The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)
Report on fatal harbour fall warns over effects of rumour and conjecture
Police and prosecutors should have done more to deter people from making false allegations about the death of Kevin Mcleod, who drowned after an accidental fall at Wick harbour in 1997, a report into his death has concluded.
The Merseyside Police probe criticised a series of unreliable witnesses who approached Kevin’s family with “false allegations”.
The Serious Crime Review Unit’s findings were revealed by The Press and Journal earlier this week.
Kevin’s relatives continue to believe he was murdered despite no evidence of criminality being detected by the latest independent review.
As many as seven witnesses sustained suspicions of foul play over the decades with theories which were “fuelled in the main by rumour and conjecture”.
Investigators said that caused “anxiety” for the family and led to a “waste of police resources in pursuit of fruitless investigations” over 25 years.
The Merseyside report determined that Kevin was “suffering the effects of alcohol” when he fell on to the deck of the fishing boat the Aurora.
Experts agreed that the young man suffered “catastrophic internal injuries” by impacting on one or more of the creel nets on the deck of the boat before going into the water where Kevin drowned.
Merseyside detectives concede they “cannot discount the possibility that he may have been pushed from the quayside” although it’s “highly unlikely”.
The English force’s investigators criticised those who “from malice, mischief or disorder of mind” troubled the family with disproven claims.
They warned that the “allegations might reappear, possibly in a slightly different form, from the same or a different source” in the future.
Merseyside’s report said that Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) “should have developed a more consistent and robust approach” to dealing with false complainers.
It explained: “This should have been by way of arrest, interview and proceeding to Court” to serve as a “disincentive to others inclined to present themselves as witnesses to something which did not happen.”
Scottish authorities commissioned Merseyside Police to reassess the entire case history at a cost of £301,713 to taxpayers.
Among the conclusions and recommendations was criticism of Northern Constabulary’s initial inquiry at the time of the tragedy.
The dossier noted there were “multiple missed opportunities” with “basic lines of inquiry being overlooked” by an “illequipped, underresourced” legacy force.
And Police Scotland’s current Chief Constable Iain Livingstone also came under fire for being “persuaded” to apologise to the Mcleods for the poor police response to their son’s death.
Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins commented: “We will study the review fully to determine how to address its recommendations.”
Former Tory MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Mary Scanlon claimed some of her questions about the case remain unanswered:
● Why did Northern Constabulary officers ignore (deceased) procurator fiscal Alasdair MacDonald’s instruction to conduct a murder inquiry?
● What was the basis of the procurator fiscal instructing a murder inquiry at the time of the tragedy?
● Why did Northern Constabulary destroy Kevin’s clothing despite an ongoing investigation into his death?
● Why didn’t Northern Constabulary give the initial investigation the resources it required, and why didn’t the legacy force bring in expertise from other forces?
The retired politician said: “It’s almost too late now to find these answers. I think further investigations are unlikely to bring any more information forward at this stage.
“All that can happen now is to accept the findings of the report based on the information we’re able to gain.
“The family deserve more than another apology. The powers that be need to reflect on the impact that the police failings have had on this family, and look at how they can help and support the Mcleod family going forward.”