DRAMA student Amanda Duffy had just won an audition at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and was out celebrating with her friends when she bumped into Francis Auld in Hamilton 20 years ago last week.
The 19-year-old had long cherished a dream of becoming a professional actress. But she was never to realise her ambition, for not long after meeting Auld, who she had known since school, she was the victim of an act of ritualistic savagery, which shattered the town in which she lived and undermined many people’s faith in the Scottish legal system.
When Amanda’s half-naked body was discovered in wooded wasteland near the Miller Street car park the following evening, it was clear that not only had she been murdered, but her body had been mutilated; sticks had been thrust into her private parts, her mouth and her nostrils, one so forcefully it penetrated her brain.
For police investigating the crime, one clue stood out; one of Amanda’s breasts had been bitten so hard it bore teeth marks. Though Auld claimed Amanda had left him to go off with a man called “Mark”, dental records proved the bite mark was made by him and he was charged.
It was what happened next that put the criminal justice system in the dock. Auld was represented in court by Donald Finlay, QC, one of Scotland’s most talented defence lawyers. After the jury heard how Auld admitted having bitten Amanda while having a “kiss and a cuddle”, and told police he had lost the jacket he had been wearing after taking it off to climb a tree, the jury returned a “not proven” verdict. Against all expectations, Auld walked free from court.
Amanda’s parents, Joe and Kate, were devastated, with Kate collapsing outside the courtroom. But the case caused consternation in political circles too. Amidst a growing sense that justice had failed, Scotland’s unique “not proven” verdict came under fierce scrutiny, as did the law on double jeopardy, which stopped people being retried for the same alleged offence.
Last Wednesday – more than two years after the double jeopardy rule was scrapped – Strathclyde Police finally made the announcement Amanda’s family have waited two long decades to hear; the inquiry has been reopened. Better still, it seems officers are pursuing definite lines of inquiry. Though details of the investigation are being kept under wraps, Joe and Kate, who have campaigned tirelessly on their dead daughter’s behalf, have had their hopes raised once more.
There is little doubt the police are doing all they can to deliver justice; they have appealed for anyone who may have withheld information to examine their conscience and come forward now. Could it be that, after all this time, the Duffys will finally get the closure they yearn for?
Among the general public, Amanda Duffy is most vividly remembered from the photograph issued after her murder. Wearing a turquoise bridesmaid dress, her most distinctive feature was her mass of red curls, adorned with a spray of flowers. According to her father, Joe, she was bubbly and bright. “She was always full of life and a very good dancer – she was the noisiest in the house,” he said recently.
After her death, Joe and Kate tried to maintain a stable life for the sake of their other children, Paul, Lynn and Angela. Visitors to their suburban home would remark on how immaculate the rooms were, how beautifully maintained the garden.
But scrape beneath the surface and it was clear how much effort was required to keep this semblance of normality intact. Below the veneer of calm, lay an almost visceral anger, not only about the verdict itself, but about the way the family had been treated by the authorities.
Joe and Kate believed justice was weighted in favour of the accused, with the victim and her relatives granted no representation in court. Amanda’s sister Angela, they said, had been forced to wait for 25 minutes in the same room as Auld’s brother.
In particular, they were traumatised by the fact no-one had told them the extent of the injuries Amanda had suffered. “The entire police force in Lanarkshire knew, everybody in the fiscal’s office, everybody in the mortuary, even the media knew. It’s all whispers such as ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this, but…’ Yet we didn’t know,” Joe said at the time.
After Auld was acquitted, the Duffys sued him in civil court where there is no requirement for corroboration and outcome needs to be established on “the balance of probabilities” as opposed to “beyond reasonable doubt”. The family achieved a landmark victory of sorts. Auld was ordered to pay the Duffys £50,000 for the loss their daughter. But, as Auld refused to defend the case, they were deprived of the opportunity of challenging his account of events in open court.
Later, the Duffys, devout Catholics, poured their energies into creating People Experiencing Trauma and Loss (Petal), a charity which helps those who have suffered bereavement through murder or suicide, in an attempt to create a legacy for their daughter. But, through years of campaigning, they have never given up hope that, over time, new evidence would emerge that would allow justice to be served.
