THE chief constable of Scotland's largest police force will today make an unprecedented apology to former detective Shirley McKie for the pain she has suffered as a result of the now infamous fingerprint case.

Stephen House will apologise on behalf of his force, Strathclyde, for the "pain and suffering" it caused to Ms McKie and her father Iain after meeting them last week.

Ms McKie was wrongly accused of leaving her fingerprint at a murder scene, but fully exonerated by a public inquiry that concluded in December.

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She was tried for perjury in 1998 after insisting a fingerprint found in the home of murder victim Marion Ross in 1997 did not belong to her.

Ms McKie was later cleared of lying under oath and, in February 2006, was given £750,000 by the then Scottish Executive in an out-of-court settlement.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill ordered the public inquiry, saying the controversy had "cast a shadow of uncertainty and suspicion" over the individuals involved and the criminal justice system.

Inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Campbell recommended that fingerprint evidence should be now "recognised as opinion evidence and not fact".

In his report, Sir Anthony said the fingerprint in question, known as mark Y7, had been "misidentified as the fingerprint of Ms McKie".

He put this down to "human error" and said there was "no conspiracy against Ms McKie".

Mr House, who joined the force almost a decade after Ms McKie was arrested, will tell the Strathclyde Police Board today that he hopes lessons will be learned.

His statement will say: "I am satisfied that the report did not find fault in the way in which officers of Strathclyde Police had conducted themselves throughout the course of events that led to the establishment

of the inquiry. However, I do want to inform members that I recently met with Shirley McKie and her father Iain.

"I thought that it was entirely right and proper that I apologised to them for the very lengthy and very public process that they had had to endure, and for the pain and suffering that they have experienced as a result.

"Both were officers in Strathclyde Police and it is my belief that Shirley, in maintaining the truth under such traumatic circumstances, adhered to the highest ideals of the police service; displaying honesty and integrity of a remarkably high manner.

"Both Shirley and Iain appreciated the fact that I had met with them and, like me, they hope that lessons can and will be learned as a result of these events, and that the Campbell Report will have a positive effect on forensics and fingerprint practices here in Scotland."

Iain McKie praised Mr House's integrity and said he and Shirley welcomed the apology.

"This is a fitting end to what has been a traumatic 14 years," he said.