Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lord Advocate's statement to Scottish Parliament on World's End trial collapse

The Lord Advocate's statement to the Scottish Parliament on the collapse of the World's End murder trial.

Somewhat premature, because the results of the Crown Office's own internal inquiry aren't known yet. The statement, short on facts or detail as to exactly why the prosecution team failed, seems to be shifting blame ... something the legal profession in Scotland have been good at over the years ....

The Herald reports :

Worlds End Statement to Parliament by Lord Advocate

PRESIDING OFFICER, I am grateful to you for allowing me to address Parliament on this important issue. I should say at this stage that some of the details of what I have to say are, necessarily, highly distressing and of a sexual and violent nature On 16 October 1977, the bodies of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, both of whom were only 17 years of age, were found in East Lothian, a few miles apart. They had both been bound, gagged, beaten, raped and strangled.

As members are aware, on Monday of this week Angus Sinclair was acquitted of their murders. This result was devastating for their families, who after 30 years had hoped for answers to their questions about the dreadful events of October 1977.

The outcome was also deeply disappointing for the police and prosecution teams who worked on the case. I can, however, advise Parliament that Alan MacKay, the Advocate Depute is now safe and well, with his family.

The Investigation Following these tragic deaths, there ensued a long and extensive murder investigation, stretching over many years, led by Lothian & Borders Police.

Despite the rigour and determination of that investigation, no suspects were traced at that stage.

However, the investigation was never closed, and work continued to find the perpetrator of these crimes. Lothian & Borders Police followed very carefully the advances in forensic science, particularly in the field of DNA, and their unrelenting dedication in this area ultimately led them to identify Angus Sinclair as a suspect in the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott. In 2004 all of the evidence which had been ingathered by the police in the course of the investigations carried out up to that point was carefully analysed by a senior member of Crown Counsel. An initial view was reached that a case had been formed against Angus Sinclair in relation to the murder of both young women. A view had also been taken that, had Angus Sinclair's brother-in-law, Gordon Hamilton, been alive, he too would have been a suspect in relation to both of the murders.

There then followed a further, very thorough and lengthy investigation, conducted by Lothian & Borders Police, who by this time were working in close liaison with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, with particular input from Crown Counsel. At the conclusion of that investigation, towards the end of 2005, all of the evidence available was considered in extensive detail by Crown Counsel.

At the beginning of 2006, the Law Officers and Crown Counsel reached the view that there was sufficient evidence to indict Angus Sinclair for the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott. This decision was not taken lightly it was reached after a very careful assessment of all of the available evidence, by prosecutors at the highest level, with many years experience. Crown Counsel believed there was sufficient evidence upon which Angus Sinclair could be convicted of both murders.

In passing, I have noted that some commentators have suggested that the decision to prosecute was political'. There is no question of the decision to prosecute being a political one I find that suggestion absurd and utterly without foundation.

If the view had been taken that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges, there would not have been a prosecution.

That of course is why there has been no prosecution for some of the other so-called Operation Trinity Murders, which I will refer to later this afternoon.

The Prosecution Team Following the decision to proceed with the case, the prosecution team who had been preparing the case came under the control of the then Area Procurator Fiscal Frank Mulholland QC, who is of course now the Solicitor General.

An enormous amount of work was carried out by that team, to ensure that the case was properly prepared for trial. The team included an experienced Principal Procurator Fiscal Depute and a former Chief Inspector, who joined the team to provide precognition support.

An Advocate with considerable experience in prosecution work, Gordon Balfour, was also appointed to the case, and worked with the prosecution team from its very early stages, as a Crown Junior All of the available evidence was considered in detail by this team, witnesses were interviewed, productions were examined and the legal issues repeatedly analysed.

This was done alongside members of Lothian & Borders Police, and in particular the dedicated police support team for the families of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott - whose continuing work and support at all stages of the investigation was absolutely invaluable.

I am satisfied that the prosecution team had the necessary ability, experience and dedication to ensure that the case against Angus Sinclair was fully prepared for trial The Advocate Depute Senior Advocate Depute Alan MacKay was selected to prosecute the case in October 2006. I was happy with that decision at the time, and I remain so now. Alan MacKay is a highly regarded and extremely able Advocate Depute, who has shown great dedication to the prosecution service over the past 4 _ years.

Alan MacKay joined the ranks of Crown Counsel in April 2003 and was appointed as a Senior Advocate Depute in January 2005. During his time as an Advocate Depute he has been involved in many difficult and important cases.

