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Crown Office failures in murder trial spark calls of injustice and need for reform of Scotland’s failing prosecution service

08 Oct

The Scottish Executive is changing it’s name to the Scottish Government. A good thing for Scotland – finally we have our own Government, rather than a glorified Regional Council which has since 1997 until May of this year, kept its own party political allies in well paid unaccountable positions up and down the country. Hopefully the new Scottish Government won’t follow the ways of the old Executive, and put Scotland first, before it’s own paymasters or arm twisters out to keep things as they have ‘aye been’

However, another area of power in Scotland needs reform – and much more than just a name change -that area of power is of course, the Crown Office

As one currently serving MSP described it, not so long ago … the Crown Office “is one of, or perhaps the most corrupt institution in Scotland”.

That’s quite a charge against the country’s prosecution service, but as we have seen from the levels of injustice in Scotland, which have reached staggering proportions for the small country that we are, it is an accurate indictment of our prosecution service, which is unaccountable, lacks transparency, honesty, and freewheels on it’s own power base, occasionally being used by the powers that be to victimise the very victims of injustice even further to silence criticism against it’s function.

Can the Crown Office in it’s present form be trusted with the criminal justice system in Scotland ?

The answer to that, may lie in so many examples of Crown Office incompetence, failure, prejudice & corruption in cases, and, a staggering mismanagement of the criminal justice system in Scotland which has produced a widely held belief, that the answer to this question, is a resounding NO.

I certainly don’t think the Crown Office can be trusted with handling the criminal justice system in Scotland. It’s power has been used against me more than once, in attempts to silence my criticism of the legal profession, and my taking issue with the the spitefully handled, mismanaged investigation into my mother’s death at the Borders General Hospital back in 2000. However, that didn’t work, given a thankful exposure of the Crown Office’s behavior & corruption at the time by a journalist, and I must admit, a wee helping hand from a disgruntled Police Officer now out of the force and full of information on who is less than trustworthy in the Crown Office …

If however, as many people have before, ask the Crown Office to prosecute a crooked lawyer who will deliberately set out to ruin the lives of their clients for financial gain – they will do nothing … so much nothing that the Crown Office won’t even admit to prosecuting any members of the legal profession and even deny such statistics are ever kept …

If you are going to bring a new Government to Scotland, Mr Salmond, you will have to bring a new prosecution system to Scotland too – and make it transparent, honest, and accountable. The only way to do this is to get rid of that corrupt behemoth in Chambers Street and start afresh – as the amount of injustice & sheer corruption in the Scottish justice system clearly demonstrates.

Here are a couple of examples from the Sunday Herald, of how the Crown Office performs, or rather, fails to perform for the good of Scotland when it comes to our justice system.

In the first of the following stories, the Crown Office seems to have been at the fiddle when it has come to disclosing documents to the accused’s legal team .. something many people will be familiar with in Scotland … and do any of you think that such failure to disclose crucial witness statements & evidence could be accidental ? The probability of such is surely remote … in essence, the Crown Office knows what it’s doing .. and so do the Police but why is this tolerated ?

You can find out more about the first example involving the case of Brendan Dixon HERE

Now for two stories from the Sunday Herald, showing just what we, the people of Scotland have to put up with in the justice system – a culture of injustice which too many people at the top have got used to. Surely it’s now time to end this culture of injustice in Scotland.

Mystery over ‘significant’ witness at murder trial

By John Bynorth
Men found guilty could have been denied a fair trial, says lawyer

THE DEFENCE lawyers of two men who were found guilty of murdering an elderly woman were not told that a potentially “significant” witness – who gave evidence for the prosecution – was seen outside the victim’s house on the day her body was found.

The Sunday Herald has learned that, despite being identified by a “credible” witness who didn’t take the witness stand, the man, who has served time in prison and was admitted to a hospital’s psychiatric ward two days later, was not interrogated about the claims at the trial of Patrick Docherty and Brendan Dixon for the murder of 91-year-old Margaret Irvine four years ago.

Docherty’s solicitor, Graham Mann, who uncovered previously unseen police statements by the man and the woman who saw him, said this may be because the Crown Office did not disclose the nature of the man’s alleged involvement.

Alternatively, he said the police may not have revealed to the Crown the full details of the man’s status to the investigation. The man was not questioned about the allegations that he was seen outside the house during his brief trial appearance.

Mann insisted that the failure to cross-examine the man, because the defence teams appeared not to possess the full details, could have denied Docherty, 41, and Dixon, 38, a fair trial.

Police witness statements reveal the female witness, a 35-year-old restaurant worker, picked him out from a photo identification as one of two men she became suspicious about outside the house in Galston, Ayrshire, as she drove past, on the day Irvine’s body was found.

