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 The tragedy of Stuart Gair

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PostSubject: The tragedy of Stuart Gair   Wed Sep 03, 2008 3:08 pm

A life ruined by 13 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. An addiction which scarred the precious freedom he finally won. And just as there was hope for the future ... a lonely and sudden death. BY NEIL MACKAY, WHO CAMPAIGNED FOR FIVE YEARS TO PROVE HIS INNOCENCE


THE last time I saw Stuart Gair alive was in a bar just off George Square in Glasgow. I'd spent the best part of the previous five years campaigning for his release from jail for a crime he didn't commit. He'd just been bailed from prison pending his appeal against a life sentence for murder.

It should have been a celebration, but Stuart was homeless and strung out on drugs. He was pale, thin and had trembling heroin sweats so bad that his shirt front was soaked through. He asked if he could crash at my house for a few days. He'd just been thrown out of the house of another friend and supporter - a prison doctor who had tirelessly campaigned on Stuart's behalf - because he'd been shooting up heroin while the doctor's children were about. I had kids too - two little girls aged under five. So, I had to turn my back on him, although he didn't show any anger or act as if he'd been betrayed.

It took until the summer of 2006 for the appeal court to finally clear Stuart's name of the murder of Peter Smith, a former soldier. Smith was stabbed to death in an alleyway in the city centre of Glasgow often used by rent boys.

I met key witnesses who had identified Stuart as the killer. They admitted to me that they perjured themselves following police intimidation. Prosecution witnesses who had placed Stuart at the scene of the crime told me that police officers had threatened to expose them as gay - the men were in the closet - unless they pointed the finger at Stuart.

I uncovered an alibi for Stuart's whereabouts at the time of the murder. Forensic evidence was proved to be fundamentally flawed. Even the family of Peter Smith told me that they had come to believe that Stuart was innocent. By 1999, I'd laid all that information out before the public in the pages of this newspaper. It took another seven years before the state recognised his innocence.

Just to make life difficult for Stuart and for an irritating reporter like me, the prison system repeatedly denied me the right to interview him while he was still inside. That's until the Sunday Herald threatened to sue, however. Then life became a lot easier. Before that, Stuart and I mostly had to rely on time-consuming letters, all of which I still have. I was reading them the other night. In person, he was diffident and conscious of his lack of formal education. In print, he was more free and confident, a well-read, amusing, intelligent man. If life had dealt him another hand, I'm sure he would have been a writer and a good one, at that.

In the intervening six years since I last saw him, the stories I heard about Stuart had a miserable inevitability to them. He kept getting arrested for heroin possession with intent to supply and drifted about from hostel to hostel, dossing where he could. He even took money from the bank account of his elderly disabled mum and stashed drugs to deal in her nursing home. And there was another tale about him giving booze to kids.

He'd spent 13 years as an innocent man behind bars, he'd got hooked on smack while in prison, and then when the system finally, grudgingly, decided that he might not be a killer after all, it threw him out on to the streets an angry, confused addict, without a penny in his pocket or a roof over his head.

Last Tuesday night, I got a phone call from John McManus, who runs the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (Mojo) in Glasgow. On the previous Friday, Stuart suffered a minor heart attack. Alone at home in his flat in Leith, Stuart called 999 and waited for the ambulance.

IN a final irony, for a man who lived his life in the media glare, the paramedics who arrived had a camera crew in tow. TV investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre was making a film about the emergency services. Stuart recognised the reporter and started telling him about his life. Not long into the conversation, Stuart's head rocked backwards as he suffered the first of a series of massive cardiac arrests which starved his body of oxygen. By the time the medics got him to hospital, he was effectively brain dead.

Machines kept Stuart alive until Tuesday, when doctors at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary eventually tracked down his friends, McManus and Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six. Hill- who spent 16 years in jail for IRA atrocities that he did not commit - now lives in Beith with his family, but still bears the mental scars of what he went through.

They stayed with Stuart while doctors switched off the machines. Ian Stephen, the acclaimed Scottish psychologist and a prominent member of Mojo, was also there.

On Wednesday, I travelled from Glasgow to Edinburgh with Stuart's friends. John from Mojo was there, along with his colleague Cathy Molloy, and Hill was driving. They needed to go through things at this flat; look for important documents. They needed to do simple things too, like empty his fridge, cancel the phone and gas. They needed to tie up the loose ends of his life.

While we drove from city to city, they told me about the last two years of Stuart's life and how he'd turned the corner. After his final spell in jail for heroin, he'd stayed clean. He'd even managed to kick the horribly-addictive medically-prescribed heroin substitute methadone last Christmas.

