A CONVICTED murderer savoured his first real taste of freedom for 20 years yesterday after appeal judges accepted that he had been the victim of a tragic miscarriage of justice.

As he walked from the Court of Criminal Appeal, Andrew Smith said: ''This is what I was born with - freedom. This is what I was trying to get back.''

Mr Smith, 43, who was convicted of murder in 1977, now plans to seek compensation from the Scottish Executive after consulting with his lawyer, the Glasgow solicitor John Macaulay, whom he described yesterday as ''my knight in shining armour''.

Mr Smith, who now lives in Forfar, said his life had been ruined by his murder conviction and his ambition now was ''just to be happy'', get a passport and have a holiday.

He explained that he had refused parole for the last 13 years on a point of principle but never gone on the roof to protest or resorted to violence in prison.

''I had a clear vision of what I was trying to do because I was innocent. I was told I must be either mad or innocent and I'm not mad. But I'm not going to let the system twist me or put bitterness in me.''

Mr Smith was convicted of murdering Richard Cunningham, 29, who died from head injuries following a struggle in a pub in Larkhall. He claimed he had acted in self defence but pathologists gave crucial evidence that the fatal injury had been inflicted by a kick to the head.

Now, six eminent pathologists have concluded that the injury was more likely to have been caused by a fall and that there was no evidence to support the view that the victim's skull was fractured by a kick.

The Crown accepted that in light of the new evidence Mr Smith had suffered a ''tragic'' miscarriage of justice but argued yesterday that he should still be convicted of the less serious charge of culpable homicide.

Mr Edgar Prais QC, defence counsel, told appeal judges yesterday that the case against Mr Smith was that he had kicked the victim's head while he lay on the ground.

''It is now agreed that the view expressed in 1977 was simply wrong and it is indeed a falling down death.

''The jury were led into the misconception that self defence was effectively ruled out. Because of the new pathological evidence, self defence is now extremely pertinent and relevant.''

Mr Prais told the court that when Smith was sentenced in February 1977 Lord Avonside, the trial judge, indicated that he should serve a short sentence.

Mr Smith was released in August 1983, having served just six-and-a half years, but recalled to jail on licence in April 1985 for breach of peace and driving offences.

He was released again in August 1985 but recalled in November 1986. ''The suggestion was that he had breached the Civic Government (Scotland) Act,'' Mr Prais explained. He had apparently been urinating against the wall of a shop. That never came to court as a charge. He was simply recalled under licence.

''From November 1986 he remained in custody until he was granted bail in October last year.''

Mr Prais described that situation as ''astonishing'' and made clear that Mr Smith's solicitors intended to take the matter further.

Lord Rodger, the Lord Justice General who heard yesterday's appeal with Lord Marnoch and Lady Paton, said they would quash the murder conviction and give written reasons later. They did not replace it with a conviction for culpable homicide.