In 2004, he successfully prosecuted Michael McArthur for the appalling murder of Amy Anderson, despite McArthur's attempt to cover up the killing by dismembering the victim's body, giving false statements to police and falsely implicating her boyfriend in the crime. Following a six week trial, McArthur was convicted of the murder and his attempts to cover up the crime.

In 2005, he steered the prosecution to convictions against two masked gunmen who attempted to murder a rival in a drugs turf war in north Edinburgh In 2007, he prosecuted Thomas McAlpine, a 15 year old boy who was charged with murdering his grandmother by stabbing her to death. Despite his denials at trial, McAlpine was convicted of the murder.

He has also carried out significant amounts of very legally demanding work before the Appeal court.

In short, Alan MacKay has made an outstanding contribution to the prosecution of crime in this country, and I very much hope that he will continue to do so. The prosecution of a case of this nature is an enormous challenge, and there is a heavy weight of responsibility on the Advocate Depute. It is clear that Alan MacKay was hugely disappointed by the way in which events developed as this trial drew to a close, but I believe that was simply evidence of his commitment to the case.

The Trial The trial itself commenced in Edinburgh High Court, on 27 August 2007. The Advocate Depute was supported in court by Gordon Balfour, Advocate who, as I have mentioned, had been working with the prosecution team for some time, and has in the past supported the Crown in many difficult trials.

Given the current Solicitor General's detailed knowledge of the case from the time he spent leading the prosecution team preparing the case, he remained in close touch with Crown Counsel and the team until the trial's conclusion and was available to discuss the case with the Advocate Depute if required. All necessary support was available to Alan MacKay at all times.

The trial concluded on Monday, 10 September 2007, when the judge upheld the defence submission that there was no case to answer and acquitted the accused. The defence argued that there was insufficient evidence upon which to ask the jury to convict Angus Sinclair, and the judge, Lord Clarke, agreed with that proposition.

The decision at that stage was one for the judge, and the judge alone. That is our system of law and as the law stands the decision of the judge is final and we all have to respect that. While in other situations the Crown in Scotland may appeal the decision of a judge, the Crown has no right of appeal against a decision made in these circumstances While I would not normally think it appropriate as Lord Advocate to comment following such a judgement, given the extent of the misunderstandings about the case and the Crown's approach, I feel that I do have to set the record straight in terms of the Crown's understanding of the case and the evidence which was made available to the court.

I am of the clear opinion that the evidence made available to the court was sufficient to be put before the jury, to allow them the opportunity to decide on the case against Angus Sinclair.

Let me set out the Crown case presented to the court: Christine Eadie and Helen Scott were last seen alive together on 15 October 1977, outside the World's End pub in Edinburgh. A witness, Mr Rafferty, saw them together at around 11 pm that evening, walking away from the Worlds End Pub, with two men. Neither of them returned home that evening and neither of them was seen alive again.

On 16 October 1977 at around 2pm, the body of Christine Eadie was found and at around 6pm the same day the body of Helen Scott was discovered. The bodies were approximately 4 miles apart, and 14 miles from the World End pub.

The body of Christine Eadie was found at Gosford Sands. She was lying at the high water mark, on her back, and she was completely naked. Her legs were outstretched and slightly apart. There was a gag in her mouth, which was later confirmed to be a pair of pants. These were held in place by a bra, tied round her head. Part of a pair of tights formed a ligature round her neck, and her hands were tied behind her back, also by part of a pair of tights.

Helen Scott's body was found in a field off Huntington Coates Road, about 25 yards from the entrance. She was lying face down and her hands were tied together behind her back with a belt. She was naked from the waist down, and her pants were lying, rolled up, to the left of her head. A pair of tights and a belt belonging to Christine Eadie had been used to form a ligature around her neck. She was still wearing her coat.

All of the bindings or ligatures were applied while these two young women were still alive.

Professor John Mason, a pathologist, gave evidence at the trial about the injuries found on both girls at post mortem examination. Christine Eadie was found with congestion and haemorrhages in her eyes, indicative of strangulation, and an area of pallor consistent with a strap or use of a gag of some sort across her mouth bruising of her chin, consistent with being struck with a blunt instrument or striking something blunt.

Marks and abrasions on her neck, consistent with strangulation with a ligature and the abrasions being, for example, fingernails. Professor Mason believed that this could indicate an attempt to prevent the strangulation taking place, and an external injury to the lip could also be from trying to stop the ligature.

Internal mouth injuries, considered likely to have been caused by something being forced into her mouth.

