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Truth and reconciliation

Brian Taylor | 12:04 UK time, Friday, 14 March 2008

So much time has passed, so much. It is difficult in truth for me to revive, fully, the emotional bile, grief, disquiet and raw anger which enveloped this case.

I do not imagine, however, that such a task is remotely difficult for Shirley McKie and her father Iain.

In opposition, the SNP had promised a judicial inquiry into the McKie case.

As more time passed, the mutterings at Holyrood grew more frequent. Was an inquiry necessary? What would be gained? Hadn’t Parliament already investigated the case?

Today those mutterings were silenced by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. He has asked Lord Justice Campbell, a senior Northern Ireland judge, to conduct a full inquiry.

You remember the basics, I’m sure. A decade ago, Shirley McKie, a police officer, was accused of leaving her fingerprint at a murder scene – and then lying about it.

She lost her job. She faced a perjury charge but was acquitted.

Finally, after biting controversy, after claim and counter-claim, she received £750,000 in compensation in an out of court settlement with the Scottish Executive, paid without admission of liability.

There had been, it was said, “an honest mistake made in good faith.”

I covered this remarkable story, sporadically. It was pursued more extensively by my Parliamentary colleague Kit Fraser and by the teams at Newsnight Scotland, Frontline and Panorama.

Even as I compile this blog, however, the memories begin to force their way forward.

The media scrums at the old Parliament on the Mound as Shirley and Iain, accompanied then by Mike Russell, now a Minister, set out their case.

I remember too Jim Wallace, the then Justice Minister, stating that fingerprinting was, in some respects, an art form rather than an exact science.

I remember the controversy that caused, spreading out from a single case into the entire forensic system.

Then the Parliamentary inquiry at Holyrood as competing versions fought to be heard.

The McKie assertion - that an entirely innocent police officer had been hounded and smeared, ending her career and endangering her mental health.

The fingerprint officers, furious at what they saw as a sustained slur upon their skill and integrity.

Now a further inquiry, aimed, says the Minister, at “finding us all an ending”. Not a retrial, then, more an exercise in truth and, if such a thing is possible, reconciliation.

But before that potential ending, we await the beginning.

The judge won’t start until August when he has completed his current duties as a Lord Justice of Appeal.


  • 1.
  • At 01:06 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • George MacDonald wrote:

Shirley McKee has been disgracefully dealt with by the previous Labour administration.

There was the feeling that Labour were happy to buy Ms McKee's silence, in return the people who made the mistake would not be identified.

The fact that Ms McKee and her dad were not bought off, is testament to their characters.

Enter the SNP; this is one of their pledges. What have they done?

Kenny McAskill has decided to go for an inquiry is non other than the decent and honourable thing to do.

Well done SNP!

At the end of the inquiry when Ms McKee is further exonerated, she will be able to take comfort that an ethical and Scottish government will not let its people down.

  • 2.
  • At 02:31 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Charles wrote:

So much obfuscation. So many twists and turns. A police officer who felt betrayed and let down by the very system she worked hard to maintain. The same emotions felt by the finger print technicians who took the blame for their perceived ineptitude. Reports from a most senior police officer hidden from public scrutiny. What a mess. Perhaps this inquiry will allow the people of Scotland to know the truth and allow the Scottish Justice system to stand tall once again.

  • 3.
  • At 02:54 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • G Ford wrote:

I to remember the BBC coverage of the Mckie case it was an absolute disgrace. They along with the Scottish meidia disgracefuly hounded four innocent people who did their duty in a proper manner.
When I see Brian Taylor calling the Mckies "Shirley and Ian" you just know that BBC shameful bias is about to start again.
I cannot wait for a Judicial Inq (pity its not Lord Turnbull) Perhaps this time Mckie Senior( notice his daughter did very few interviews) will be polite to the Judge as his conduct at the Par Inq was rude to say the least.

  • 4.
  • At 03:32 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Martin wrote:

Watching Douglas Alexander weasle lie and accuse McKie during the Holyrood enquiry to protect his fingerprinting constituents even after the FBI experts came on the side of McKie and the "honest mistake" was finally admitted made me hate a politcian more than Thatcher for the first time

  • 5.
  • At 04:02 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • karin wrote:

so obviously all the doubters who said there wasnt going to be an enquiry have now been proved wrong. I often ask myself since the snp came to power how many times have we heard political journalists say that the snp are not going to get this or do that and then we find the opposite is true. Well i for one am sick of it. Now either the journalists dont know whats happening or they are second guessing the government and havent actually spoken to anyone in government. Which is it brian. Who are we to beleive the press or the govenment i know who i am choosing.and it isnt the press.

