Lawyer haunted by suicide of Scots shopper wrongly jailed for sexual offences

0
83

A lawyer has told how he is haunted by the suicide of a ­client who was wrongly jailed for sexual offences.

Iain Smith revealed his grief over the death of Malcolm Cowan, who was ­convicted because of errors by a sheriff who was later found dead in his car with a prostitute.

Smith, who was named lawyer of the year at the Scottish Legal Awards in November, helped win a posthumous appeal for the 31-year-old from Lochgelly, Fife.

However, he told of his regret over a final phone call Malcolm made to him before he took his own life on the same night Sheriff Charles Palmer died of a heart attack at Edinburgh’s red light ­district.

The solicitor said he refused to promise the swimming pool attendant that he wouldn’t be going back to prison after he had been released pending his appeal.

Smith said: “In 1999, there was a ­sheriff and jury case in Kirkcaldy.

Lawyer Iain Smith

“It was lewd, libidinous and indecent practices of a guy who had suffered hypoxia when he was young which made him, in colloquial terms, a little bit more simple. So he was a very uncomplicated young man.

“He was ­convicted and ­Sheriff Palmer had given him a year in custody. I managed to get him interim liberation.

“He would always phone me and ask if everything was going to be OK and I’d try and reassure him.

“I remember him phoning me and again he said, ‘I just need you to tell me I’m not going back to jail.’

“I said, ‘I can’t tell you that because I don’t know but you have a very good appeal. I’m sorry I don’t know.’

“And that night he took his own life, which has haunted me.

“Ironically, that same night Sheriff Palmer was found dead in a car with a prostitute. He’d had a heart attack. ­Literally the same night Malcolm had died in his car.”

Speaking to the Hey Legal podcast, Smith added: “Looking back, I appreciate we can’t change history.

“But I wish, in taking account of who I was dealing with, I’d told a bit of a lie and said, ‘Your appeal will be fine.’

“His mum had insisted we ­continue that appeal and it was successful about a year later.

“I’m still friends with the family. They never blamed me and they actually said he had phoned everyone to ask the same thing.”

Malcolm was found guilty following a trial of lewd, indecent and libidinous practices against three girls, aged between seven and nine, in November 1999.

He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment by Sheriff Palmer in December that year. He died in March 2000 on the same night as the 54-year-old sheriff died in the arms of prostitute Sarah Clarke in the back of his car.

Witness Sarah Clarke

Sarah told the Sunday Mail at the time that the dad of three had been a regular client of hers at the red light district in Leith.

She said the sheriff “slumped down in the back of the car” following one of their meetings.

He was taken by ambulance to ­Edinburgh Royal Infirmary but doctors were unable to save him.

In May 2001, the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that Malcolm had suffered a miscarriage of justice because Sheriff Palmer had allowed highly ­prejudicial evidence to go before the jury at his trial.

He allowed jurors to hear evidence about “grooming” because he thought it would be “educational and informative” despite there being no suggestion ­Malcolm had engaged in the practice.