An attempt to make Angus Sinclair stand trial again for the infamous World’s End murders 35 years ago has started at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh.
The Crown wants Sinclair, acquitted at a trial in 2007, to become the first person to face a fresh prosecution under new double jeopardy law.
During a preliminary hearing, Sinclair’s QC announced that the move to put him back in the dock would be fought, and that one of the principal issues was whether “new” evidence against him had been unearthed, as claimed by the prosecution.
Sinclair was not at the hearing, his attendance having been excused because of “a medical condition.” Another hearing was set for 14 May.
The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, QC, said he wanted progress to be made.
“It has been 35 years. The families (of the victims) are anxious to have finality in this matter,” he told the court.
Sinclair, 67, who was then 32, was accused of raping and murdering Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, both 17, in 1977 while acting with his brother-in-law, Gordon Hamilton, then 22 and now dead.
The teenagers had been drinking with two men in the World’s End pub in the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, on Saturday, 15 October, 1977. Their bodies were discovered the following day in East Lothian. Ms Eadie was naked and was on the foreshore at Gosford Bay, near Aberlady. The partially-clothed Ms Scott lay in a field about seven miles inland near Haddington. Each had her hands tied behind her back, and each had been strangled with a ligature.
A trial in 2007 was halted when the judge, Lord Clarke, ruled there was insufficient evidence against Sinclair, and he was acquitted.
Until the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act was passed in 2011, it was not possible to try anyone again after they had been acquitted at a first trial.
However, the new legislation allowed a second trial if new and compelling evidence which substantially strengthened the case had come to light.
Sinclair is the first person to face a possible second trial under the reforms.
The process involves an application by the Lord Advocate to three judges to set aside Sinclair’s acquittal, and authority to prosecute him again for the murders.
Mr Mulholland said the Crown was ready to submit its case for a retrial to Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice-Clerk, sitting with Lord Menzies and Lady Smith.
“There are hurdles that require to be overcome and that involves the court making a determination on whether the case has been substantially strengthened by new evidence, and whether it is highly likely that a reasonable jury would convict on the new evidence with the original evidence,” he stated.
The new evidence was not specified, and Mr Mulholland said he anticipated an order postponing its reporting when it was discussed at a future hearing. He indicated that similar orders had been imposed in similar cases in England.
The defence counsel, Ian Duguid, QC, explained Sinclair’s absence, and added: “I have taken instructions, and the application is opposed.”
He said it would be unrealistic for a second hearing to take place on 23 April, a date provisionally fixed, because the defence was still carrying out investigations.
“One matter under investigation is whether this, in fact, constitutes new evidence at all. That is the principal inquiry at this stage. At the original trial, there was DNA evidence available. An investigation is necessary to identify whether or not this new evidence actually advances that evidence or is the same evidence discernible by new techniques,” said Mr Duguid.
A forensic scientist who had been a defence witness in 2007 was no longer available, and efforts were being made to find an alternative witness, added Mr Duguid. It was only a month since the Crown’s application had been announced and “these inquiries are at an early stage.”
Lord Carloway said the judges were prepared to fix 30 April as the date by which the defence had to set out the scope of its challenge to the application. A further procedural hearing would take place on 14 May.