The notable and spectacular failure of the Crown Office in what has come to be known as the ‘World’s End’ murder trial collapse, where the Crown Office’s chief prosecutor actually absconded from court, has caused a few rethinks on other cases where the prosecution of offenders for crimes which were committed many years ago may never see the light of a courtroom.
The Sunday Herald reports :
By John Bynorth, Home Affairs Editor
WHEN THOMAS Ross Young appeared in court charged with the murder of 17-year-old Patricia McAdam her family believed a 40-year wait for justice might finally be over.
Today, almost a year later, the prospects of a prosecution are fading and there are fears that other long-standing crimes may never be taken to court.
Legal experts believe that a review published by the Crown Office last month into the failed prosecution of the "World's End murders" will make it more difficult to take action on historic unsolved cases.
Now though, speculation is mounting that the prosecution of a man accused of one of Scotland's longest-running murder cases will be dropped.
McAdam's body was never found when she disappeared after hitching a lift with a friend in a lorry from Glasgow to Dumfries on February 19, 1967.
Her case predated the murders of Helen Scott and Christine Eadie, who were last seen at the World's End public house in Edinburgh, in 1977.
Less than a year ago Lord Clarke threw out the case against convicted killer and sex attacker Angus Sinclair at the High Court in Edinburgh for the murders of Scott and Eadie.
This month the Crown Office produced an internal review of the handling of the World's End case which made a number of recommendations for improvements, which have not been made public.
Two weeks ago, Devon and Cornwall Police decided not to charge the convicted child killer Robert Black with the murder of Genette Tate, a 13-year-old girl who vanished during her paper round in Devon in 1978, after the Crown Prosecution Service cited "insufficient evidence", Black is serving 10 life sentences in a high-security prison for the abduction and murders of schoolgirls Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper.
And three months after the collapse of the World's End case taxi driver Vincent Simpson was cleared of the murder of Dundee trainee nurse Elizabeth McCabe, 20, in 1980 after the credibility of DNA evidence linking him to the crime came under fire.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has now informed McAdam's relatives that no indictment is to be served "meantime" on Young, although the procedings will remain active against him.
Robert Black, professor emeritus in Scottish law at Edinburgh University, told the Sunday Herald that difficulties in preserving DNA evidence and the ability of an accused's defence to highlight flaws in witness recall could make it increasingly difficult to bring so-called historical cases to trial.
He said: "World's End was an example of how historical cases can pose difficult decisions for the Crown. After decades, people's memories fade and the Crown Office must ask whether the evidence is now strong enough for there to be any reasonable likelihood of a conviction.
"It's no use putting prosecution witnesses through the ordeal of a trial if they are going to be crucified by the defence about what they saw and knew, but may have forgotten.
"If there are clear DNA profiles - and there are not the difficulties with DNA evidence that existed in the World's End case - it's easier. But if such a case is dependent on eyewitness testimony, the more difficult it is for the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it would be safe to convict."
The disappearance of Patricia McAdam in 1967 led to the largest search ever undertaken by Dumfries and Galloway Police until the 1988 Lockerbie disaster with hundreds of officers, supported by teams from forces in Glasgow and England and Wales and unprecedented coverage in newspapers and on TV.
Detectives dug up moorland near where she was last seen and drafted in a Dutch clairyovant, Gerard Croiset, who told police the factory worker's body was dumped in a river. Despite Croiset's claims, McAdam's remains were never traced and the force re-investigated the case as a murder inquiry following a cold case review in 2004.
Retired Detective Superintendent Bill Gillis, Dumfries and Galloway Police's former head of CID, who won the support of his then superiors to reopen the case and lead the Pat McAdam reinvestigation, said: "There was a thorough investigation at the time and it was a significant challenge to reinvestigate the case for my officers. We used the knowledge of the officers at the time to piece together information.
"The case had a big impact on Dumfries and we had an astonishing amount of assistance from the public after we launched a fresh appeal. Everybody remembered where they were when Pat McAdam disappeared.
"But the whole point was to bring some closure to Pat's family. I feel sorry for them. They have been looking for somewhere to grieve, but have not been able to do it."
The COPFS said in a statement: "A report on the re-investigation has been submitted to Crown counsel, who have instructed that no indictment is to be served meantime on Thomas Ross Young. No final decision has been taken in the case, and it therefore remains live. Any additional evidence will be reported for consideration by Crown counsel."
It added that McAdam's next of kin had been advised of the Crown counsel's decision.
David Dunlop, the husband of Pat McAdam's sister, Wendy, said: "The whole case has been going on far too long now. She will not comment." The victim's other siblings Eleanor and Neil also declined to comment.
Young's lawyer John McLeod also refused to discuss the case.