[This is the headline over a long article that appeared in Scotland on Sunday on 19 February 2006. The following are excerpts. The reason for drawing attention to this article on 3 August 2017 appears in the first paragraph.]
If there is a day when the seemingly inconsequential case involving DC Shirley McKie morphed into the crisis which today is threatening the reputation of Scotland's judicial and political system, it is Thursday, August 3, 2000.
It was already more than three years since McKie had visited a house in Kilmarnock where a woman called Marion Ross had been brutally murdered. Since then McKie had been accused of entering that house unauthorised, and leaving her fingerprint on the crime scene. She had been charged with perjury, after claiming in court she had never set foot in there. She had been humiliated at the hands of her former colleagues.
Now, on that August day, a group set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS) to examine the McKie case, was faced with a stunning report. It had already been established that the fingerprint experts at the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) had got it wrong and that the print was not McKie's. Now, the document in front of the group - an interim update from James Mackay, the man they had asked to investigate the case - claimed the SCRO officers had acted criminally to cover up their mistakes. The consequences were immense: if Scotland's forensic service was both guilty of errors and of attempting to conceal those errors, what confidence could anyone have in the entire justice system?
Last week, Scotland on Sunday revealed the contents of Mackay's final report, which had been kept secret for six years, and which was never acted upon by Scotland's chief prosecutor, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd. This week, we can reveal that it was not just police and prosecutors who knew its contents; the devastating findings of the interim version were passed on to ministers as well.
Mackay, a much respected former Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside police, had been commissioned to investigate the McKie case after a separate report by HM Inspectors of Constabulary had found that - despite the SCRO's claims - McKie's prints had never been at the crime scene. Mackay now probed deeper. As this newspaper revealed last week, his final report found that a mistake had been made, yet had not then been owned up to. "The fact that it was not so dealt with," he reported, "led to 'cover up' and criminality." [RB: See Wikipedia article Fingerprint Inquiry.] (...)
A second theory brings in the shadow of the Lockerbie bombing. Mackay's explosive report into the McKie case that August came three months after Boyd began the prosecution of Libyan suspects Abdelbaset Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah. The eyes of the world were focused on Scottish justice. What would it have said of that system if - just as the Crown was trying to convict the bombers - it emerged that fingerprint officials had been involved in "criminality and cover-up"?
Boyd strenuously denies that Lockerbie has any relevance to his judgments regarding the McKie case. When Iain McKie first raised the issue in 2000, Crown Office officials declared that Lockerbie "had not affected in any way the response from this or indeed any other department of the Scottish Executive to the issues raised by you."
But there is clear proof that senior justice chiefs had a stake in both cases; SCRO director Harry Bell, for example - whose agency was coming under such scrutiny - was a central figure in the Lockerbie investigation, having been given the key role in the crucial Maltese wing of the investigation, and given evidence in court.
Today's revelation that two American fingerprint experts who savaged the SCRO over the McKie case were asked by the FBI to "back off" suggests that plenty of people were aware of the danger that the case could undermine the Lockerbie trial.
Former MP Tam Dalyell - who has long campaigned on the Lockerbie case - said: "I have always felt that there was something deeply wrong with both the McKie case and the Lockerbie judgment. It is deeply dismaying for those of us who were believers in Scottish justice. The Crown Office regard the Lockerbie case as their flagship case and they will go to any lengths to defend their position."
The pressure for a full public inquiry is now growing day by day.