THERE was anger last night after it was revealed that the police officer who led the original, discredited inquiry into the murder of young footballer Lawrence Haggart is to escape punishment.

Central Scotland Police chiefs were said to be furious after moves to discipline Superintendent Jim Winning had to be shelved after a bid to block his early retirement failed.

Deputy Chief Constable Mike Currie sought legal advice last week in a bid to block Mr Winning's retirement so he could face a disciplinary hearing, but his bid failed.

Mr Currie was said to be furious yesterday after being told by legal advisers there was nothing they could do to prevent Mr Winning from retiring on health grounds.

Mr Winning, in his late 40s, who has been with the force for more than 20 years, will now be allowed to retire immediately.

Under present guidelines - currently under review by the Scottish Office - police officers can be immune from disciplinary proceedings if they are forced to retire early on health grounds.

The Herald also exclusively revealed earlier this month that disgraced Tayside policeman Detective Constable Ian Gibson, jailed for three months for indecently assaulting a lone mother, had retired with a lucrative police pension despite attempts by Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar and the officer's own chief constable to block the award.

Scottish Office outrage at the Gibson case helped persuade Home Secretary Jack Straw to order an urgent review of the UK-wide police pensions system.

Last night, Lawrence Haggart's father expressed his fury at news of Mr Winning's retirement from the Central Scotland force.

Mr Larry Haggart, 37, from Dunipace, near Falkirk, whose legal suit against Central Scotland Police alleging defamation and stress is currently on hold until the disciplinary proceedings are complete, said: ''It's a bloody disgrace. That man put our family through hell the way he handled the inquiry.

''It's shocking he is being allowed to retire, which means he won't be punished for what he did.

''He was convinced my youngest son Dennis murdered his brother, and even threatened my ex-wife and me with prosecution for withholding evidence.''

Local MP Dennis Canavan, for Falkirk West, last night echoed Mr Haggart's anger, and said he planned to contact the Lord Advocate to discuss the possibility of criminal action against Mr Winning and other officers.

Tory Home Affairs spokesman Paul Cullen, QC, last night also condemned the move and said senior public figures must be brought to task for their actions.

Two other officers in the original inquiry, Detective Sergeant Alan Stewart and Detective Sergeant Bob Beveridge, were disciplined and demoted to uniform last week. The week before, Detective Inspector John Bunyan was suspended for his part in the original inquiry.

Mr Winning's ill health prevented him giving evidence at the trial, in May, of paedophile Brian Beattie, 33 - Lawrence Haggart's killer.

Beattie became prime suspect after Mr Winning was relieved of leadership of the inquiry when Detective Superintendent Joe Holden took over 18 months after the murder of the youngster.

Mr Winning's team had questioned Beattie within 24 hours of the murder, but released him after he produced an alibi. Suspicion then fell on the victim's brothers Dennis and John.

But after Mr Winning was taken off the inquiry, Mr Holden turned his attention to Beattie, and the convicted gay sex attacker was found guilty and jailed for 15 years at the High Court in Edinburgh, in May.