THE chief suspect in the Rory Blackhall murder was the subject of a police intelligence file revealing that he posed a sexual risk to children.

A Sunday Herald investigation has established that crucial details about Simon Harris were placed on the Scottish Intelligence Database (SID) before the Livingston schoolboy went missing - information that could have alerted Lothian and Borders Police to the fact that the 37-year-old was a danger to children.

Senior police sources have revealed that the file on Harris would have been available on computer to investigators in seconds if they had carried out a keyword search as simple as "sex", "man" and "Livingston".

The file on Harris, found hanged in his home by police 10 days after Rory went missing and seven days after the 11year-old's body was found, contains a detailed description, a DNA profile, a warning that he was a risk to children and the fact that his house was just a mile away from where police discovered the boy's body.

According to police, Harris was not targeted by them in their initial trawl of potential suspects because he was not a convicted sex offender, and therefore not on the sex offenders' register. At the time of the murder, Harris was awaiting trial on sex abuse charges involving three young girls.

But the revelation that police had access to a file on Rory's killer will raise further questions about how intelligence was used by the police, and follows an earlier disclosure that Harris was reported to detectives two days before his home was raided.

The police source told the Sunday Herald: "Simon Harris is known to SID. If you have the assumption that his file highlights concerns of a sexual nature against children, you won't be far wrong."

Last night a source close to First Minister Jack McConnell expressed concern at the revelation, admitting that police use of intelligence would be a key part of a review launched in the wake of Rory's death.

The review will also focus on the bail system, remand and the management of sex offenders after a catalogue of failures was highlighted by the case last week.

Fury erupted last week after it emerged that Harris had murdered Rory while out on bail. In February this year he appeared in court for a string of sex crimes against three girls aged between two and 11, and was released on bail until Monday, August 22 - the day after the schoolboy was found strangled in woods and dumped under an old tent.

In a further failure, when Harris did not turn up at court, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but police did not receive it for seven days, by which time they had found the killer's body.

The Sunday Herald investigation also exposes for the first time the extent of the crisis within the criminal justice system that is allowing offenders to escape justice and crimes like the killing of Rory Blackhall to take place.

Our investigation found:

Scotland's bail system out of control, with more than 55,000 crimes committed by people who have been granted bail - 14 times the number given by the Scottish Executive last year;

More than 50 sex crimes committed by people while on bail in Strathclyde alone last year, including seven against children;

More than 30,000 outstanding criminal warrants gathering dust in police stations across Scotland's eight forces;

Thousands of warrants written off every year because there is little hope of catching offenders;

Serious concerns among senior police officers at the lack of resources to deal with "bail bandits" and sex offenders.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Herald show there are 30,229 outstanding criminal warrants in Scotland. They reveal that the cases outstanding in Strathclyde number 20,060, while in Lothian and Borders - the force area where Harris slipped through the net - police are chasing 4441, including almost a thousand involving people who have failed to appear at court. In Grampian, police are pursuing 1437 criminals, while in Fife officers have yet to bring 1017 offenders to justice, and in Tayside a further 1208.

Officers of the Northern, Central and Dumfries and Galloway forces are struggling to execute 592, 1075 and 399 outstanding warrants respectively.

Although most of the backlog consists of convicted offenders who have defaulted on fines, criminals - including those wanted for violent crimes or sex offences - are escaping justice.

The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents has revealed that tens of thousands of crimes are committed by people who have been granted bail. Its figures show that in Strathclyde alone, 51 sex crimes were committed by people on bail. Of these offences, 40 were rated as "sexual-related" crimes, four were committed by sex offenders, and seven were described as "sexual-related against a child".

Annabel Goldie, justice spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said the Sunday Herald investigation showed "justice breaking down".

On the apparent failures in the police investigation of Rory Blackhall's murder, Goldie said: "Every experience is instructive. Police officers will be looking at every possible way of improving liaison and co-ordination. If there are any lessons to be learned from this, then it will be in their interests that they learn it."

She said the public would be "horrified" at the number of warrants being pursued by the police, at the thousands of warrants written off each year, and at the tens of thousands of people being freed on bail to commit serious crimes.

"Quite simply, what this shows is justice breaking down. People who will have committed very serious crimes are in many cases not being required to go through the court process. According to these figures, people are simply being allowed to run away from justice with impunity."

Goldie added: "Public safety is being compromised and confidence in the justice system has plummeted. The Scottish Executive must accept responsibility for allowing this to develop over the last six years."

Stewart Stevenson, SNP deputy justice spokesman, said the findings highlighted the Executive's failure to get to grips with the justice system.

He said: "It shows that the different agencies responsible for the criminal justice system are not yet working together in an effective way. We simply can't turn people loose in a way that puts the public at risk. It's clear we are doing that in many cases."

On Wednesday, First Minister Jack McConnell promised that the justice system would be reviewed and updated in the wake of the Rory Blackhall murder. Bail conditions, court bureaucracy, the treatment of sex offenders and the use of police intelligence would be addressed.

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "Inquiries are continuing into Rory's murder, so it is inappropriate to discuss specific details of the case at this time. A report, with all our evidence, will be submitted to the procurator fiscal."

However, a Lothian and Borders Police source said detectives working on the case believed that Harris killed the schoolboy and acted alone.

Rory was reportedly also sexually assaulted before being asphyxiated and dumped in woods in Livingston.

On the police intelligence file on Simon Harris, the source added: "I know people are saying that the cops should have pulled him up, but what you have got to do is prioritise.

You can't just throw out your fishing net and pull in everyone who's got something pending.

"You have to start with your logical steps first. Until you get the sightings and descriptions coming in, you automatically start with the registered sex offenders, which is what we were doing. Everybody seems to have forgotten that we got wind of him fairly early on."

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "It is wrong to say that there is a failure by the Executive to get to grips with the criminal justice system."

She said "many" measures were being introduced to deal with the issues of court bureaucracy, bail and the monitoring of sex offenders.

liam. mcdougall@sundayherald. com


Feb 28: Harris at court on sex charges. Bailed to appear on Aug 22.

Aug 18: Rory vanishes after mum drops him at school.

Aug 21: Body found in woods half a mile away.

Aug 22: Harris fails to appear in court. Warrant is issued for his arrest.

Aug 28: Police storm house in Livingston and find Harris hanged.

Aug 29: Police finally get warrant to arrest Harris.