Friday, March 07, 2008

MP John Thurso calls for review of Wick Harbour death investigation

A Westminster Member of Parliament, John Thurso MP has called for a fresh investigation into the death of Kevin McLeod at Wick Harbour in February 1997.

The family of Kevin McLeod have had little success with Northern Constabulary over their calls for a proper investigation into Kevin's death over ten years ago, but independent reports have found a culture of failure with Northern Constabulary's initial investigation, which many believe must now be resolved with an independent investigation by another Police force.

The Scotsman reports :

MP calls for fresh review of evidence in case of body in harbour


THE Lord Advocate is being urged to authorise an independent review of evidence in a ten-year-old case involving a man found dead in a harbour.

The body of Kevin McLeod, 24, was found after a night out in Wick in February 1997. His family believe he was murdered, but Northern Constabulary maintain the death was accidental.

Ian Latimer, the force's chief constable, has ruled out a fresh review, but John Thurso, the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP, has asked Elish Angiolini to consider the merits of another examination of evidence.

He said: "I have asked the Lord Advocate to look at an independent review of the evidence gathered in order to bring closure to the matter."

Two inquiries by Northern Constabulary were held which said Mr McLeod's death was accidental. A later fatal accident inquiry recorded an open verdict.

In 2002 an independent review was carried out by Andrew Cameron, the Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police, who looked into the family's complaints about the handling of the investigation.

In the same year Mr Latimer sought to draw a line under the investigation, saying there was "nowhere else to go".

A report in November by Jim Martin, Scotland's Police Complaints Commissioner, who was asked to examine the investigation, accused Northern Constabulary of "institutional arrogance" and ordered Mr Latimer to apologise to the McLeod family, who have consistently complained about the way the case was dealt with.

Mr Martin called on Mr Latimer to improve relations with family members and recommended the Northern Joint Police Board should meet them to apologise for the way the force handled their complaints.

He also criticised the McLeod family, who sent 277 letters and visited officers at their homes, for the tone of some of the complaints.

When Mr McLeod's body was found it was initially thought he had drowned, but a doctor later discovered serious abdominal injuries. A police investigation concluded that the injuries came from him falling on a bollard.

The family claims that Mr McLeod's clothes were destroyed before being forensically tested, the harbour was not cordoned off and searched for evidence, potential witnesses were not pursued and there were inadequate door-to-door inquiries.

The commissioner said Mr Latimer acknowledged that elements of the initial investigation were handled poorly and had instigated reviews of procedures.

Mr Thurso, who chaired a meeting between the chief constable and the McLeod family in December, added: "One outcome of an independent review might be that someone looks at it and says the evidence is inconclusive but it has been properly investigated. Another possibility is a recommendation to the Crown that there are further investigations to be undertaken.

"I have suggested it would be good for all concerned that a review takes place. I would expect the Lord Advocate to take some time to deliberate and consult before responding."

A Northern Constabulary spokeswoman said: "We understand that John Thurso has written to the Lord Advocate directly on this issue. We await the outcome of that with interest.

"Any correspondence with Kevin McLeod's family has and will remain confidential."

The letters between the family of Kevin McLeod who died at Wick Harbour in 1997 and the Chief Constable of Northern Constabulary Ian Latimer follow, showing the intense hardship by officialdom in Scotland, placed upon a grieving family in their fight to obtain justice for their loss.

Rather than forcing a family through a continuing period of suffering and anguish, where it seems a murder has taken place rather than just a death, the right thing to do would be to hold a new inquiry ....

Firstly, the letter from the Mcleod family to Chief Constable Ian Latimer of Northern Constabulary :

5 January 2008.
Dear Mr. Latimer,

Death of Kevin McLeod.

May I on behalf of our family pass on good wishes to you and your force for 2008.

We hope that this will be the year when we can all put the past behind us and move on confident that all the lessons associated with Kevin’s death have been learned and that procedures have been put in place to ensure it never happens again.