The information emerged during Docherty and Dixon’s appeal against their convictions. Documents show the man, now 32, was “witness 23” in court documents and gave evidence for the prosecution at their 2005 trial at the high court in Kilmarnock.

We revealed last month how the woman, who would have provided information that “witness 23” was seen outside the house, was not called by the Crown. She appeared in court documents as “witness 22”, despite not being called. The woman has refused to speak to the Sunday Herald about the case.

Knowing that he had been formally identified as being at the scene would have enabled the pair’s defence team to ask him about why he was there and perhaps bring an ex-girlfriend, who claimed he was three miles away at her home in Hurlford, to testify in court.

Mann also wants to find out if the police spoke to the “suspect’s” ex-girlfriend and if they did, why that information wasn’t passed to the defence. He said: “It appears there is a possibility the prosecution commenced this trial knowing that a person was identified with certainty by a completely independent Crown witness as being at the home of the victim on the day her body was found – and they didn’t pursue that person as a suspect.

“It’s also significant this man gave a statement saying he was not very far away on the day of the murder. The Crown called him to give evidence, yet didn’t call this restaurant worker. They didn’t have any reason to disbelieve what she said, so why wasn’t she called?

“The big question is whether the police gave that information to the Crown. If the police did, I find it hard to believe that information would not, in some guise, have been passed on to the defence.

“The defence – either through a failure by the Crown or police – appear not have this information at their fingertips, effectively denying them a line of inquiry which may well have proved significant.” Mann added: “Our justice system demands full disclosure’ and public confidence would be destroyed if they thought the Crown was selecting evidence.”

Strathclyde Police and the Crown Office refused to discuss the case.

… and now for a very disturbing report from the Sunday Herald on the suffering of children in some Scottish Care Homes – a terrible injustice again which needs action by the authorities and the guilty punished for their terrible crimes.

It was our duty to protect these children in remand homes. Instead they were sexually abused by staff for years’

By Neil Mackay
Former Glasgow ‘borstal’ at the centre of the latest child abuse scandal

ON THE eve of a watershed government report explaining why children in Scottish care homes from the 1950s until the 1990s were allowed to be sexually abused, the Sunday Herald has uncovered yet another disturbing scandal.

It centres on the sexual assault of children that lasted for decades in government-run Scottish remand homes and assessment centres – the country’s equivalent of borstals. Although children were abused at a number of borstal-type institutions in Scotland, the worst site appears to be a former Glasgow borstal called Larchgrove.

The details are coming to light just as the Scottish Executive is preparing to publish the Historical Abuse Review, which is meant to draw a line under a series of shocking revelations about sex abuse in care homes run by independent organisations such as the Catholic Church and charities such as Quarriers.

Des – not his real name – was put in Larchgrove 27 years ago as a boy. He was detained for playing truant from school to avoid bullying.

“I was in there between 1978 and 1979,” he told the Sunday Herald. “The sexual and physical abuse was terrible. This was perpetrated both by staff – although not all of them – and also by people who didn’t work there.

“I complained at the time, ran away and was dragged back screaming. Nothing was ever done. I still wake up screaming, sweat running off me, because of the abuse I suffered.”

Des said he ended up a heroin addict through using drugs to “block out all the pain and abuse I suffered there”. He’s now been clean for six years and is happily married. He was the first of many people spoken to by the Sunday Herald who confirmed the routine abuse of children at Larchgrove.

Reg McKay, a former director of social work who is now a best-selling crime writer, said he was aware of the abuse of children at Larchgrove from the very beginning of his career.

As a trainee social worker in the mid-1970s, McKay came face-to-face with boys who provided evidence of sexual abuse at the infamous borstal.

McKay was the social worker for three teenage boys who were locked up in Larchgrove. In 1976 they told him that they had witnessed other children suffering sexual abuse at the hands of both male and female staff. “These kids weren’t bad boys,” said McKay. “They were deeply disturbed – from dysfunctional homes. They had some very serious personal problems and were at risk of turning to offending or falling into drug misuse.” One boy told McKay that the most dangerous time in Larchgrove was just after lights-out when the boys were put to bed. The boys were housed in small dorms holding six to eight beds. Staff would sometimes call boys from their beds. Often this was for valid reasons, such as administering medicine, but at other times it was simply to abuse them.

McKay says that on some occasions female staff took the children from their beds to be abused. The women provided the children with a false sense of security, ensuring that they didn’t panic or scream on their way to be abused. The women were “either standing by or taking part” in acts of abuse, McKay added.

“I knew this was happening back then as I heard the allegations personally,” said McKay. “The kids trusted me and had no reason to lie. When I reported the allegations to management I expected a full investigation to take place for the sake of the boys who were being abused.

