'Killer' gets leave to appeal after 19 years

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The case of Raymond Gilmour, convicted for murdering a schoolgirl 20 years ago in what is widely seen as a miscarriage of justice, has been sent back to the Court of Appeal.

After an investigation lasting nearly three years, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission said it has serious doubts about his conviction for murdering Pamela Hastie, then 15, in woods close to their homes in Paisley, near Glasgow.

Gilmour, now 38, was convicted without the corroboration normally required. The prosecution failed to produce forensic evidence or witnesses, and Gilmour retracted his confession, which was itself highly inaccurate. MPs and senior lawyers expressed doubts about the safety of his conviction after investigations in the early 1990s revealed serious weaknesses in both the confession and the police pathologists reports. Senior detectives involved in the original Hastie murder inquiry were also privately unhappy about Gilmour's conviction.

The case came to national prominence in 1994 after the Channel 4 documentary Trial and Error revealed that several Home Office experts, including Dr Iain West, the criminal pathologist, and Angela Gallop, a forensics expert, believed there were serious flaws in the prosecution's case.

Last week, the SCCRC told Gilmour's lawyer that it believed that his conviction "might have been a miscarriage of justice". The commission has now referred it back to the Appeal Court, saying it was troubled by the lack of forensic evidence, inaccuracies in the confession, and a report by Dr Gisli Gudjonsson, professor of forensic psychology at the University of London. He found that Gilmour was an easily suggestible and emotionally immature young man who would have been easily bullied by the police.

His confession and a map allegedly describing the murder were also discredited by another forensic psychologist, Eric Shepherd, who claimed they were constructed by several people. The map also showed several different handwriting styles. Dr West said the pathologist's report disproved prosecution claims that Gilmour had struck her with a branch but in fact suggested her attacker had been brandishing a knife.

Gordon Ritchie, Gilmour's solicitor, said last night: "After nearly nine years of investigation and 19 years of imprisonment for Raymond, the author- ities have finally accepted that his conviction might not be safe." The decision is an embarrassment for the Government. In 1997, the then Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, who died last year, rejected an appeal on the same evidence on the grounds it did not constitute new evidence.

His decision highlighted criticism about the very strict rules for appeals in Scotland, which bar any re-evaluation of material available at the time of conviction. Lawyers also said the case raised serious questions about the fairness of the legal system, since Gilmour was convicted without corroboration.