Well defined ligature marks on her wrists, consistent with the hands being tied together.

A recent bruise over the front of both upper thighs and an abrasion over the lower front of the right knee. Professor Mason stated that these were consistent with fingers or a thumb being used to push her thighs apart.

The cause of Christine Eadie's death was certified as asphyxia, due to strangulation with a ligature and by gagging of the mouth.

When Helen Scott was examined, she was found to have: A black eye on the left side of her head and a bruise to the outer side of that eye. This was thought to have been caused by a blunt object, such as a fist.

An injury to the front of her ear and behind the ear, which was thought likely have been made by the sole and heel of a shoe, with some force Marks on her neck consistent with manual strangulation An injury to the left of her chin, also consistent with ligature strangulation.

Abrasions on her arms, indicating general violence towards her Bleeding in the vaginal area, associated with a tear and bruising to the left part of hymen. Professor Mason gave evidence to the effect that this indicated penetration of some sort, which could be penile.

The cause of Helen Scott's death was certified as asphyxia consequential upon strangulation.

Transport was used to convey Helen Scott and Christine Eadie from the Worlds End pub to East Lothian, where their bodies were found. Given the remoteness of the location, there was an inference that a vehicle must also have been used by the culprits to leave the sites at which the bodies were found.

Angus Sinclair was known to have links in the Edinburgh area, and in 1977, the time of the murders, he owned a Toyota Hiace caravanette. He used this vehicle when he went on overnight or weekend trips with his brother- in-law, Gordon Hamilton.

By the time Sinclair was identified as a suspect in the case, the caravanette had been destroyed. However, samples of the upholstery which would have been used in that vehicle were obtained.

Forensic scientists examined and compared fibres from that upholstery with fibres taken from Helen Scott's coat. This analysis provided strong scientific evidence that her coat had been in contact with fabric of the type that would have been used in the caravanette.

Helen Scott's coat was new she bought it the week of her murder. The coat was of such material that fibres adhering to it would shed rapidly if the coat was being worn. There was, therefore, an inference which could be drawn that Helen Scott's coat, and therefore Helen Scott, had been in Angus Sinclair's vehicle close to the time of the murder.

Vaginal and anal swabs were taken from Christine Eadie. Semen was found on these swabs. A partial DNA profile was obtained from both the anal and the vaginal swabs, which matched that of Angus Sinclair. A full DNA profile was obtained from the swabs which matched the profile of Hamilton.

These findings were consistent with both Angus Sinclair and Gordon Hamilton having had sexual intercourse with Christine Eadie.

Vaginal swabs were also taken from Helen Scott. A partial DNA profile was obtained from these swabs, which matched that of Angus Sinclair. A DNA profile matching that of Gordon Hamilton was also found.

Two stains found on the back inner lining of the coat Helen Scott was wearing at the time of her murder were examined. These were found to be a combination of semen and vaginal secretions. The DNA profile from the semen indicated that the probability of the semen stain on Helen Scott's coat originating from someone other than Sinclair was 1 in a billion.

Forensic evidence suggested that this stain had been caused by drainage from the vagina of Helen Scott following sexual intercourse. This was because of the location of the stain on the coat and also because the stain was found to contain epithelial cells from Helen Scott.

All of this was consistent with both Angus Sinclair and Gordon Hamilton having had sexual intercourse with Helen Scott. The evidence was also consistent with Helen Scott not having put her pants back on after that sexual intercourse the drainage stain was found on her coat, and no semen whatsoever was found on her pants.

Given the positioning of the drainage stain, and the lack of any such stain on her pants, there was an inference that following the intercourse she had been naked from the waist down but with her coat still on. When her body was found, it was in precisely the same unusual form of partial undress.

There was therefore an inference that Angus Sinclair had sexual intercourse with Helen Scott not long before her death.

That inference is supported by the use of Helen Scott's pants as a gag. In circumstances where it could be inferred that her pants were not put back on following sexual intercourse, the jury would have been entitled to conclude that whoever undressed Helen Scott to have sexual intercourse with her was also responsible for placing the pants into her mouth as a gag.

The Crown case was a circumstantial one it required inferences to be drawn from the evidence which was made available.

Those inferences were; The same persons killed both of these young women They were transported from the Worlds End pub to East Lothian in a vehicle of some sort. Helen Scott had been in Angus Sinclair's caravanette close to the time of the murder.

Angus Sinclair and Gordon Hamilton had sexual intercourse amounting to rape with Christine Eadie, after which she was found bound, gagged, beaten and naked.

