Sunday, September 16, 2007

Crown Office omitted DNA forensic evidence from World's End trial

The Lord Advocate forgot to mention a few facts in her statement to Parliament on Thursday ... oh dear ... days of no accountability hard to break ?

It looks like we will be subject to more drip drip news on why the Crown Office failed so badly in the World's End murder trial ..

Scotland on Sunday reports :

World's End DNA 'bungled'


THE Lord Advocate was under renewed pressure from MSPs last night as fresh evidence emerged that the prosecution of the World's End murder trial was bungled.

Scotland on Sunday can reveal that key forensic evidence not presented at the trial was described by experts as "moderately strong" and - in the view of police - could have helped convict Angus Sinclair. MSPs are now demanding to know why Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini told the Scottish Parliament last week the same evidence was not used because it showed only a "low probability" Sinclair was involved.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said she would write to Angiolini asking questions about the case. MacDonald said it was difficult to understand how the same piece of evidence could be both "moderately strong" and "low probability".

Glasgow Labour MSP Paul Martin said the new information seemed to confirm there had been mistakes in the way the case was prosecuted by the Crown.

Serial rapist and killer Sinclair, 62, was acquitted at Edinburgh High Court on Monday when trial judge Lord Clarke agreed with a defence submission of no case to answer. He was returned to Peterhead prison where he is serving a life sentence, imposed in 2000 for the November 1978 murder of Mary Gallagher, 17.

The prosecution had incontrovertible DNA evidence proving Sinclair and his late brother-in-law Gordon Hamilton had sexual intercourse with Helen Scott and Christine Eadie, both 17, between the time they left the World's End pub in Edinburgh on October 15, 1977 and the time their bodies were found in East Lothian the next day. But the case collapsed because of the apparent lack of hard evidence linking Sinclair to ligatures used to bind and strangle the girls.

Last week, speaking to MSPs, Angiolini described the DNA evidence on the ligatures as being of "low probability" in its ability to link Sinclair to the killing.

But well-placed sources have told Scotland on Sunday that the evidence was much stronger than this and they have insisted it could have been crucial in the case had it been led in court.

The passage from a report by Jonathan Whitaker, of the Forensic Science Service, described the evidence from the ligatures as "moderately strong evidence of what we would expect to see if Sinclair was involved in tying the knots".

Whitaker's report explained that forensic samples from the ligatures had been examined using an ultra-sensitive low-copy DNA profiling technique.

This produced a mixture of DNA bands, detected at various parts of the ligatures. The report gave investigators exactly what they were hoping for. The bands that emerged featured in the DNA profiles of both Angus Sinclair and Gordon Hamilton. The only other DNA profiles to emerge were those of the victims.

One insider said: "This is a tragedy for the families of Helen and Christine, who lost their loved ones and waited 30 years for justice. The Lord Advocate should hold up her hand and say mistakes were made."

MSPs have said that the two descriptions of the DNA evidence mean that questions need to be asked of Angiolini.

Margo MacDonald, Independent MSP for the Lothians, who highlighted the failure to lead DNA last week at Holyrood, said: "I am not a legal expert, but to any ordinary person, the descriptions 'low probability' and 'moderately strong' would seem to be at odds.

"I don't think that the Lord Advocate will need to return to the chamber of the Parliament, but I will be asking questions of her as to why this evidence was not presented to the court."

A Holyrood Justice Committee insider said: "These descriptions seem to be contradictory and they do raise questions about this case and how it was handled. I think that the committee is likely to want to ask questions about this."

Paul Martin, the Labour MSP for Glasgow Springburn, said: "This would seem to raise more questions about the conduct of this trial. The Lord Advocate said that [prosecutor] Alan Mackay is an experienced advocate and a man of first-class integrity, and I don't doubt that. But people can have off days and can come to the wrong decisions, and there needs to be some way to review and examine these decisions."

But defence lawyer John Scott said: "I don't see much difference between 'low probability' and 'moderately strong'. Unless you know statistical data these terms would seem to be meaningless. I realise the police are unhappy, but I think that they should liaise better with Crown Office and bring their concerns to the Crown rather than complain after the event.

A Crown Office spokesman said: "The Lord Advocate gave a very full statement to Parliament which addressed the matter."
Justice system faces shake-up after World's End trial fiasco

A MAJOR shake-up of Scotland's justice system is being explored by ministers in the wake of the collapsed World's End trial.

The Scottish Government is to consult on a series of changes, including giving the Crown the right to appeal against judges' decisions to throw out prosecutions, changing the double jeopardy rule, and allowing previous convictions to be disclosed in special cases.

But while the moves have been welcomed in many quarters they have also provoked controversy among legal experts and human rights campaigners, who believe it will lead to "Casablanca Justice" where police target the "usual suspects".

Ministers were widely expected to announce a review of the double jeopardy rule, which prevents the same person being tried twice for the same crime. Changes to allow second trials have already been introduced south of the Border.

But Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, above, revealed that the longstanding ban on disclosing previous convictions to the jury was also to be reviewed.

He said: "A possibility might be for juries to be made aware of any relevant past criminal convictions the accused might have, in certain, very specific circumstances, for example where someone is on trial for a very serious sexual offence has a track record of similar offences.

MacAskill admitted: "It is deeply controversial. It divides the legal profession; it divides politicians.

"If we are looking at criminal procedure it would be remiss not to look at this.

"We don't have a particular view on this as a government, but we are happy to include it. There's clearly cause for concern.

"We live in a more complicated world. The original purpose of being tried by a jury of your peers was that they knew you, knew your family and they were where you stayed.

"But we are living in an atomised world. I don't know my neighbours and I'm sure that's true about many others."

A spokesman for the Victims of Crime Trust said: "It's high time this was done for serious violent and sexual crimes.

"Time and time again we have the accused playing on the impression that they are a person of good character who has never done anything wrong in their lives and then it emerges after they are acquitted that they have been guilty of very similar offences. Where it's relevant, juries should know."

Joe Grant, the General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said: "There is a widespread belief among officers that the balance is too much in favour of the accused and that victims of crime are suffering .

"This should be available where the previous convictions are similar and sufficiently recent. If a person was done for shoplifting 20 years ago and is now up for assault, that plainly would not be appropriate because the two have nothing to do with each other. But where they are relevant, yes."

Labour justice spokesperson Margaret Curran said: "They are right to consider this at this time. It is appropriate."

But some legal experts have criticised the plan. One senior insider within the Scottish judiciary, said: "The Scottish Government can and should think about this issue. They are right to think about anything they want. But having this public conversation about it is very wrong in my view.

"I don't think the law should be changed. The accused should be tried on the evidence before them, not on past convictions. Just because someone committed a crime in the past, it doesn't mean that he's guilty this time."

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