you're reading...

Honest Mistake


An honest mistake, that’s how the First Minister, Jack McConnell, described the failings in the Scottish fingerprint service which led to the wrongful prosecution of detective Shirley McKie for leaving her fingerprint at the scene of a murder.

Well, we all make them, don’t we. Accidents will happen.

I mean, any day of the week you could easily find yourself falsifying fingerprint evidence in a criminal trial. No one’s infallible – well except the Crown Office.

So, a mistake in the Scottish Criminal Records Office sent a man to jail for three years for a murder he didn’t commit, led to the false prosecution of a detective constable and cost the Scottish taxpayer something like two million in compensation and costs. But nobody’s perfect are they? The law is no place for the blame culture.

Really, it’s time that Shirley McKie and her posse of compensation con men packed up and moved on. Ian Mckie may be a former police superintendant, but that doesn’t give him the right to go around, willy nilly, demanding justice for his daughter. There are much more important matters at stake here, like the infallibility of the Crown Office.

I mean, the people I feel sorry for are the law officers. What about a bit of sympathy for the Lord Advocate and his fine men who’ve had to suffer years of real hurt? Can the hyenas of the gutter press not see that the entire edifice of Scottish justice would collapse if it were shown that they had made a mistake? We should really start being a bit more mature and responsible. You can’t have the competence of the law officers questioned just because they have been shown to be wrong

Ok – a report by the assistant chief constable of ………. McKay said that there had been criminal behaviour in the Scottish Crimial Records Office. That errors by the fingerprint analysts which led to the wrongful prosecution of Shirley McKie had been criminally covered up. But that’s only one man’s view after all. We can’t just go around holding public inquiries just because fingerprint experts at home and abroad say that Shirley McKie’s dabs were doctored.

Last week’s Frontline Scotland programme, may have presented compelling prima facia evidence of criminal collusion between the police and the SCRO to fit up an innocent man and traduce a police woman. But so what? It’s an old story. We’ve heard this all before from the nationalists who run BBC Scotland.

The bottom line is that the Scottish Executive paid a lot of money to stop this old, old story becoming new again, and really- as taxpayers – we should insist on getting value for our money. That’s what the first Minister Jack McConnell was trying to say last week – explaining why he had thrown three quarters of a million at Shirley McKie to stop her going to court. We paid her to keep quiet and we should be holding her to that.The Scottish Executive would be perfectly justified in demanding that it get £750k back from Shirley McKie. What’s the point of hush money if there’s no hush.

So, it’s in our interest as taxpayers that we don’t hear the truth. Which is also why the Executive is slapping a public interest immunity certificate on the McKie affair, so that we can be properly protected from knowing any more about the criminality in the SCRO.

But I go back to the central issue here: the peace of mind of the Lord Advocate is surely of much greater importance than any so called truth. Criminal law isn’t an exact science after all, any more than fingerprint evidence, as the former Justice Minister Jim Wallace once wisely put it. Questions of guilt and innocence are all really matters of opinion, and it is the opinion of the First Minister, Jack McConnel,l is that it’s time to move on, draw a line, start afresh, make amends. Jack McConnell’s opinion is as valid as anyone else’s isn’t it?

It’s time that we in the press started to act maturely and stop reporting the Shirley McKie story. It’s old news, people. As the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (retired) Alastair Campbell, always said: scandals only last three weeks before people get bored of them. That if government ministers ar up creek without a paddle, they should just keep stumm for 21 days and all the nasties would go away? Well, according to my watch we’ve had more than our three weeks. We’ve had nine years in fact.

So, it’s time we in the press stopped boring our readers and giving the oxygen of publicity to people who have had their lives ruined by criminal behaviour by the forces of law and order. Shirley McKie has had her moment of fame and its time for the papers to report the First Minister’s latest initiative on seizing the children of recovering drug addicts. That’s the kind of story we should be running. And the kind of issue that columnists like me shoudl eb covering. Not the latest campaign launch by Ian McKie and Jim Swire of the Lockerbie victims.

That was surely the most egregious exercise in nationalist propaganda in this whole sorry affair. Suggesting hat there was in some way a link between the bombing of Pan am Flight 103 and the Shirley Mckie case. What utter balderdash and nonsense. When the FBI told the police and the Crown Office that there had to be no embarrassing questions about the standards of evidence in Scottish criminal courts until the Lockerbie show trials had eeben completed, they were only doing what any responsible security service would do. It would have been highly embarrassing if it had been suggested that, in Scotland, an innocent man could be found guilty on the basis of doctored or botched evidence. The Crown Office would have been a laughing stock. And we couldn’t have that could we.

Of course, the moaning minnies say that only a proper public inquiry into what went wrong in the Scottish Criminal Records Office, can remove the taint from the Scottish justice system. That until this matter is all out in the open fingerprint evidence in Scottish court cases will be suspect and that many criminals may go free as a result. But what is the release of a few murderers and burglars when set against the independence and integrity of the Lord Advocate. Shit happens. Let’s not dump any more of it on the innocent men and women of the Crown Office who have just been doing their job. .

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


One thought on “Honest Mistake

  1. Perhaps as one of the compensation con men I should not comment but reading this piece has made me realise just how greedy and self centred I have been. The article was a sort of catharsis for me and I suddenly saw the light – a sort of light bulb moment.Iain MacWhirter is correct I did not think of the First Minister’s, Lord Advocate’s or Justice Minister’s feelings when I launched into my unjustified criticism and I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself.In this age of enlightenment, in this new confident Scotland how dare I winge on about an ‘honest mistake’. If I am not willing to put up with the occasional misjudgement by our justice system then I do not deserve to be called a Scotsman.Humbly yours,Iain McKie

    Posted by Iain McKie | April 19, 2006, 5:16 pm

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 56,172 other subscribers
Follow Iain Macwhirter on WordPress.com



%d bloggers like this: