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McKie case fingerprint officer fails in job claim

A FINGERPRINT officer who was dismissed in the wake of the Shirley McKie controversy has failed in a legal bid to get her job back.

RULING: Fiona McBride took her case to the Court of Session.
RULING: Fiona McBride took her case to the Court of Session.

However, a ruling by appeal judges could lead to a pay-off for Fiona McBride, 46.

The row goes back to January 1997 when Ms McKie, then a detective constable with Strathclyde Police, supposedly left a fingerprint at a murder scene in Ayrshire. She denied defying orders to stay out of the house where Marion Ross's body had been found.

A perjury conviction was later overturned and Ms McKie was awarded £750,000 in compensation and received an apology from the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA), accepting there had been an error in identifying the suspect fingerprint "Y7" as hers.

Ms McBride, who says there was no mistake, was dismissed in May 2007. Almost two years later an employment tribunal ruled that because the sacking had been handled with a lack of proper consultation it was unfair. It said Ms McBride should be reinstated.

The SPSA, which by then had taken over fingerprint investigations from the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO), accepted the decision the dismissal was unfair, but challenged the order to give Ms McBride her job back.

The case went to an Employment Appeal Tribunal. This time, the SPSA won and the tribunal declared the previous decision "perverse".

Ms McBride took her fight to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Lady Paton, sitting with Lady Dorrian and Lord McGhie heard that in the wake of the McKie row, Ms McBride, and colleagues from the SCRO's Glasgow office who had been suspended, were taken back but underwent a year or more of retraining.

However, at the end of it, they were still not allowed to sign joint reports or give evidence in court. Prosecutors feared that dragging up the previous "misidentification" in court could damage chances of securing convictions.

As the SPSA prepared to take over the fingerprint and other forensic services, Assistant Chief Constable David Mulhern wanted to put the McKie controversy and an unfavourable report from HM Inspector of Constabulary behind him.

He was determined to set up a new organisation that would retain public confidence.

"It is clear he did not think this objective would be assisted by retaining the services of the appellant (Ms McBride) as a fingerprint officer," noted Lady Dorrian.

The judges heard she might have been redeployed within Strathclyde Police or offered a severance package, but Ms McBride insisted she wanted her old job back. She wanted to go back to being a court-going expert.

The judges also heard Ms McBride continued to maintain she had correctly identified "Y7" as Ms McKie's fingerprint despite "a wealth of contradictory opinion".

This had led to clashes with Mr Mulhern who had spoken on television about the "misidentification" causing public concern about the quality of work by fingerprint experts.

The Court of Session judges ruled against reinstatement, but said a tribunal should look again at the question of compensation for Ms McBride, taking into account whether she might have contributed to her sacking.

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