This was a man who'd somehow rediscovered his lust for life. He'd got a flat, he was writing, eating well, swimming, hill-walking, chasing women and falling in love. Somewhere, just over the horizon, lay the promise of at least a £1 million pay-out from the state for wrongful conviction. One moment, he was thinking about moving to the country, the next of living the life of a well-heeled urbanite .

The front door of Stuart's flat has multiple locks - a hangover from prison that many victims of miscarriage of justice suffer from; they need the security of the locked door before they can sleep at night. The flat was neat and tidy, smelling faintly of soap and aftershave.

By his bed-side was a little bag with a tiny amount of hash inside. Beside it, was a book on Buddhism, some joss sticks and candles. Cathy started looking for his papers. She and Stuart were close, like a brother and sister, and he'd told her his entire life could be found in a little brown washbag. Cathy broke down when she found it. Inside, there were pictures of his mum - who is now dead - and his birth certificate with the father's name left blank.

Some CDs by Amy Macdonald, Damien Rice, Johnny Cash, Moby and Joni Mitchell were at his bedside too.

A little while later, Stuart's girlfriend Mairi arrived. She asked for her second name not to be used in any article. She cried in Cathy's arms and then crumpled to the living room floor as John tried to explain what had happened. She'd only found out that her lover had died that morning - a day after his death - when a friend read a small report in the local paper. Mairi had been at her parents' home in Fife, and because of the problems the doctors had finding next of kin, no-one had contacted her.

"I can't bear to think of him all alone in that hospital, dying by himself, when I could have been with him," she said over and over again, in a low, keening voice. She and Cathy hugged again. Then they talked, and Mairi spoke of Stuart's 17-year-old daughter. Everyone in that room thought that she had died years ago as a young child. But apparently, she was alive and well and growing into a young woman somewhere in Scotland.

Who knows why Stuart only spoke of her to Mairi. He was a man who liked secrets. Mojo staff hope they can find her by the end of next week when Stuart will be cremated and his ashes scattered over Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh where he loved to walk with Mairi. He has few other living relatives.

FATE had it in for Stuart Gair. All his roles in life set him up for a sorry end. A little boy who never knew his dad; a teenage petty thief fitted up for murder; a jailbird junkie on a mission to self-destruct; and finally a man on the road to happiness with a misfiring heart in his chest that he knew nothing at all about.

Jim McGregor - the prison doctor who first contacted me to campaign on behalf of Stuart and then had to face what he calls the "horror story" of Stuart taking his drug problems into his home - says the state must accept its part in Stuart's death.

"I half expected one day to hear that Stuart had been found dead," he said. "The only lesson to be learned from his life is that the police and courts are corrupt and nothing has changed. No-one has had the balls to change the system which his case showed to be rotten.

"Everything remains the same, so more innocent people will end up going to prison, and more damaged individuals will end up coming out. And still - to this day - we do not know who killed Peter Smith. A killer is still on the streets. God knows how many others suffered at his hands."

7:25pm Saturday 3rd November 2007
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PostSubject: Hapless Scottish victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice   Wed Sep 03, 2008 3:13 pm

Hapless Scottish victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice

Stuart Gair, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 44, was the victim of one of Scotland's most flagrant miscarriages of justice. He was born in Reading, Berkshire, never knew his father and was brought up in Plean, a small mining community near Stirling, when his mother returned to her home area. After a troubled childhood, he lived mainly on the streets in Glasgow and survived through small-time criminality.

On April 11 1989, Peter Smith, a supermarket manager, was found dead from a single stab wound to the chest in a well-known gay cruising area of the city. At the time, Gair was with his girlfriend and two acquaintances in a hostel. However, he was picked up the following morning for an unrelated minor offence. When Strathclyde police found out that he was from Plean (where Smith had also been brought up), they began to build a case against him for the murder.

A number of young, frightened gay men were pressured into giving evidence. Forensics ostensibly linked Gair with what was purported to be the murder weapon. For reasons that remain obscure, his alibi witnesses were never called to give evidence. According to witnesses, Smith had been attacked by two men. William McLeod, another vulnerable young man, was coerced into signing a confession that he and Gair had killed Smith together. Charges against McLeod were then dropped and he became the main prosecution witness. At trial, however, he said he had signed the confession only under duress. That evening, he was threatened with perjury charges, and the following day went back to court to restate the untruthful account.

Gair was convicted by an 8-7 majority verdict on August 30 1989 and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Glen Ochil prison, he was befriended by Dr Jim MacGregor, who was a GP in Alloa and part-time medical officer at the prison. MacGregor studied the papers, concluded that it was "a shocking case of corruption" and helped to mobilise a growing campaign. The case became a cause celebre; among those lending assistance was Peter Mullan, the Scottish actor and director of The Magdalene Sisters.