“It was our duty to protect these kids and we clearly failed them. I went on to report what I was being told up the chain of command. I raised the allegations with senior members of social work staff. As far as I know there were at least three internal investigations, but nothing happened. There were no sackings, no charges – nothing.

“To be blunt, many of the homes where children were being kept in those days were worse than something out of Oliver Twist. I can even remember staff taking money from children. These were kids who had nothing in the first place.”

McKay says that he recalls the same allegations resurfacing about Larchgrove in the 1980s. “Allegations of child sex abuse were being made against many similar institutions at the time. As far as I know, nothing was done about these claims either.”

McKay says that some managers “hated” him for reporting allegations of abuse and demanding investigations. “Many social workers found themselves in the same position: raising concerns and allegations with management then having no power to ensure the right action was taken,” he added. “It was bloody frustrating – especially when you or a colleague went back to the same institution a year or two later and heard similar allegations.”

Later, as McKay’s career as a social worker progressed, he led two investigations into allegations of sexual abuse at Kerelaw – another institution for detaining children who’d broken the law. Glasgow City Council also ran this facility for vulnerable children. Kerelaw closed last year amid allegations of abuse.

Glasgow City Council admitted that 40 of its employees had been alleged to have been involved in the sexual or physical abuse of children at the home. The council also said that some of those suspected of abusing children at Kerelaw were still working with children in care.

At the end of his investigations into abuse allegations at Kerelaw in the 1980s, McKay recommended that the claims be passed to the police immediately and that those accused of assaulting children be suspended with no pay. “Once again, nothing happened,” he said. “And once again, I have no idea why.”

Frank Doherty, founder of the Scottish organisation In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), was sent to Larchgrove for 28 days in the late 1950s. He’d previously been in care in the notorious Smyllum orphanage in Lanarkshire where many children were abused. He used two words to sum up his memories of Larchgrove: “Getting battered.”

Doherty was sent to Larchgrove for “petty criminality”, he said. The physical abuse he suffered at Smyllum had left him a mental wreck so he was in no state to withstand the violence at Larchgrove. “Going into Larchgrove after being in Smyllum set me back years as I’d already been battered and tortured. Larchgrove was just another Smyllum. I saw regular physical violence in Larchgrove and I was often on the receiving end of it.”

Tommy “TC” Campbell was another child inmate at Larchgrove. He knew boys who were abused and spoke of warders trying – but failing – to sexually abuse him. Campbell was wrongly jailed for life for the deaths of six members of one family in a firebug attack during Glasgow’s infamous “ice cream wars”. He was jailed in 1984 and his conviction was not quashed until 20 years later.

Campbell has always admitted that he was a tearaway as a teenager. He ended up in Larchgrove borstal in the mid-1960s aged 14 for truanting, trespassing and stealing eight pence. “Everything was brutal. The staff were just like screws,” he said. “They thought nothing about giving you a wallop. There were also a few child molesters among them.” It was common for boys who misbehaved to have their trousers pulled down before being beaten with a cane on their backsides.

Campbell says he knew of a number of boys who were sexually abused. He also named one warder who preyed on the weakest boys in the borstal. The warder would single out bed-wetters and other vulnerable children, believing they were less likely to inform or resist.

“They’d target the weak ones,” he said. “They wouldn’t go for the boys who were rebels or who were tougher lads as they wouldn’t stand for it. They’d go for the ones with no mum and dad – the ones who were in there for care and protection. It was the worst place the state could have sent them.

“Everyone knew what was happening. You’d see boys being taking out of showers or their dorm and then the boys would tell you what happened to them. It was a terrifying place. You’d see boys in total terror – crying and withdrawn.”

Campbell said that at the beginning of his time in Larchgrove there were attempts made to sexually abuse him. “Three different warders tried it with me,” he said, “but they realised very rapidly that I was not one to try it with.” Campbell later butted a warden for physically assaulting him.

“The whole place was mentally and psychologically oppressive. We were starving all the time – there were fights over a slice of bread.” Campbell says that the children were even fed tins of pet food. “It was like Colditz. Boys were always plotting ways of escaping, although you’d be badly beaten for trying.” Many boys were deliberately disruptive because they hoped they would be transferred to an adult jail and get away from the abuse at Larchgrove.

Tom Shaw, who is heading up the independent review of historic abuse for the Scottish government, said his report – due out shortly – investigated the flaws in the care system that allowed paedophiles to abuse children. He said that the revelations about Larchgrove underscored the need for the review. “It shows the point of our work,” he said.

The review will highlight failures in the system which can be used by victims of abuse to sue the state for failing to protect them while young. However, no individual homes or perpetrators will be named in order not to prejudice future criminal trials.

Referring to the claims of abuse at Larchgrove, Shaw added: “What we don’t know is how many more people may still want to come forward to tell their story.”

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Posted by on October 8, 2007 in Law

 

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