Police face inquiry after two freed over murder trial 'lies'

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A SCOTTISH police force is to be investigated after two men who have spent ten years in jail had their murder convictions overturned.

Officers from the Fife Constabulary suppressed evidence, changed witness statements and failed to pursue "obvious" lines of inquiry which did not fit with their theory of Drew Forsyth's murder in 1995, according to appeal court judges.

The judges said there had been "grave misconduct", and branded the senior detective who had led the investigation a liar.

Steven Johnston, 42, and Billy Allison, 41, of Dunfermline, Fife, had been found guilty by a jury of murdering a drinking friend, but because the police sifted out evidence which did not fit their view of the case, the jury never heard from several potential defence witnesses.

The Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh was told at yesterday's hearing that Lothian and Borders Police was to investigate Fife Constabulary's handling of the murder inquiry, and that prosecutions were possible.

Richard Munro, 47, then a detective inspector, was in charge of the inquiry. Later, he gained the rank of detective superintendent, but he resigned from the force in 2004 in advance of disciplinary proceedings unconnected with the case.

Outside the court, Mr Johnston said he was "bitter and angry" and would be discussing a compensation claim with his lawyers. "These are not mistakes. These are deliberate actions by the police and especially the guy in charge," he added.

Another detective, who had been a reporting officer with Mr Munro, was no longer with the police, the court heard, and his whereabouts were not established. An inspector who had been in charge of the incident room had also resigned and now lived in Spain.

However, a further six officers from the inquiry team gave evidence and Lord Gill said that, with one exception, they did not impress the judges.

The badly-beaten body of Andrew Forsyth, 34, was found in his home in Dunfermline on 9 November, 1995. The house had been used as a drinking den by people including Mr Johnston and Mr Allison.

At their trial, the Crown contended that the pair had murdered Mr Forsyth on 3 November, which fitted with circumstantial evidence from other drinkers. The defence said there had been a minor fight, that Mr Forsyth suffered only a bleeding nose and that he was alive when Mr Johnston and Mr Allison left. Several defence witnesses spoke of seeing Mr Forsyth alive after 3 November.

The jury convicted Mr Johnston and Mr Allison and they were jailed for life, but in 2001 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case to the appeal court. The men's solicitor, Stephen Morrison, had refused to let the matter lie, and the appeal judges commended his professionalism.

It was discovered that several witnesses had given statements to the police about seeing Mr Forsyth alive after 3 November, but the information had not been given to the procurator- fiscal or defence lawyers.

The evidence was heard by the appeal court, and Lord Gill said: "It came from honest, decent people who had no motive to tell anything but the whole truth. We incline to think that the more evidence the jury had heard as to the deceased's having been alive after 3 November, the greater would have been the likelihood of an acquittal."

The judges said Mr Johnston and Mr Allison had not received a fair trial, but stressed that the decision "does not involve any judgment by this court on their guilt or innocence".