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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 16:25 GMT
McKie case inquiry calls rejected
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson and Lord Advocate Colin Boyd
The justice minister and lord advocate were facing MSPs
The handling of the Shirley McKie fingerprint case has been strongly defended in parliament as pressure mounts for a public inquiry.

Ms McKie was awarded compensation after being cleared of lying on oath in 1999. She had insisted a murder scene fingerprint was not hers.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson rejected the calls for an inquiry but conceded lessons needed to be learned.

Ms McKie's father Iain said they would continue to press for answers.

As a minister it is my job to learn lessons from the past while looking to the future
Cathy Jamieson
Justice Minister

In her statement, Ms Jamieson told MSPs: "I believe we have to accept that neither Ms McKie, nor those alleged to have wronged her, will ever be reconciled.

"Neither I nor a public inquiry can change that.

"But as a minister it is my job to learn lessons from the past while looking to the future."

She said that settling with Ms McKie was the right thing to do.

The minister also spelled out the depth of investigations already carried out and the reforms introduced to the Scottish Criminal Records Office's finger print service.

Shirley McKie
Ms McKie has claimed to be the victim of a conspiracy

Ms Jamieson said that as part of plans for a new Scottish Police Services Authority, the executive would be creating a new Forensic Science Service for Scotland, including the fingerprint service.

Also addressing parliament, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd insisted it would have been wrong to prosecute officers from the Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO) over the case.

He said: "This predictable controversy could have been avoided had I decided to prosecute the SCRO officers.

"But such a decision would have been wrong - a decision of expediency, not an independent exercise of judgement."

Cover-up claim

The Lord Advocate also told MSPs: "It does not follow that because Ms McKie was acquitted that those who gave evidence against her must be guilty of perjury."

Scottish National Party Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon claimed only a public inquiry could address the "cover-up" in the justice system.

She asked: "Isn't it the case that the executive's objective all along was to stop the truth of this matter coming out in open court?"

The only way forward out of this mess is for an independent judicial inquiry
Annabel Goldie
Conservative leader

Ms Sturgeon added: "This may have started as an honest mistake but the clear weight of evidence suggests that it very quickly became a systematic cover-up."

Mr Boyd insisted that he took the right decisions at the time and revisiting them would undermine the independence of the lord advocate and the prosecution service.

Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said the case had left a black cloud over the fingerprint service which the minister's statement did nothing to dispel.

Ms Goldie said: "The only way forward out of this mess is for an independent judicial inquiry, free from political interference, to ascertain the facts of the matter."

Fingerprint
Campaigners say the case has international implications

Mr McKie said he was deeply worried by what he had heard in Holyrood.

He said: "I cannot see how having a public inquiry which would lead to the truth in this matter can undermine anything.

"The Scottish Criminal Record Office experts want an inquiry, we want an inquiry, everyone wants an inquiry except the Scottish Executive and lord advocate."

Meanwhile, MSPs have taken the first step towards a Holyrood inquiry into the Shirley McKie fingerprint case.

The parliament's justice 1 committee will question the Scottish Executive in writing on allegations made about the fingerprint service by experts.

We are concerned that confidence in the criminal justice system has been seriously undermined
Faculty of Advocates Criminal Bar Association spokesman

Criminal lawyers at the Scottish Bar have also added their voice to calls for a public inquiry.

Ms McKie was awarded 750,000 compensation after a nine-year row.

The man convicted of the murder, David Asbury, subsequently had his conviction quashed on appeal.

The Faculty of Advocates Criminal Bar Association (FACBA) has said : "We are concerned that confidence in the criminal justice system has been seriously undermined by the events surrounding the McKie and Asbury cases."

However, Ms McKie's supporters believe that without an inquiry, the credibility of the Scottish Fingerprint Service and the SCRO would remain in question.

The original report which wrongly stated that the fingerprint found at the murder scene was that of Ms McKie was produced by the SCRO.

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland said it had utmost faith and confidence in the service.


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