From 1995, Gair was represented by Glasgow solicitor John Macaulay, who uncovered "one impropriety after another" and built up an impressive dossier of evidence for his client. Key witnesses retracted their evidence. Dr Bill Hunt, a leading pathologist, described the forensic science evidence as ranging from "quite seriously flawed" to "total nonsense".

In 1999, Gair's became the first contemporary case to be referred to appeal by the new Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. Pending the appeal's outcome, he was released on bail in 2000. While the case was becalmed in the torpid Scottish judicial process, he was living a kind of purgatory. "I didn't comprehend how mentally damaged he was as a result of the years he'd spent in prison as an innocent man," said MacGregor.

Gair, a heroin user, had no family, no support, no means of getting by, and he alienated many of those who had tried to help him. He was taken to court three times on other charges, twice for possession of heroin and once for breach of the peace after inviting two schoolboys back to his flat.

Finally, his conviction for Smith's murder was overturned at appeal in 2006. There was general disquiet - although not surprise - that, rather than opening the can of worms that the case represented, the judges allowed the appeal on the limited ground of non-disclosure of evidence.

After that, friends felt that Gair had turned the corner. However, on October 26, Donal MacIntyre, the television reporter, was filming with ambulance crews in Edinburgh when they were called to the flat of someone who had just suffered a major heart attack; it was Gair. MacIntyre stayed with him at the Royal Infirmary and contacted Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, and John McManus, who together run Mojo (Miscarriages of Justice Organisation) Scotland.

"He was gifted and highly intelligent," MacGregor said, "but his whole life seemed blighted. The biggest tragedy was that he died just as he was beginning to look forward and to plan his life."

· Stuart Gair, miscarriage of justice victim, born August 27 1963; died October 29 2007
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PostSubject: Man's murder conviction quashed   Wed Sep 03, 2008 3:15 pm

Man's murder conviction quashed


A man who has spent 17 years protesting his innocence over a knife murder has been cleared by appeal judges.

Stuart Gair, 42, had his conviction quashed after it was ruled he suffered a miscarriage of justice at his trial.

Lord Abernethy said a failure to disclose witness statements to his lawyers deprived the defence of a "powerful argument" on identification.

Mr Gair, who was found guilty of murdering Peter Smith after a trial in Glasgow in 1989, said he was relieved.

After a brief appearance at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, he added: "I am shattered, absolutely shattered. I am still shaking."

Mr Smith, of West Plean, in Stirlingshire, was stabbed to death in North Court Lane on 11 April, 1989.

Mr Gair denied committing the offence but was convicted by a majority verdict and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was freed on bail in 2000.

Toilets claim

His case was referred back to the appeal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review, which was set up to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice.

At his trial, Mr Gair put forward a defence of alibi. He maintained he was in another part of Glasgow at the time of the murder near toilets on St Vincent Place.

During the trial a witness, Brian Morrison, identified Mr Gair and his former co-accused as the men he saw come out of the toilets and go in the direction of North Court Lane.

We have come to the conclusion the non-disclosure of these police statements and other information resulted in a miscarriage of justice
Lord Abernethy

But in previous statements to police he had given conflicting information.

He told officers: "I have to tell you that a lot of what I have already told the police is not the truth and I made up some of it to attract attention to myself."

Defence counsel Gordon Jackson QC argued that if this information had been available to his lawyers at the trial, Mr Morrison could have been cross-examined in such a way to show that the jury could not trust a word he said.

A note had been attached to Crown papers for the trial which said at one point he had signed himself into a psychiatric hospital.

It said: "Morrison and his vivid imagination certainly set the police off on the trail of a red herring initially."

'Important witness'

Mr Jackson argued that all this information had been available to the Crown but the defence had none of it.

The Crown accepted before the appeal court that the four statements given by Mr Morrison should have been disclosed to the defence but argued that no miscarriage of justice resulted from the failure to do so.

Lord Abernethy, who heard the appeal with Lord Kingarth and Lord Sutherland, said: "Morrison was a very important witness even if not an essential one.

"In our opinion there is no doubt that all four of Morrison's police statements should have been disclosed to the defence.

"These statements showed that Morrison was prepared to tell lies, to fantasise and to change his account when it suited him."

The information that he had been a patient at Leverndale Hospital should also have been made available.

Lord Abernethy said: "In these circumstances we have come to the conclusion that the non-disclosure of these police statements and other information resulted in a miscarriage of justice."
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/5168386.stm

Published: 2006/07/11 11:42:17 GMT
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