, Charles Stewart, Fiona McBride and Anthony McKenna.  Their supervisors, Alan Dunbar and Robert McKenzie must also be held accountable.

On 27 March 2005, almost a year before McKie’s case was due to start (Tuesday, 7 February 2006), the Sunday Herald reported that Pat Wertheim, the independent US expert whose analysis confirmed that the print did not belong to McKie, said: “It is absurd.  They are still rewarding the people who testified to the erroneous ID.  It is inconceivable that an organisation of integrity would refuse to deal with its problems and cleanse its own house.

The 58-page document, written in 2000 by one of the country's leading police officers, James Mackay, accuses the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) of "'unbeliev-able... arrogance... and complacency', and of taking a 'criminal course of action' aimed at protecting reputations, regardless of the impact on others." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

*The investigation suggests a conspiracy inside the SCRO involving senior figures.  It reveals that one leading fingerprint expert tried to pressure a junior colleague into identifying a crime scene print as McKie's." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

  • "The SCRO was divided from the start over whether the print at the murder scene was McKie's.  On Monday, February 10, 1997, one junior member of staff who could not identify the print beyond doubt was told by a senior colleague that it would be "beneficial" if it could be identified, and 'suggested getting someone else' to do so.
  • By the following day, no fewer than four SCRO experts had been found who could positively identify the print.
  • A week later, on February 18, 'blind' tests were carried out by four SCRO staff, three of whom could not positively identify the print as McKie's.  Two asked for more time but 'were not shown the mark again'.
  • The Mackay inquiry contacted the leading authority in England on fingerprinting, the Durham-based National Fingerprint Training Centre, which accused the SCRO's experts of 'collective manipulation and collective collusion'.
  • SCRO officers who gave evidence at McKie's trial were seen arguing during a break, even though one of them had still to give evidence.  This is a clear breach of court rules." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

"Scotland on Sunday has also been passed a minute from a meeting of SCRO fingerprint experts in 1995 in which they appear to express 'concern' about pressure from superiors to come up with results.  It warns of 'concern as shown by the group over the question of persons' names being taken over not signing an identification'." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

"A letter from a former SCRO fingerprint expert has also been passed to this newspaper alleging 'bullying and intimidation' of officers." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

"Ministers are mistaken if they think they can stifle the legitimate question raised; justice must be seen to be done." - Lord McCluskey, retired High Court judge and former Solicitor General of Scotland - The Scotsman, 25 February 2006.

“Ministers and top justice officials were warned five years ago by police of ‘cover-up and criminality’ in the case of a Scottish detective falsely accused of perjury.” - Scotland on Sunday, 12 February 2006.

“It is time that the First Minister ordered a full Public Inquiry into these very serious misgivings, and if the Justice Minister is not prepared to support that, then perhaps she should relinquish her post: and her pension.” - Former police officer Henry Bowden, Scotland on Sunday, 19 February 2006.

“That criminality first reared its head in February 1997.” - James Mackay, ex-Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police.

"A public inquiry with a carefully drawn remit can shine a light on how we got here and make sure that where we're going is not beset with the same traps.  Cathy Jamieson [the Justice Minister] and her team would have a lot of good stuff they can be proud of to bring to such an inquiry.  It is, however, perhaps the confidence of the Executive that all is as fixed as it can be that is ironically the most confidence-sapping thing in this whole affair." - Derek Ogg QC, Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

"Huge amounts of taxpayers money blown.  Disturbing reports of 'arrogance, complac-ency and obduracy' on the part of fingerprint experts still in our system.  Shaken confidence in experts we all want and need to be foolproof.  That's the real butcher's bill for nine years of silence and stonewalling." - Derek Ogg QC, Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

"But how on earth, Cathy, did we get here in the first place?  A young detective's reputation, career and dignity ruined by agencies of the State.  Mrs Ross's murderer, whoever that is, not brought to book." - Derek Ogg QC, Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

“[James Mackay] expressed his ‘surprise’ and ‘disappointment’ to the Crown Office and relayed his concerns to the then deputy crown agent, Bill Gilchrist.  Indeed, so curious is the Lord Advocate's decision not to prosecute, that many are reaching their own conclusions as to why he didn't press ahead with a prosecution.” - Eddie Barnes, Political Editor, Scotland on Sunday, 19 February 2006.

"This reveals that at that time in August 2000, the Mackay report was being discussed within Jim Wallace's department.  The whole case has now reached staggering pro-portions and if ever a public inquiry was required it is required now." - Iain McKie, Shirley’s father, a former Strathclyde police superintendent.

“The eyes of the world were focused on Scottish justice [at the Lockerbie trial].  What would it have said of that system if - just as the Crown was trying to convict the [Lockerbie] bombers - it emerged that fingerprint officials had been involved in ‘criminality and cover-up’?” - Eddie Barnes, Political Editor, Scotland on Sunday, 19 February 2006.

Lockerbie provided a motive for the cover-up” - Iain McKie, Shirley’s father, a form-er Strathclyde police superintendent.

“It is clear that the Lord Advocate (Colin Boyd) has got no option but to resign.” - Alex Neil MSP.

“It is becoming clearer and clearer by the minute that this was far from an honest mistake and the fact that our First Minister should stand up in the Scottish Parliament and say so is unbelievable.” - Iain McKie, Shirley’s father, who was a former Strathclyde police superintendent.

"Justice in such a case cannot be done in secrecy: the transparency of the justice process is fundamental." - Lord McCluskey, retired High Court judge and former Solicitor General of Scotland - The Scotsman, 25 February 2006.