  • 6.
  • At 04:32 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Mark Rowantree wrote:

This case has been the source of considerable unease for many people. If the truth is uncovered it might very well prove, as damaging to any naive assumptions remaining within the general public about the superiority of the Scottish legal system over its counterpart South of the border: as the cases of the "Birmingham Six" or "Guild ford Four" had in shattering public confidence in the infallibility of English Justice did.

  • 7.
  • At 04:43 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • lisa trimble wrote:

Mr Taylor's notes above convey the impression that he is, perhaps subconsciously, more sympathetic to the fingerprint service and less to the McKie family.

For example he suggests the fingerprint service had a genuine feeling of anger whereas the McKie family merely made an assertion as to their position.

The real issue here is not the McKie family but whether the fingerprint service possesses the competence and integrity to do its job effectively and this is what the public will be hoping the inquiry will establish.

  • 8.
  • At 05:40 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • conway wrote:

After all these years under the previous Lib/Lab Government doing nothing to sort out this mess ,and along comes a minority SNP Government with a pro active can do attitude and now we have the begginings of what looks like we the public have been looking for....answers.

  • 9.
  • At 06:44 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Del wrote:

The Lockerbie bomber's appeal was the main reason Scottish Executive couldn't admit to a fault in gathering forensic evidence in the Scottish system.

  • 10.
  • At 06:54 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Tony G wrote:

Yes so glad that they never sold out especially minutes before their court case began, to the tune of £750,000 of our money. Strange that as they where only ever after the truth.

  • 11.
  • At 07:32 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Archie Galbraith wrote:

Good article, great posts.

The people of Scotland do not want an enquiry.

The people of Scotland want those accountable, to be dealt with through the legal system already in place.

Cathy Jamieson should do time over this. This is not hyperbole, it's purely a statement of fact.

At least a dozen individuals should stand trial over this issue. The main emphasis however should be on Jamieson.

I personally don't care whether Shirley McKie wants to let this rest. The issue is much bigger and will remain a national scandal until righted.

My hat comes off to the SNP for honouring this pledge - I'm apolitical btw. Let's not lose the opportunity to undo a serious wrong.

  • 12.
  • At 09:11 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • John Mcadam wrote:

Keep this case in mind and the struggle that Shirley Mckie went through to clear her name next time you travel through Heathrow and are obliged to have your fingers scanned.
Note that there is also a strong possibility that they will be included as part of the personal record data for the planned National Identity Register.

  • 13.
  • At 09:46 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Colin Stewart wrote:

There should be an enquiry. We, the taxpayers, paid the salaries of all those involved and the compensation (which in my view was merited.) We need to know what, if any, lessons have been learned and how much faith we can now place in the system. Scottish justice was diminished in the eyes of the World by this case and its' resolution is now more important than the views of individuals.

  • 14.
  • At 11:20 AM on 15 Mar 2008,
  • Jack Mcgregor wrote:

Virtually all those involved in this mess excluding Shirly Mckie will welcome this enquiry, hopefully the truth eventually come out. Lets not forget that this all stemmed from the murder of an elderly women with the person convicted now free. There are individual/s out there with blood on there hands-let them now be subject to the highest scrutiny-bring on the enquiry.

  • 15.
  • At 12:16 PM on 15 Mar 2008,
  • Lynas Murdoch wrote:

How on earth can anyone say that the compensation of £700,000 was jsutified? On what grounds - stress, defamation of character, loss of earning? Yes, all true - but £700,000!!!

My son, aged 28, lost 4 inches of his left leg, and has had a metal cage on his leg for some 22 months now, after being mown down by a hit-and-run driver (who has never been traced). He has been virtually a prisoner in his own home 24/7 for all these months (so you can appreciate his mental stress), and it will be at least another 2 to 3 years before we will know whether he will ever walk properly again, never mind work.

