Highlands & Islands

Kevin Mcleod death: Merseyside Police review 1997 death

Kevin Mcleod Image copyright Kevin Mcleod family
Image caption Kevin Mcleod's family has long campaigned for his death to be investigated as a murder

A team of six retired "experienced" detectives and two serving officers are reviewing the case of a man's death in the Highlands almost 23 years ago.

Kevin Mcleod's body was found in Wick harbour on 9 February 1997.

His family has long campaigned to have his death investigated as murder because of injuries found on his body.

The team from Merseyside Police are looking at how police officers and Crown officials have handled of the case.

The review, which has already started, is expected to take a minimum of nine months to complete.

Police Scotland has said there were "serious failings" by a previous force in its handling of the case and asked Merseyside to carry out a review.

Mr Mcleod's parents June and Hugh Mcleod and his uncle and aunt Allan and Yvonne Mcleod met officers from Merseyside Police for the first time on Tuesday. Crown officials also attended the meeting in Inverness.

Allan Mcleod welcomed the involvement of the English force. He said there were "countless unanswered questions" relating to his nephew's case which we hoped Merseyside Police would uncover.

He told BBC Scotland: "It was a meaningful and positive meeting.

"They told us a team of six retired experienced detectives working with two senior officers are already reviewing the case."

Mr Mcleod said the family's hope was "for the person who murdered Kevin to be brought to justice".

Image caption Kevin Mcleod's parents June and Hugh and uncle Allan believe the 24-year-old was murdered

Merseyside Police has declined to comment.

Mr Mcleod, an electrician from Wick, was last seen alive in the early hours of 8 February 1997 while on a night out with friends in the Caithness town.

His body was recovered from the sea late the following morning.

Mr Mcleod had sustained stomach injuries, a post-mortem examination revealed. It prompted a procurator fiscal to instruct the former Northern Constabulary to treat his death as a potential murder inquiry.

Police then discovered the 24-year-old had been involved in an altercation during his night out, but determined his injuries were not suspicious and described his death as a "tragic accident".

They said Mr Mcleod had been injured either falling on to a bollard, on part of a berthed boat or a boat's fishing creels before he ended up in the water.

A pathologist's report concluded he had died from drowning and the "major abdominal injury" was consistent with him falling on to an object such as the bollards found at Wick harbour.

But Mr Mcleod's family believe he suffered the injuries during his murder.

Image copyright Kevin Mcleod family
Image caption Mr Mcleod was 24 when he died

In 1998, a fatal accident inquiry recorded an open verdict.

But the inquiry's sheriff criticised elements of the initial police investigation. He concluded it had not been established the "very serious abdominal injuries" were the result of an assault, but this remained "a possibility".

In 2017, Police Scotland, which replaced Northern Constabulary in 2013, apologised for "serious failings" on the part of the former force and said officers had missed "the opportunity to gather vital evidence".

Last year, the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, instructed an experienced prosecutor to review police handling of Mr Mcleod's death. This review remains ongoing.

In July this year, Police Scotland asked Merseyside Police to carry out a separate "detailed review" of the case.

A Crown Office spokesman said: "The additional investigations requested of Merseyside Police in this case will be conducted under the direction of the Crown.

"The question of what further steps might be taken will be addressed upon completion of further work.

"The family will continue to be kept up to date at regular intervals on the progress of the review."


Kevin Mcleod: Timeline

Image copyright Mcleod Family

7 February 1997: Kevin goes on a night out with friends. He is last seen alive in the early hours of the following day.

17:25, 8 February: Kevin's father reports him missing and police immediately begin inquiries to find him.

01:00, 9 February: A search by police, coastguard and a lifeboat is called off due to bad weather. Kevin's relatives continue their own search until 05:00.

11:05, 9 February: A local diver, asked to help with the earlier resumed police co-ordinated search, finds Kevin's body in the harbour.

10 February: Injuries are found on Kevin's stomach in a post-mortem examination and a procurator fiscal instructs Northern Constabulary to treat his death as a potential murder inquiry.

11 February: Police tell Kevin's family the injuries were likely caused by a fall on to a bollard, but the family are not happy with this conclusion.

28 July: A person Kevin had an altercation with earlier on his night out is found. Police are instructed to carry out a second inquiry into Kevin's death. More than 100 witnesses are interviewed to help trace Kevin's final moments.

August: During the second inquiry, police say the injuries could have been consistent with a fall on to a berthed boat before Kevin went into the sea.

3 September 1998: A fatal accident inquiry records an open verdict on Kevin's death.

April 2000: The net weave pattern on Caithness Creels, a type of fishing pot used locally, is suggested by police as the cause for diamond-shape bruising that was found on the 24-year-old's body. The following year Northern Constabulary ask an expert to review the pathological aspects of Kevin's death.

4 October 2001: The expert's report suggests Kevin had fallen on to creels on a boat berthed at the harbour.

March 2002: Police share the expert's finding with Kevin's family.

December 2007: The Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland issues a critical report on Northern Constabulary's handling of complaints from Kevin's family. The report describes the force behaving with "institutional arrogance" and orders that its chief constable apologise to the family.

December 2017: Police Scotland says there had been "serious failings" on the part of Northern Constabulary, and officers had missed "the opportunity to gather vital evidence".

May 2018: The Lord Advocate instructs an experienced prosecutor to review police handling of the case. This review remains ongoing.

July 2019: Police Scotland asks Merseyside Police to carry out a separate review.

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