Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stuart Gair - Guardian Obituary

"There was general disquiet - although not surprise - that, rather than opening the can of worms that the case represented, the judges allowed the appeal on the limited ground of non-disclosure of evidence."

The Guardian reports :

Hapless Scottish victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice

Bob Woffinden

Stuart Gair, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 44, was the victim of one of Scotland's most flagrant miscarriages of justice. He was born in Reading, Berkshire, never knew his father and was brought up in Plean, a small mining community near Stirling, when his mother returned to her home area. After a troubled childhood, he lived mainly on the streets in Glasgow and survived through small-time criminality.

On April 11 1989, Peter Smith, a supermarket manager, was found dead from a single stab wound to the chest in a well-known gay cruising area of the city. At the time, Gair was with his girlfriend and two acquaintances in a hostel. However, he was picked up the following morning for an unrelated minor offence. When Strathclyde police found out that he was from Plean (where Smith had also been brought up), they began to build a case against him for the murder.

A number of young, frightened gay men were pressured into giving evidence. Forensics ostensibly linked Gair with what was purported to be the murder weapon. For reasons that remain obscure, his alibi witnesses were never called to give evidence. According to witnesses, Smith had been attacked by two men. William McLeod, another vulnerable young man, was coerced into signing a confession that he and Gair had killed Smith together. Charges against McLeod were then dropped and he became the main prosecution witness. At trial, however, he said he had signed the confession only under duress. That evening, he was threatened with perjury charges, and the following day went back to court to restate the untruthful account.

Gair was convicted by an 8-7 majority verdict on August 30 1989 and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Glen Ochil prison, he was befriended by Dr Jim MacGregor, who was a GP in Alloa and part-time medical officer at the prison. MacGregor studied the papers, concluded that it was "a shocking case of corruption" and helped to mobilise a growing campaign. The case became a cause celebre; among those lending assistance was Peter Mullan, the Scottish actor and director of The Magdalene Sisters.

From 1995, Gair was represented by Glasgow solicitor John Macaulay, who uncovered "one impropriety after another" and built up an impressive dossier of evidence for his client. Key witnesses retracted their evidence. Dr Bill Hunt, a leading pathologist, described the forensic science evidence as ranging from "quite seriously flawed" to "total nonsense".

In 1999, Gair's became the first contemporary case to be referred to appeal by the new Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. Pending the appeal's outcome, he was released on bail in 2000. While the case was becalmed in the torpid Scottish judicial process, he was living a kind of purgatory. "I didn't comprehend how mentally damaged he was as a result of the years he'd spent in prison as an innocent man," said MacGregor.

Gair, a heroin user, had no family, no support, no means of getting by, and he alienated many of those who had tried to help him. He was taken to court three times on other charges, twice for possession of heroin and once for breach of the peace after inviting two schoolboys back to his flat.

Finally, his conviction for Smith's murder was overturned at appeal in 2006. There was general disquiet - although not surprise - that, rather than opening the can of worms that the case represented, the judges allowed the appeal on the limited ground of non-disclosure of evidence.

After that, friends felt that Gair had turned the corner. However, on October 26, Donal MacIntyre, the television reporter, was filming with ambulance crews in Edinburgh when they were called to the flat of someone who had just suffered a major heart attack; it was Gair. MacIntyre stayed with him at the Royal Infirmary and contacted Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, and John McManus, who together run Mojo (Miscarriages of Justice Organisation) Scotland.

"He was gifted and highly intelligent," MacGregor said, "but his whole life seemed blighted. The biggest tragedy was that he died just as he was beginning to look forward and to plan his life."

· Stuart Gair, miscarriage of justice victim, born August 27 1963; died October 29 2007

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