Angus Sinclair and Gordon Hamilton had sexual intercourse amounting to rape with Helen Scott, after which she too was found bound, gagged, beaten and in a state of partial undress.

Helen Scott had not put her pants on after sexual intercourse.

The murders of both girls were sexually motivated, both had been gagged by using pairs of pants, tied up using items of underwear and the bodies left naked or partially naked, with evidence of sexual contact with 2 men.

The sexual activity took place at a time close to the time of the murders The two men who were involved in the sexual activity committed the murders In my view, this evidence established a circumstantial case against Angus Sinclair.

I would like to say something about the nature of a circumstantial case. It is not every case that has direct evidence to implicate an accused. In many serious crimes, for obvious reasons, there will be no eyewitnesses. But the case can often be built up by establishing a set of facts which, taken together, point to the guilt of the accused. This was such a case.

It is in the very nature of circumstantial evidence that it may be open to more than one interpretation and that it is precisely the role of the jury to decide which interpretation to adopt. It is not necessary that each piece of evidence that the Crown leads should point exclusively to the guilt of the accused. There may be other interpretations of those facts. What is important is whether the several circumstances taken together can support the inference of guilt. And it was the Crown's position that the evidence in this case allowed such an inference to be drawn.

Conduct of the Trial It has been suggested that this case was not prosecuted properly, and that mistakes were made which led to essential evidence not being placed before the court. On the basis of the information I have been given I reject that suggestion.

It is a matter for the Advocate Depute conducting a trial to decide what evidence should be presented, and, if particular evidence is to be presented, to decide at what stage in the trial that evidence should be introduced. Criminal trials are fluid and dynamic it is impossible to predict exactly how evidence will come out during a trial, regardless of the preparation which has gone before. Once a trial has commenced, the only person who can make an informed decision on the evidence which should be led is the prosecutor in court, the Advocate Depute. Regardless of any views which may be held by others, let me be absolutely clear that I will never interfere with an Advocate Depute's discretion on matters of this nature.

I do, however, wish to deal with certain comments which have been made about the evidence which was not presented to the court. This evidence was obtained after detailed forensic examination, and was low copy number DNA, at a low probability, providing a partial match to the DNA profile of Angus Sinclair. This DNA evidence was found on items of underwear that had been worn by Christine Eadie and Helen Scott the same items which had been used as ligatures or bindings by the perpetrators of the murders.

The DNA found was cellular it was not extracted from bodily fluids, such as blood or semen. Furthermore, it was only trace amounts. The finding of trace amounts of cellular DNA even if found inside the knots is consistent with touching or handling and so could only have shown that Sinclair may have come into contact with the underwear of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott. Stronger DNA evidence of contact had already been presented to the court.

Furthermore, the technique used was very sensitive and results from examination of the ligatures disclosed that there had been contamination from other sources. This undermined the significance of the partial trace profile which matched that of Sinclair.

I now quote from the scientist involved: it follows therefore that the relevance of these results requires careful consideration in the context of this case given the sensitivity of the techniques employed and the possibility that the DNA detected is unconnected with the offence under investigation'.

The Advocate Depute gave careful thought as to whether this evidence should be led. He weighed up the limited benefit of this material against the potential difficulties this evidence was not straightforward, it was likely to be technical and complex., and it did not carry the same weight as some of the DNA evidence already before the court, which he was relying on to establish the link between Sinclair and both young women's deaths.

The situation would have been very different if the partial DNA profile of Angus Sinclair had been found on rope or wire or some other external item, which had been used as a ligature or binding. Evidence of that nature would be very powerful, and likely to be compelling for a jury That was not the case: the items in question were underwear of the victims, which he was highly likely to come into contact with and touch in the course of sexual contact, which had been established.

While there has been much critical comment about the decision not to present this evidence, it is my view that the decision on this point was entirely one for the Advocate Depute to make. I am satisfied that the Advocate Depute took a reasoned decision on this particular piece of evidence and that decision was one which fell properly within his discretion as the Advocate presenting the case.

I would also like to make clear that the Solicitor General and I are of the view that even if the Advocate Depute had chosen to lead the evidence in relation to the DNA on the ligatures, given the way in which the judge approached the case it is unlikely to have persuaded him to repel the defence submission. The judge considered that there was evidence of sexual contact between Angus Sinclair, Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, but he took the view that no further inferences could be drawn from that evidence.