"The people who are responsible for this know who they are.  I just hope they are made to be accountable for what they have done.  Serious criminal charges should stem from this." - Shirley McKie.

"It places the Lord Advocate in a completely untenable position and he too must now be considering his future.  If he was influenced by this [Lockerbie] then he cannot continue as Lord Advocate." - Former MSP Mike Russell.

“Today's revelation that two American fingerprint experts who savaged the SCRO over the McKie case were asked by the FBI to ‘back off’ suggests that plenty of people were aware of the danger that the case could undermine the Lockerbie trial.” - Eddie Barnes, Political Editor, Scotland on Sunday, 19 February 2006.

"I have always felt that there was something deeply wrong with both the McKie case and the Lockerbie judgement.  It is deeply dismaying for those of us who were believers in Scottish justice.  The Crown Office regard the Lockerbie case as their flagship case and they will go to any lengths to defend their position." - Former MP, Tam Dalyell.

“Despite Mackay’s crystal-clear warning of criminal conduct at the SCRO – which is directly accountable to Scottish ministers – neither the Crown Office nor the Execu-tive took action against those responsible.” - Scotland on Sunday, 12 Feb-ruary 2006.

“The [fingerprint] images were electronically blurred and cropped in an effort to improve the likeness … that tells me they knew this was an erroneous identification.  This had to be done intentionally.” - Pat Wertheim, US fingerprints analyst, who was about to give this evidence on Tuesday, 7 February 2006, when, to save incriminating embarr-assment, the Scottish Executive caved in and made a £750,000 settlement - from the public purse.

“It was an honest mistake.” - First Minister Jack McConnell.

“Yes, it could have been [an honest mistake], for five minutes!” - Pat Wertheim, nine years on.

Cathy Jamieson (Minister of Justice) and Colin Boyd were willing to spend £2 million of taxpayer’s cash in a cover-up.” - Alex Neil MSP.

“This murky affair looks set to rock the foundations of Scotland's criminal justice system.” - Eddie Barnes, Political Editor, Scotland on Sunday, 19 February 2006.

"I am dismayed by the failure of ministers to recognise the relevance and importance of one of the fundamental principles underlying the rule of law in a mature democracy, the principle that justice must be seen to be done." - Lord McCluskey, retired High Court judge and former Solicitor General of Scotland - The Scotsman, 25 February 2006.

“It [an inquiry] should focus on the role of the SCRO – whose findings have been discredited – the police, the Crown Office, and the executive in ‘the entire debacle’." - Alex Neil MSP.

“It is time the First Minister and the Lord Advocate stood up to be counted on this." - Iain McKie, Shirley’s father, a former Strathclyde police superintendent.

“The Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson and her predecessor, Jim Wallace, are highly culpable in this whole affair.” - Former MSP, Mike Russell.

“Governments don't award such compensation because of ‘honest mistakes’.  They offered everything that Shirley had sued for because they knew that allowing the case to proceed would have meant bringing into the public domain the real facts behind a shocking ministerial dereliction of duty.  It would also have exposed acts of criminality at the very heart of the Scottish legal system, the Scottish Criminal Records Office.” – Former MSP, Mike Russell.

"There is nothing wrong with fingerprinting, just something sadly wrong with the SCRO.” - Iain McKie, Shirley’s father, a former Strathclyde police superintendent.

“I was fighting for survival and could not bear the consequences of losing to enter my head.” - Shirley McKie.

"There are those who have sought to suggest the McKie case is an isolated one.  But Scotland on Sunday has obtained evidence which suggests that the problems which triggered this mistake were endemic." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

"Among those attending the meeting [of SCRO experts] was Fiona McBride, one of the four experts who corroborated the McKie print in 2000.  She claims not to recall the 1995 meeting, and denies having been put under pressure by her superiors.  Others, under the cloak of anonymity, do not.  Scotland on Sunday has been passed a letter sent to the then Justice Minister Jim Wallace in 2001 by a former expert at the SCRO, who declared: "I was shocked and appalled at the level of malpract-ice."  The expert added: "I soon became a victim of bullying, intimidation, harassment and victimisation." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

“It is now 9 months since Jim Wallace QC, MSP, Deputy First Minister and former Justice Minister, said that the exemption of Scots judges and sheriffs from being disciplined for "performance" and "behaviour" discrepancies was set to be removed.  Since he has failed to take any steps to implement this, he should now resign as Justice Minister.” - Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers - SACL, January 2003, three months before he was ousted.

Cathy Jamieson has been the Justice Minister for a year now and has still not implemented the proposal by her predecessor Jim Wallace… She should now resign.” - Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers - SACL, April 2004.

“I find it inconceivable that after the Crown Office commissioned this report that the Lord Advocate would not have seen it.” - Robert Black Professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University.

“Let there be a full inquiry, and put those same criminals that were prepared to see Shirley McKie go to prison in the dock themselves facing Scottish Solemn Proced-ure.” - Former police officer Henry Bowden, Scotland on Sunday, 19 February 2006.

"Recent events and initiatives from the Scottish Executive make one wonder about the quality of the legal advice ministers receive and act upon." - Lord McCluskey, retired High Court judge and former Solicitor General of Scotland - The Scotsman, 25 February 2006.

"None of the 32 police officers who guarded the crime scene reported McKie's presence." - Scotland on Sunday, 26 February 2006.

- ENDS -

Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers - SACL

Copyright © 2016 William Burns. All rights reserved.

Scottish Criminal Records Office - SCRO

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