Sunday, September 02, 2007

Crown Office failures lead to disclosure dispute in murder case

The Crown Office continues to disappoint Scotland with it's conduct found somewhat lacking in a murder trial, where, disclosure seems not to have been up to the mark once again in a now familiar tale to many solicitors of accused ...

The Crown Office perhaps prefers hitting prosecution targets and satisfying political allies than serving the interests of justice ? ... perish the thought ...

The Sunday Herald reports :

Mystery over ‘significant’ witness at murder trial

By John Bynorth

Men found guilty could have been denied a fair trial, says lawyer

THE DEFENCE lawyers of two men who were found guilty of murdering an elderly woman were not told that a potentially "significant" witness - who gave evidence for the prosecution - was seen outside the victim's house on the day her body was found.

The Sunday Herald has learned that, despite being identified by a "credible" witness who didn't take the witness stand, the man, who has served time in prison and was admitted to a hospital's psychiatric ward two days later, was not interrogated about the claims at the trial of Patrick Docherty and Brendan Dixon for the murder of 91-year-old Margaret Irvine four years ago.

Docherty's solicitor, Graham Mann, who uncovered previously unseen police statements by the man and the woman who saw him, said this may be because the Crown Office did not disclose the nature of the man's alleged involvement.

Alternatively, he said the police may not have revealed to the Crown the full details of the man's status to the investigation. The man was not questioned about the allegations that he was seen outside the house during his brief trial appearance.

Mann insisted that the failure to cross-examine the man, because the defence teams appeared not to possess the full details, could have denied Docherty, 41, and Dixon, 38, a fair trial.

Police witness statements reveal the female witness, a 35-year-old restaurant worker, picked him out from a photo identification as one of two men she became suspicious about outside the house in Galston, Ayrshire, as she drove past, on the day Irvine's body was found.

The information emerged during Docherty and Dixon's appeal against their convictions. Documents show the man, now 32, was "witness 23" in court documents and gave evidence for the prosecution at their 2005 trial at the high court in Kilmarnock.

We revealed last month how the woman, who would have provided information that "witness 23" was seen outside the house, was not called by the Crown. She appeared in court documents as "witness 22", despite not being called. The woman has refused to speak to the Sunday Herald about the case.

Knowing that he had been formally identified as being at the scene would have enabled the pair's defence team to ask him about why he was there and perhaps bring an ex-girlfriend, who claimed he was three miles away at her home in Hurlford, to testify in court.

Mann also wants to find out if the police spoke to the "suspect's" ex-girlfriend and if they did, why that information wasn't passed to the defence. He said: "It appears there is a possibility the prosecution commenced this trial knowing that a person was identified with certainty by a completely independent Crown witness as being at the home of the victim on the day her body was found - and they didn't pursue that person as a suspect.

"It's also significant this man gave a statement saying he was not very far away on the day of the murder. The Crown called him to give evidence, yet didn't call this restaurant worker. They didn't have any reason to disbelieve what she said, so why wasn't she called?

"The big question is whether the police gave that information to the Crown. If the police did, I find it hard to believe that information would not, in some guise, have been passed on to the defence.

"The defence - either through a failure by the Crown or police - appear not have this information at their fingertips, effectively denying them a line of inquiry which may well have proved significant." Mann added: "Our justice system demands full disclosure' and public confidence would be destroyed if they thought the Crown was selecting evidence."

Strathclyde Police and the Crown Office refused to discuss the case.

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