Saturday, November 10, 2007

Stuart Gair - Justice 'must be done' for the good of Scots law

The case of recently deceased Stuart Gair, a victim of a terrible injustice at the hands of Scotland's legal system which saw him jailed for a crime he did not commit, must not be let to rest until the injustice & corruption which ended his life is fully accounted for.

The Herald reports :

We owe it to this man to demand justice is done


Stuart Gair's death saved money, time and effort. His blood is on their hands On Tuesday last week, miscarriage-of-justice victim Stuart Gair, 44 years old, died within 15 minutes of his life-support system being switched off in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Three members of Glasgow's Miscarriages of Justice Organisation were present at the tragic scene.

On Friday, October 26, he'd suffered the first of three heart attacks before slipping into a coma. For 17 of the past 18 years he'd lived in a perpetual state of anxiety. His stress-induced condition developed because in August 1989 he was - as we now know and legal authorities accept - wrongfully convicted of a murder. Only in July 2006 was his conviction finally overturned.

He'd supposedly stabbed Stirlingshire man Peter Smith, who later died, in Glasgow in April 1989. The area was a well-known cruising spot for so-called "rent-boys" near the St Vincent Street public toilets and witnesses who identified Gair as the culprit who stabbed Mr Smith with a knife in a nearby lane, were all of one-voice in their certainty. The police who arrived on the scene shortly afterwards, as well as the detectives who investigated, seemed impressive when they came to give evidence in court in August that year. Clippings I looked at indicated few journalists bothered with the case at the time, probably - as one original juror now residing in Australia who contacted me recently explained - because it seemed an open-and-shut case, and after a hearing at the High Court in Ingram Street Gair was duly sentenced to life imprisonment.

But rumours surfaced that something was amiss. When I first heard of this case in 1992 while working at STV, source after source kept saying Gair - a petty criminal and drug addict also from Stirlingshire - had been wrongfully convicted. Between 1998 and 1999 I investigated the case. I was not the first journalist to do so: Bernard Ponsonby from STV and The Big Issue's Neil Mackay had gone down related paths prior to me, with important results.

For my part, I travelled hundreds of miles across the UK, tracing 90% of the witnesses. Astonishingly, all recanted their original evidence. Additionally, new analysis cast doubt upon the forensic evidence. An interview in 1999 with Gair inside Edinburgh's Saughton prison convinced me that something was far wrong with the safety of this conviction. But it took another seven years, until 2006, before the judicial system agreed and Gair was exonerated.

I was the sole journalist to accompany Stuart Gair to his appeal on a summer's morning in July 2006. Other journalists were understandably caught up in the colourful libel trial involving sex allegations against Tommy Sheridan in a nearby court.

But Gair's case also yielded drama: witness after witness alleged they'd been forced to perjure themselves in 1989; the detective in charge of the case admitted swiping all the case papers prior to his sudden retirement in 1999, before depositing them with his personal lawyer because he might have needed them for defence reasons and also for use in an autobiography; and there were startling admissions of invalid forensic pathology evidence dating back to 1989 relayed from expert Dr Marie Cassidy. The press however, sidestepped all this and only reported that Gair's conviction was overturned because of non-disclosure of vital evidence by the Crown to his defence. But by reporting this narrow - though vital - issue, it lessened portraying the overall catastrophic impression that anyone listening to the evidence felt was clearly on show.

Gair was cleared - he fled the court and promptly vomited in a nearby toilet. For 12 months he haunted Glasgow and then Edinburgh's streets. Mojo (the charity that supports miscarriage of justice victims) helped him with frozen meals and counselling and he started to pull himself together. I met him a month before his death and listened as he tearfully explained how he sometimes crawled out of bed to sleep on his carpet. His doctor - organised by Mojo - said it was "because it's the same size as your cell". It might have been nonsense but I thought it had a ring of truth.

Once, Scotland had few miscarriages of justice. No more. I could list the cases in this column, but I won't. Only the limited funding for Mojo by the Scottish Government is any cause for hope in this issue. This week it was revealed Sally Clark, also wrongfully-convicted, died from alcoholic poisoning. If Mojo had a well-funded retreat, she - and Stuart Gair - would have stood a chance. As it is, they're dead.

Someone, somewhere, smiled last week when Stuart Gair died. His death saved money, time and effort. His blood is on their hands.

Is this the world we want to live in? Is this the Scotland we want to live in? Or do we choose to define this country by asking tough questions and demanding those who framed him be brought to justice?

The Stuart Gair I knew wouldn't want to rest in peace.

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