We were extremely grateful to you for meeting us in December and delivering an unreserved apology for the manner in which you and some of your officers had treated us following Kevin’s tragic death in 1997.

Everyone at the meeting expressed the wish that we all move forward as soon as possible.

As stated we believe that this will not be possible until a Totally Independent ‘Cold Case Review’ of the police investigation into Kevin’s death is undertaken.

Our initial complaints were initiated because of a complete lack of faith in every aspect of Northern Constabulary’s investigation and their handling of our subsequent complaints. These reservations have been overwhelmingly endorsed in the Fatal Accident Inquiry Findings, the Andrew Cameron Report and the PCCS Report.

We are now in the position that the only aspect of Kevin’s death that has not been independently reviewed is the actual police investigation.

We do not consider the Crown Office review of the information supplied by your investigating officers to be independent or constitute the necessary objective re-assessment of the investigation.

More than anything, having spent the last eleven years fighting for justice for Kevin, we want to move on. We see such an enquiry as an essential pre-requisite to this goal and urge you to take that final step and initiate the Independent ‘Cold Case Review’.

You can be assured that my family and I will co-operate fully with the review.

Yours Sincerely,
Mr Hugh McLeod.

The reply to the Mcleod family from Chief Constable Ian Latimer :

30 January 2008

Dear Mr and Mrs Mcleod,

As promised I now take the opportunity to respond to the outstanding issue from our very constructive meeting on the 19 December 2007 in Wick.

I have taken some little time to reflect on the questions which you posed to consult where appropriate and to obtain necessary advice which includes relevant dialogue with the Crown.

I am seeking to be as helpful as possible having taken the opportunity to meet with you and to unreservedly apologise to you for the failings in the initial investigation and in the initial handling of your complaints.

The subsequent investigations into the death of your son have been subject to a level of independent scrutiny which is largely without precedent in Scotland. The Crown have independently considered all submissions by the Force with these Reports being considered by not only the Area Procurator Fiscal for the Highlands and Islands but also by senior advocates within the Crown office.

Whilst I am constrained by the statutory relationship to the Constabulary has with the Crown regarding the responses that I can give to your questions, I am willing to explore how a further structured meeting in the presence of, I would suggest, Lord Thurso, could be arranged to enable me to provide answers to the questions which you still have. The confidentiality of any information shared at such a meeting should be paramount and your acceptance of this would be a pre-requisite.

For the same reasons attendance would have to be restricted to the immediate family and an independant observer of the stature of Lord Thurso whose presence I am sure you will agree was extremely helpful at our earlier meeting.

As the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland in his Report confirms, the independent view of the Crown is that there are no outstanding issues or questions which remain to be investigated into the death of your son. Any new information which you might have should be shared with either the Constabulary or the Crown. I can assue you that any new information shared directly with the Constabulary would be brought to the attention of the Crown and direction sought regarding any consideration of subsequent investigation.

Whilst the case remains subject to periodic internal review and is, in that sense, still open, I see no opportunity or reasoning to support a more wide-ranging review given that the actions and investigations undertaken by the Constabulary have been subject to independent consideration by the Crown on a number of previous occasions.

I am aware that at your meeting with the Convener Mr Norman Macleod, the Vice-Convenor Mr Ian Ross and the Clerk to the Northern Joint Police Board Ms Roslyn Pieroni earlier this month you raised a number of questions which you described to them as remaining unanswered. I have at the request of the Convener provided a confidential briefing to assist them in any response that they would wish to make.

The questions posed by you with regard to the investigation into the death of your son Kevin are largely those you raised in 2001 and formed the basis of the subsequent investigation which was reported to the Crown and concluded to their satisfaction in early 2002. There are no outstanding issues from the questions you raise that have not been properly investigated and concluded.

I hope you will respond positively to my proposal for a further meeting and if you do wish to progress this, our agreed point of contact, Inspector Julian Innes, will contact you.

Yours Sincerely
Ian J Latimer QPM MA
Chief Constable:

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