But will he get anywhere near £700,000 - aye, and pigs might fly!!! He will no doubt be on benefits for much, if not all, of his life

Someone somewhere has had much to hide to pay out £700,000 to keep the truth from coming out, this truth which supposedly was all the McKee family ever wanted - aye right!!!

  • 16.
  • At 12:29 PM on 15 Mar 2008,
  • LYDIA REID wrote:

I wonder how many people really know the feeling of disgust and disquiet when a public enquiry is needed, deserved, and not given. Very well done to the SNP and well done to the McKIE family for keeping up the pressure for do long.
An example of the people who suffered under the Labour Government by not getting a full enquiry are the parents whose children had organs removed at post mortem in Scotland without their knowledge or consent. The system benifits by cleansing when the public are aware of the full facts and hopefully with effort is improved.

  • 17.
  • At 12:44 PM on 15 Mar 2008,
  • Colin wrote:

This is the decent thing to do, and long overdue.

Refreshing to see good government in the world and makes me proud that it is a Scottish one that is excercising it.

Hopefully those who have been wrongly accused in the past, whichever side of the fence they sit on, will take the chance being given to set the record straight.

  • 18.
  • At 04:44 PM on 15 Mar 2008,
  • Iain McKie wrote:

I believe that the coming inquiry has the potential to open up the Scottish Justice System to some well-needed analysis.

For too many years a culture of complacency and self-interest has been allowed to flourish and practices have developed aimed at system protection rather than righting the injustices it spawned.

Perhaps the inquiry will give us an insight into the hitherto unseen recesses of our justice system and allow us to decide whether it is any longer fit for purpose.

The big question is of course - will it be allowed to?

A great deal rests on Lord Justice Campbell’s shoulders as he seeks to implement a remit that has been seen in some quarters as unduly restrictive.

We should never forget however that the political fall out for the new Scottish Government would be enormous should the remit be seen to place unfair restrictions on his lordship or be seen to be protecting any individual or organisation from examination. Opposition political parties and many others would love this inquiry to fail. If it does then it is the government who have most to lose and in Scotland, unlike with the Hutton enquiry in England, there is no place for them to hide.

Not everyone thinks the fingerprint service were culpable here, and I'm sure on the internet I could buy an expert to say what I want which is in my opinion what the McKie family did, the fingerprint staff in Glasgow who have been castigated were in fact independent with no axe to grind with Shirley Mckie.
I sincerely hope the enquiry goes ahead without interference and the truth comes out.
The important thing for all concerned is the truth, the expenses already incurred could become chickenfeed as this enquiry must come dowm on one side or the other.
The fact that the Mckie's don't want any further enquiries and indeed settled out of court when they had a chance to have their day in court makes me just wonder...

  • 20.
  • At 09:15 AM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • John Miller wrote:

Mr Ford should stand back and look at the system that put these four people in this situation in the first place.The SCRO office and the police could not admit any degree of falability and sort itself out, this is the real issue and that's all that the McKie's have sought for all these years.

Also Mr Murdoch the problem again is the system that does not punish the perpitrators of crime as they deserve or indeed compensate victims such as your son properly. I am sorry for your sons situation and hope he makes a good recovery and receives a degree of compensation he deserves but I fear he will not receive sufficient compensation. The joy riders will probably get a wee slap on the wrist and be back out there joy riding again after all we cannot infringe their human rights!!

  • 21.
  • At 01:47 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Whatjustice wrote:

How can people be allowed to lie on oath?????- thought that was perjury.

It was patently obvious that the fingerprint was NOT McKies yet so called experts swore it was - what has happened to them - were they interviewed under caution???? - it is no excuse to say we are certain it was her print, and say so on oath, when it was patently untrue.

The stitch up of McKie failed because her father still has certain friends in the Police who know a fit up when they see one, and especially when it is happening t one of their own.

  • 22.
  • At 02:15 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Traquir wrote:

Seems like a reasonable move by the SNP Government, but the enquiry I would
really like to see happen is for
Willie MacRae which is way overdue.

  • 23.
  • At 08:04 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Justice|???????? wrote:

Comment No9 on here has hit the nail on the head - u do not know how right u r - maybe the truth will out - do not bet on it though.