In Auld’s defence, Findlay called a psychiatrist, Dr Dallas Brodie, who told the court he could find no evidence of mental illness or mental disorder or personality disorder in Auld, who seemed to be an ordinary young man.
In an interview, a few years after the trial, the QC said he was not surprised by the verdict. “I didn’t think the Crown case was all that good,” he said. “Some bits of it were very strong, but there were some awful gaps. There was a strong indication of somebody else being there or thereabouts at the time.
“There was a gap in time when they couldn’t put him and her together. They didn’t find anything from her on him. Now, if he’d been with her in a violent, bloody incident, you would have expected something to be on him. And there were no fibres from his clothing on her, which was curious.”
To the family and the general public alike, however, the verdict was a travesty, which highlighted the flaws in the criminal justice system in general and the “not proven” verdict in particular.
Scotland is the only jurisdiction in the world to offer three verdicts, guilty, not guilty and not proven. Under a not proven verdict, dubbed the “bastard verdict” by Sir Walter Scott, and known colloquially as “not guilty and don’t do it again”, the accused is acquitted and leaves court without a criminal record, yet, a degree of doubt hangs over him.
Many lawyers argue in its favour, saying without it there would be more miscarriages of justice, but for others it is seen as a cop-out; a means for juries – fearful of wrongly sending someone to jail for life – to acquit in the face of considerable evidence.
After Auld’s acquittal, the Duffys raised a 55,000-name petition calling for the abolition of the not proven verdict, but their campaign, backed by the then local MP George Robertson, was unsuccessful.
Since then, the verdict has continued to provoke criticism, particularly after it was used in the acquittal of Hearts fan John Wilson who had been accused of assaulting Celtic manager Neil Lennon on the touchline at Tynecastle.
Yet subsequent campaigns to scrap it have also been quashed.
“The Amanda Duffy case was highly controversial because of the circumstances surrounding the offence, the acquittal and the feelings and articulacy of the victim’s family, and it raised not only the question of the acquittal itself, but the question of the not proven verdict, a debate which has been ongoing over the years,” says leading criminal lawyer Gerry Brown.
For Brown, the verdict has its place. “It seems to me, as a practitioner, what generally happens is if the jury are happy with acquittal of the accused, they find him not guilty, but where they may be unhappy with his evidence and unhappy with the Crown’s evidence, they’ll say, ‘we don’t want a conviction, so we’ll give him not proven.’ ”
Even if there were to be strong legal and public support for the abolition of the not proven verdict, Brown says, it could not be done in isolation. “If you are going to tamper with one of those two verdicts you have to look at the whole issue of the composition of the jury and the issue of how you deal with majorities, or should it be a unanimous verdict?”
What has changed in the past 20 years is the law on double jeopardy. Since it became possible for a person to be tried for the same crime twice, police forces have been re-examining controversial cases such as the murders of Surjit Singh Chhokar, of teenagers Helen Scott and Christine Eadie (the notorious World’s End murders) and now the murder of Amanda Duffy.
In order to convince the High Court to set aside any acquittal, however, they would have to find new evidence, which was not available, and could not “with the exercise of reasonable diligence” have been made available at the original trial, and which substantially strengthens the case.
After the civil suit, Auld, who has never paid a penny of the damages, moved south with girlfriend Carol, who had, by then, been admonished for sending the Duffys hate-mail in relation to their campaign against the “not proven” verdict.
But at some point Carol left Auld and moved back to Scotland with their son. In 2002, a tabloid newspaper traced Auld to Brighton where he was managing a pub – although he was sacked after details of the court case were revealed. Guilty or innocent, it seems Francis Auld cannot shake off his past.
As for the Duffys, they are still waiting for justice.
“Some days it is hard to believe it has been 20 years since Amanda Jane passed away,” Joe said recently. “A lot of the memories are as clear as yesterday. But it feels like 20 years when I look around and see my other children all grown up and look at my grandchildren.”