The long fight for justice
Gary Fitzpatrick • Published 3 Aug 2012 03:30
IN June 2000, the Press carried the front page story 'Rough Justice?' first highlighting concerns over the murder convictions of Steven Johnston and Billy Allison because of suppressed evidence.
By then they had already served four years in jail and it was almost six years later before their convictions were quashed.
The story reached a conclusion last week when Richard Munro, the detective in charge of the Andrew Forsyth murder hunt, was jailed for five years for suppressing evidence
The tragic death of Mr Forsyth in November 1995 remains unsolved with the Crown Office announcing it had "instructed a review of the evidence relating to the death in the light of the appeal, the Carnegie Inquiry and the trial of Richard Munro."
In 2000, the Press reported that officers spoke to six people who had seen Mr Forsyth alive after 3rd November, when police said he had been killed although his body was not found until six days later.
Defence solicitor Stephen Morrison fought long and hard to highlight the glaring anomalies in the case, which he became aware of even before the 1996 trial had started and raised with the authorities at its conclusion.
The reply from the then deputy chief constable Graham Bennet in April 1996 was that anyone seeing Mr Forsyth alive after 3rd November was "clearly mistaken" and that the view he was murdered on that date was "founded upon all the available evidence".
Mr Morrison spoke to the Press this week about the case he has been involved in for over almost 17 years.
He said, "We uncovered the six or seven witnesses before the trial completely by accident. The boys were on remand. Somebody also on remand said 'I was in so-and-so's house and the police were there and she said she'd seen him alive.'"
The discovery of one witness led to another and another.
"This was before the trial but none of these people appeared on the witness list. They were all saying to me 'I gave a statement to the police' or they'd been to the incident caravan at the Glen Gates. We thought there was something odd but we were delighted to find them.
"As we were preparing for trial we heard from people saying their statement had been changed.
"When the boys were convicted, straight after the trial I wrote simultaneously to the chief constable and to the Crown Office asking, 'How has this happened and what else is there we don't know about?'
"The deputy chief constable said the police only had trace of three statements. Within a few days the reply from the Crown Office was that they had been informed via the local fiscal's office that no statements were retained, none at all. Looking at the two letters I was thinking 'Somebody's not telling me the truth here'.
"I wrote back to the Crown Office telling them about the letter I had from the deputy chief constable. I said, 'You both can't be right, what's going on here?'
"It came back from the Crown Office, 'Sorry, we've been given misleading information' or whatever the phrase was.
"The police line had been they could sift out whatever evidence they liked. I wrote back and said something like 'I can understand if you sift out a statement from someone saying they had seen the accused walking on Mars' - I didn't quite put it as bluntly as that - but I said, hold on, these were live sightings in a murder case. You cannot get any more relevant than that.
"The Crown Office were saying 'We're sorry, we've learned lessons, they're not entitled to sift this out, you should have been given the information etc, etc.'
"I wrote back and said that's all very well but who's giving you the information that so-and-so's not existing in a statement?
At that stage they put the shutters down. They politely but firmly said to me 'We've given you our answers, we've told you we've learned lessons, now beat it'. Effectively that's what they said to me.
"They were finished with me, I wasn't getting any further. They were saying they had learned lessons but I don't believe they had so we were going down a blind alley at that point.
"I was faffing around in the dark a little bit wondering where to go next. Then I heard around 1999 that they were going to bring in the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. Bingo - I prepared a dossier for them about half an inch thick, fired it off and they did the rest in a way.
"They have the power to access the police files. They got into the files and uncovered the remaining witnesses. Other people who had said they had seen Drew alive after 3rd November.
"Munro was a high flyer albeit this was his first murder inquiry. He was a detective inspector at quite a young age.
"He was doing what they used to refer to as targeting. He targeted the two boys Allison and Johnston. There was some evidence he thought pointed towards them but what he did was, in the old-fashioned way, ignore any evidence that contradicted the theory they had done it to a ridiculous degree, where certain statements were being altered.
"I knew something was wrong. You could smell a rat.
"I sensed there would be more to be uncovered but I didn't have the power to uncover it.
"There was a reluctance to dig any deeper than conceding things hadn't been done properly.
"I've been on the case for 17 years up hill and down dale. Just prior to the criminal case review commission I thought 'I'm going to have to let this go'.
"There was nowhere else to go with it and without the commission none of this would have come to light.
"I had been about to throw the towel in. I was banging my head against a brick wall but that gave us a new lease of life.
"It's a long, long slog. I've been offered a number of different supposed miscarriage of justice cases and I've turned them down because it becomes a part of your life.
"There were long periods of inactivity but it was always there burning a hole in your brain.
"I'm a little bit like a dog with a bone. If I feel there's something not right there, something unjust, it's in the nature of a defence lawyer to want to ferret in amongst that to see what you can find."
Does he think the same thing could happen again in future?
"I still think it could happen again but it would be more difficult. There are more safeguards. It would be much more difficult and it would be a very dangerous game to play."