In his view, the evidence of sexual contact was neutral as to whether or not Sinclair was involved in using violence or force against the girls, and neutral as to whether Sinclair was present when the actions of violence and force took place. Given the judge's approach to the very limited inferences which he considered could be drawn, it is difficult to see how the presence of the DNA on the tights and bra, which could have been expected to come from Sinclair around the time of sexual contact, could logically have altered the judge's decision in any way.

It has been suggested that only 20% of the evidence available to the Advocate Depute was presented at the trial. However, invariably in cases of this size and complexity witnesses and items of evidence not to be referred to at trial, depending on the way in which the case progresses. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of the case to suggest that less evidence than necessary was presented to the court. A significant amount of evidence was agreed either prior to or during the trial and that can only happen if the evidence is listed on the indictment in the first place. Furthermore, some evidence was listed to ensure that any challenges to the evidence from the defence could be met, if required and to ensure that, if any particular piece of evidence did not come out as expected, there was further evidence available to prove the Crown case. That is perfectly normal procedure, as the defence are under no duty to give any notification to the Crown of the way in which they intend to approach the trial. In deciding what evidence to lead the AD must also consider the quality and value of the evidence.

Operation Trinity There have been many comments made about the way in which the Crown handled the case against Angus Sinclair as a whole, and there have been several articles in the media suggesting that Sinclair should have been prosecuted for a total of six murders, not only the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott. Again, that is simply not correct.

While the investigation into the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott was ongoing, Strathclyde Police were carrying out their own investigations - into the murder of 4 young women, all of whom were last seen alive in Glasgow in 1977 and thought to have been murdered between 11 June and 3 December 1977.

As with Lothian & Borders Police, Strathclyde Police put an enormous amount of time and effort into the investigation of these murders, in an attempt to trace the person or persons responsible. The investigation into all of these and other murders has come to be known as Operation Trinity. I wish to record my appreciation for the extraordinary efforts that the police put into investigating these cases.

As the investigations progressed, some significant similarities between the four murders being investigated by Strathclyde Police and the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott began to emerge. The possibility of arguing that the same person committed all of the crimes was considered, using the apparent proof of identification of Sinclair as being responsible for the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott to identify him as the perpetrator of the other 4 murders.

There is a rule in Scots Law that where there is sufficient evidence to implicate an accused in one crime, and where the circumstantial evidence demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the same person who committed another crime, then the jury can convict the accused of both crimes. This is sometimes referred to as the Howden principle, as the rule derives from the case of Howden v HMA.

It is in fact sometimes referred to as a signature, because it is not simply a case of establishing that the two crimes are similar in type or in the manner and circumstances of their being committed. The essential question is whether the similarities are sufficiently unique to establish the identification of the accused as the perpetrator of both crimes. Are the similarities so great that the accused effectively left his signature when he committed each of the crimes?

There will rarely be such clear similarities in different crimes as to allow prosecutors to use this principle.

As members will appreciate it is even more difficult to prove a murder charge of a historical nature where there is no direct evidence of any sort against an accused person.

Crown Counsel at the most senior level studied at length all of the evidence ingathered by both Lothian & Borders Police and Strathclyde Police, to determine whether or not these cases could be linked using the Howden principle. Ultimately, the view was taken that they could not.

While I do not consider it appropriate to provide to you details of the evidence available in murder investigations which have not been brought to a conclusion, and, could, potentially, be the subject of future criminal proceedings, I can tell you that there was no DNA evidence in relation to the 4 Strathclyde murders. Indeed, in three of them the key items of evidence were no longer available and in the fourth it was impossible to extract forensic material. There was no confession evidence. Despite the best efforts of Strathclyde Police to establish a connection, there was no direct evidence to implicate Angus Sinclair in the murders being investigated by Strathclyde Police.

As such, the Crown would have had to rely entirely on the Howden principle.

While there were undoubtedly similarities between the cases, there were also significant differences, which could not be overcome. These included differences in the circumstances of individual cases and the fact that the murder of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott appeared to involve two men (Sinclair and Hamilton), while there was no evidence of the involvement of two men in any of the other murders. Pausing there, it would have been impossible to exclude Hamilton as the sole culprit in the other murders.

But the position was further weakened, because in one of the cases involving the murder of Frances Barker, another man, Thomas Ross Young, had already been convicted on the strength of evidence which directly implicated him.

He is seeking to challenge that conviction, as a result in part at least of information provided to his legal advisors and the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission by the Crown during this investigation, but the evidence implicating him remains.

Young could not have committed the other murders, because he was in prison.