  • 24.
  • At 06:58 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • StevieB wrote:

It's important to keep in mind that there are still two sides to this story and the fingerprint 4 have as much right to there chance to redeem their reputations as the McKies.
If the fingerprint four were wrong why not get it out and move on, what would have been their motivation?
Scotland needs to clear this up.
Well done Kenny McAskill.

To be perfectly honest I have become bored rigid hearing about this.It's as if there is a ruling which states that once every two months,Shirley McKie will be 'Top Headline'.I feel sorry for her and her family and reckon if she was 'Chief Super McKie' this would have all 'gone away' some time ago.

This blog was billed on the front page as Brian Taylor's review of the past week in politics which of course would have to include the poll which showed Salmond with a 75% lead over Alexander, the SNP with an 8 point lead over Labour and Labour 16 points behind the Tories in England.

Instead we are treated to another (or perhaps the same) piece on the McKie case.

When are you going to discuss the poll results Brian? I note even the Herald had very little on it and of course Scotland on Sunday had nothing.

A worrying time for Unionists I know but we still have to report all the news. Perhaps once you are over the sorrow of losing a cup final which should have been won you might turn your attentions to the meaning behind those results.

  • 27.
  • At 01:19 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • k in kilmarnock wrote:

What about Marion Ross? Remember her? The murder victim? An elderly lady, so brutally assaulted that the murder weapon was still embedded in her body when she was found?
If police and fingerprint experts put half as much effort into doing the job, as they have done defending their reputations, Marion's killer would be behind bars by now.

  • 28.
  • At 02:01 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • G Ford wrote:

#27...I thought He Was.
As for the old lady who was brutally murdered, most people who comment against the F/P Four have never heard of her.
#21.says "it was patently obvious that the fingerprint was NOT Mckies".was it.How does he know? Mckie senior called in one of the most experienced experts in the UK and he said it was hers . He dismissed him then called a cowboy from Arizona yes that hot bed of crime rootin tootin Arizona and he said it was not hers and a jury believed him. And thats the way it is with a jury system ( lawyers love it) as both sets of lawyers each generally have their own expert witness,s.
I wonder why after so long fighting for an Inq the Mckies now dont want one?? Strange indeed.I bet the innocent much maligned and hounded by the media F/P four would love one.

  • 29.
  • At 01:00 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Lionel Cosgrove wrote:

1.George MacDonald wrote:
“Shirley McKee has been disgracefully dealt with by the previous Labour administration.”

George, Shirley McKie was given £750’000 plus costs by the previous administration, plus an apology from fingerprint expert Jim Wallace and fingerprint expert Jack McConnell. The legal advisor to the administration, former Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, resisted the enquiry.

Ask why?

The fingerprint experts wanted, and continue to want it.
Shockeroonie; Shirley McKie doesn't.

“There was the feeling that Labour were happy to buy Ms McKee's silence, in return the people who made the mistake would not be identified.”

The people who are alleged to have made the mistake have been identified. Your plot falls down.

“The fact that Ms McKee and her dad were not bought off, is testament to their characters.”

If they weren’t “bought off” then what would you call settling out of court, without admission of liability, for half a million quid less than they sought, at the last possible minute?

4. Martin wrote:

“Watching Douglas Alexander weasle lie and accuse McKie during the Holyrood enquiry to protect his fingerprinting constituents even after the FBI experts came on the side of McKie and the "honest mistake" was finally admitted made me hate a politcian more than Thatcher for the first time”

Douglas Alexander? I don’t recall him being involved in the Holyrood enquiry. What FBI experts have came on the side of McKie? The FBI have kept a professional distance from the case. If you know different then I’m sure that McKie would be pleased to hear of their support, please name these FBI experts (or admit you don’t know your facts)

14.Jack Mcgregor wrote:
“Virtually all those involved in this mess excluding Shirly Mckie will welcome this enquiry, hopefully the truth eventually come out. Lets not forget that this all stemmed from the murder of an elderly women with the person convicted now free. There are individual/s out there with blood on there hands-let them now be subject to the highest scrutiny-bring on the enquiry.”

Hear Hear.

21. Whatjustice wrote:

“How can people be allowed to lie on oath?????- thought that was perjury.”

Are you referring to Shirley McKies denial of any knowledge of independent experts who had looked at the case? (particularly ones who inconveniently declared mark Y7 a match with hers?) Any proper enquiry will acknowledge this, and any decent judge will ask why.

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