THE policeman who led the search for five-year-old Stephen McKerron

after the youngster disappeared from the Wonderwest World Holiday Centre

at Ayr yesterday described the lessons he had learned from the hunt.

At the second day of a fatal accident inquiry into the death of

Stephen, Chief Superintendent David Gall, Strathclyde police divisional

commander at Ayr, said he would now approach a search differently.

However he rejected criticisms of the hunt contained in an anonymous

letter delivered yesterday to Sheriff Neil Gow QC, who is conducting the


Chief Superintendent Gall gave details of the operation which covered

a two-mile radius around the holiday centre and extended along roads to

cover ground near lay-bys.

There was also a door-to-door check in the Doonfoot area of Ayr near

the holiday centre.

The boy went missing last September 17. His body was found 15 days

later. Mr Gall said that by 10.15am on September 18 police and a Royal

Navy helicopter had made a preliminary search covering a two-mile radius

around the centre.

This area was later painstakingly cross-checked. Coastguards and

holiday centre staff had by then searched beaches.

Asked what factors influenced his decision to restrict the main search

to two miles round Wonderwest World, Chief Superintendent Gall said he

weighed up information on Stephen.

Experts had told him there was a 92% probability that the child would

be found within 2.2 miles. The boy's body was found in a ditch by Lady

Margaret MacLehose 4.6 miles as the crow flies from the holiday complex.

Chief Superintendent Gall told the sheriff: ''If I had a similar

situation tomorrow I would clearly ensure that the search was wider.''

But without the knowledge gained from the search for Stepehen he said

he would have carried out an identical search again.

The sheriff put to the chief superintendent the contents of the

anonymous letter which dismissed the search as ''an expensive failure in

all respects''.

The writer said that every parent in the area would want to know why

no civilians, apart from hillwalkers, and no Territorial Army or Navy

personnel were allowed to help.

Chief Superintendent Gall told the sheriff that to his knowledge at

least 38 civilians were involved.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Fleming, 47, of Strathclyde CID,

told the inquiry that during the search he had enlisted the co-operation

of West Yorkshire police who provided a Holmes computer terminal at Ayr.

This enabled statements obtained in the search for Stephen to be

cross-checked against records of the search for missing girls Susan

Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Jane Harper.

A total of 493 statements were taken. Exactly a week after Stephen

disappeared, 560 questionnaires were completed at road checks on the

Ayr-Dunure road.

Detective Chief Inspector Robert Redmond, of Ayr CID, told the sheriff

no-one had come forward to confirm any of the three reported sightings

of a man seen with a boy who could have been Stephen on the night the

child disappeared.

He said when Stephen was found the shoes he was wearing were tied with

double bow knots and there was a muddy sock in the boy's trouser


Despite earlier evidence that Stephen could not tie his own laces,

Chief Inspector Redmond said he read nothing sinister into that.

The evidence suggested to him that the boy had got into mud, taken his

socks off, then slipped his tied shoes back on.

He said that there had been no apparent effort to conceal the body in

the ditch where it was found. There were about 1000 places in the

immediate area where a body could have been concealed and probably never


Pathologist Dr Nancy Cunningham, who carried out a post mortem

examination, told the sheriff Stephen's death was due to exposure.

Asked by Sheriff Gow if she was happy to rule out the possibility of

strangulation, she said she could not rule that out because of the lack

of tissue on the partly decomposed body.

''All we can say is that there were not ligature marks on the back of

the neck,'' she said.

The inquiry closed and Sheriff Gow will give his findings on Friday.