• Fingerprint experts seek to clear names via legal campaign group
• 3 parties combine to force debate without full request for public enquiry
• Motion says there is an issue of public trust in the criminal justice system.
"The McKies have shouted and shouted about how dreadful things have been for them, but our reputations have been shredded in the media and we have not been able to say anything in our defence. I approached A Search for Justice and they said they will investigate the facts. Hopefully, they will get to the truth." - FIONA MCBRIDE
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THE four fingerprint experts at the centre of the Shirley McKie controversy have approached a legal campaign group to try to clear their name.
Fiona McBride, Charles Stewart, Anthony McKenna and Hugh McPherson prepared the forensic report that contained the original claim that Ms McKie's fingerprint was found at the scene of a murder.
That claim has since been discredited in open court by international experts, and Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has described the whole debacle as an "honest mistake".
But yesterday it emerged that a group called A Search For Justice, led by a former senior officer with Strathclyde Police, has agreed to take on the experts' case and look at their initial findings again.
The surprise move came as ministers faced new pressure over the case as the SNP, the Tories and the Greens joined forces to call on the Scottish Executive to heed calls by Lord McCluskey, the former High Court judge, for a public inquiry.
In a highly unusual move, the three parties combined to put forward a motion that will be debated at Holyrood tomorrow, highlighting Lord McCluskey's comments in The Scotsman earlier this week that justice must be seen to be done.
The motion says the issues arising from the McKie case imply that justice has not been done and agrees with Lord McCluskey, a former Solicitor-General, that there is an issue of public trust in the criminal justice system.
The motion, signed by the SNP's deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Tory leader, Annabel Goldie, and the Greens' co-convener, Robin Harper, stops short of calling for an inquiry, as the three opposition parties fear that Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs could unite to vote that down and then claim the matter was closed.
However, the cross-party move increases pressure on ministers to go back on their previous refusal to sanction an inquiry.
Ms McKie, then a detective with Strathclyde Police, was part of a team investigating the 1997 murder of Marion Ross at her home in Kilmarnock when the fingerprint controversy arose. She insisted that a fingerprint found at the murder scene was not hers, and later, at the trial of David Asbury, who was accused of the murder, she denied having gone inside the house. But experts from the fingerprint bureau of the Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO) insisted that a print on a door frame came from her.
Ms McKie was tried for perjury but cleared when American experts said the print did not belong to her. Asbury, who had been convicted partly on fingerprint evidence and jailed for life, later had his conviction quashed.
Last night, Les Brown, who spent 12 years with the Serious Crime Squad before going on to campaign against miscarriages of justice, confirmed his group would investigate the matter on behalf of the four experts.
"The four SCRO employees who identified fingerprints at the scene of Marion Ross's brutal murder have asked A Search for Justice to assist them in an attempt to clear their names. We have taken on the case and will be looking at the whole affair with an open mind," he said.
In the past, Mr Brown and his team of investigators have worked on behalf of the families of the murdered prostitute Jacqui Gallagher and the schoolgirl Tracey Waters, who was punched and strangled yards from her home in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, in 1983.
One of the four fingerprint experts, Ms McBride, 41, said: "The McKies have shouted and shouted about how dreadful things have been for them, but our reputations have been shredded in the media and we have not been able to say anything in our defence. I approached A Search for Justice and they said they will investigate the facts. Hopefully, they will get to the truth."
Iain McKie, the father of Ms McKie, said the experts had the right to speak, but that a judicial inquiry was the most appropriate means of doing so. "The evidence is overwhelmingly against them; they have the right to speak out but not to attack my daughter. What I want to know is what is stopping the Scottish Executive from calling a judicial inquiry," he said.
The SCRO declined to comment.