The differences in circumstances and the possibility of at least three men being involved in one or other of the various cases meant that the Crown would have been unable to rely on the Howden principle. On that basis, after the most painstaking analysis of all the evidence, Crown Counsel reached the view that the Howden principle could not be successfully invoked on this occasion.

There was a sufficiency of evidence for the charges relating to Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, which there simply was not for the other charges.

The decision to proceed only with the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott was not a decision taken for political or personal reasons, as has been suggested in certain quarters. It was a decision based on an assessment on all of the available evidence, made by the most able and experienced members of Crown Counsel.

The decision did not in any way reflect on the standard of the police investigation indeed I pay tribute to the officers who investigate the case with extraordinary determination and considerable ingenuity.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service worked very closely with both Strathclyde Police and Lothian & Borders Police prior to the final decision on this matter being made, and although the final decision had to be one for Crown Counsel, it was made in close liaison with the officers involved. The lead officers in the investigations met personally with Crown Counsel before the decision was taken so that Crown Counsel could explain their detailed reasoning.

There have been allegations made that the police were unhappy with the decision, and felt that an error had been made. I note, however, the words of the Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, John Malcolm, earlier this week, who said that the views expressed in the media by an unnamed police source or police officer are not the views held by Strathclyde Police, who had worked closely with the Crown Office on the investigation and had understood their decision-making process throughout.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has an excellent relationship with Strathclyde Police, and all of the other police forces in Scotland based on professionalism, integrity and trust. We will continue to work closely together, to ensure that perpetrators of crime are, where possible, brought to justice. And we have certainly not closed the file on these four murder cases.

Conclusion I am obviously very disappointed with the outcome of this case and my deepest sympathies lie very much with the families of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott. The Solicitor General is meeting with the families next week, to try to answer any questions they may have about the case and the outcome.

The Crown raised this prosecution because Crown Counsel believed that there was a sufficiency of evidence against Angus Sinclair. That remains the view of Crown Counsel.

There was never any doubt that the prosecution of Angus Sinclair for the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, 30 years after the event, based on circumstantial evidence, was going to be extremely difficult. I am disappointed that a jury did not have an opportunity to reach a verdict in the case. I am however satisfied that the decision to raise the proceedings in what was a difficult and anxious case was the correct one. I commend both the police officers and Procurators Fiscals involved in the investigations for their efforts There will be occasions when persons accused of a crime are acquitted. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to test, independently, the evidence put forward by the public prosecutor. On occasion, judges and juries will find that they are not satisfied with the evidence available, particularly where the evidence in the case is not straightforward.

It would, in my opinion, be wrong for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service not to raise prosecutions because they fear an acquittal, and the inevitable criticism which follows. If there is a sufficiency of evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute, then there must be a presumption in favour of prosecution regardless of the fact that the case will be difficult and there is a possibility of an acquittal. I would not wish to lead an organisation which shirked from the responsibility of taking such difficult decisions.

Decisions whether or not to prosecute in any case are decisions which must involve the exercise of prosecutorial expertise, judgement and discretion.

The natural tension between accountability of the public prosecutor and the vital independence of the prosecutor can make the prosecutor's life difficult.

The ability to resist political whim, pressure group or other public clamour on what or who should or should not be prosecuted is vital. Equally important is the need to cast aside the pressure from the public's desire that someone, anyone, be charged for a heinous crime. Instead, prosecution must truly reflect the public interest in a considered, clinical and independent fashion. It is the prosecutor who is able to look dispassionately at all the available evidence and assess what can be made of it. Armchair commentators, however eminent, are just that.

In my experience, the process of prosecution decision making is rarely one which receives unqualified, unanimous acclaim. Prosecution to please may be a quick fix. It may gain superficial popularity but it would surrender the very foundations of what supports a sound system of justice. That necessary independence should not, however, be used as an excuse for a lack of accountability.

In the last few days, we have gathered this information to explain the Crown's position and address the many queries raised. There will of course be a thorough review over the next few months of the prosecution of the case and any important lessons we can learn will be taken forward.

It is essential that prosecutors at all levels are able to work without fear of an acquittal. The job is an increasingly difficult one and it must not be made more difficult by the fear that where an accused person is acquitted by a judge or a jury, the prosecutor will be considered to have in some way personally failed in their duty. If the role of the prosecutor is to remain independent, then prosecutors must be confident that they can carry out their work without fear or favour.

As the Lord Advocate, I am happy to be held to account for the actions of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and also for the prosecution of this particular case.

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