THE identity of Bible John, the serial killer said to have strangled three women in the infamous Barrowland murders 25 years ago, remained unknown last night after the chief suspect, John Irvine McInnes, was comprehensively cleared by the Crown.

The family of McInnes, from Stonehouse in Lanarkshire, have been told that the ex-Scots Guard who killed himself 16 years ago was not the murderer of Helen Puttock, who was strangled in October, 1969.

Last night they were in consultation with their lawyers, but the brother of McInnes, Mr Hector McInnes, said: ``This has been a distressing experience. We have never said we would sue and that is not our intention at the moment. We are delighted at the news.''

The detective who led the original inquiry, Mr Joe Beattie, has told The Herald there was never evidence to directly link the murders of three women to one killer, meaning Bible John is finally consigned to the realms of media invention.

Yesterday's developments came in an unprecedented burst of frankness by the Crown Office, which issued a lengthy statement detailing the sad history of what has become a major debacle for both it and Strathclyde police.

There was no mention in the statement of the alleged pressure the force was under to justify the vast expenditure, the best part of #1m, made on providing a DNA facility. Nor was there any explanation of how the details of one of the most sensitive investigations undertaken by the Scottish police force was leaked to a Sunday newspaper journalist.

Labour's shadow Home Affairs spokesman, Mr John McFall, MP for Dumbarton, last night said: ``We know the police have a duty to investigate unsolved murders. This case seems to be a text-book example of how not to go about it.''

Mr McFall has asked for parliamentary answers on the cost and the conduct of the investigation and awaits replies. The McInnes family MP, Mr Jimmy Hood, accused Strathclyde police of creating a circus.

``Strathclyde police must make a full and public apology to the McInnes family who have been put under enormous strain. The way the case was handled was outrageous.''

The body of Mr McInnes, who was an early suspect but was not picked out in an identity parade by Helen Puttock's sister, was exhumed in a blaze of publicity earlier this year. Since then Mr Hood has repeatedly protested that the family has been kept in the dark.

Police were confident early on that DNA taken from his remains would be quickly matched to DNA taken from a semen stain on the murdered woman's underclothes. As the months dragged on it became apparent that the Strathclyde scientists' efforts were inconclusive, the remains having been severely damaged by 16 years' exposure underground.

The Crown explained the exhumation by saying that after a DNA profile was obtained from the semen. DNA from his sister showed similarities and that, together with evidence of a bite mark on Mrs Puttock's body, led the Glasgow procurator-fiscal to seek a sheriff's approval for the exhumation.

The regional fiscal, Mr Andrew Normand, approved the assistance of the Department of Biological Anthropology of Cambridge University who, in turn, enlisted the help of the Institute of Medicine in Berlin.

The Cambridge scientists concluded the DNA sequence taken from Mr McInnes's thigh bone was different from that taken by the Strathclyde Police scientists from Mrs Puttock's tights and similar DNA taken from the same source.

They said: ``Due to the age and bad state of preservation of the biological evidence, particularly the semen stain, we concluded that there is not sufficient evidence from the current DNA information to link John McInnes to the scene of the murder of Helen Puttock. The results of these DNA analyses provide no evidence to suggest that the semen stain or hair left near the body of Helen Puttock originated from John McInnes.''

The scientists confirmed to the fiscal that the findings excluded Mr McInnes as the source of the stain.

Bite-mark comparisons were carried out by Professor Donald McDonald, professor of oral pathology at Glasgow University, who said that, while Mr McInnes's teeth might have made the marks, because of the limited detail it was not possible to make a valid judgment about probability. This evidence therefore did not point convincingly to Mr McInnes being the originator of the bite.

The Crown also states that DNA profiling carried out by the Strathclyde Police lab scientists did not demonstrate any provable family link between the author of the semen stain and the family of Mr McInnes.

The Crown concluded that the bite mark showed ``insufficient points of detail for any degree of probability to be attributed to its authorship and the evidence would indicate he was not the author of the semen stain found on the tights of Helen Puttock''.

Police had interviewed other witnesses, the Crown said, leading to the fiscal instructing further investigation to clarify particular points. These inquiries would be completed in the near future.