The Crown Office, quashed paedophile charges, perversion of the course of justice, embezzling millions from the taxpayer, State collusion with organised crime, and death in Pakistan
On 23rd May 2007, a prominent Scottish QC appeared in Court – this time as the defendant rather than the barrister. He had been charged with indecency offences involving a 13-year-old boy in the toilets of a shopping mall. The accused denied persuading the boy to follow him into a public toilet at the McArthur Glen Shopping centre in Livingston, and then making indecent sex remarks to him. The exact indictment quoted ‘behaving in a lewd manner or committing an indecent breach of the peace on 13 February 2006.’
For many Scottish barristers at the time, it looked bad for the lawyer. But the Crown Office dropped the proceedings against the man, after it was claimed that “new evidence” had emerged in the case.
The man was Mark Strachan QC…..not to be confused with international Oxbridge QC Mark Strachan of Parkside Chambers, Hong Kong, who trained and practised in England. The name problem has confused researchers in the past, but there is no mistaking the 52-year-old Caledonian version.
Strachan is part of a Scottish legal mafia that seems to bounce from one dark cloud of malfeasance to another. Its epicentre is the institution known usually as SLAB – the Scottish Legal Aid Board. One-time boss of SLAB, Douglas Haggarty, was arrested in 2009 for soliciting a rent boy. His fellow SLAB colleague Paul McBride QC then went to…yes, that’s right, the Crown Office….and asked them to drop the charges because of ‘lack of evidence’. The Crown Office duly obliged.
Widespread criticism of McBride’s conflict of interest in representing Douglas Haggarty in the rent boy scandal came from the entire UK legal spectrum.
Haggarty’s exact title was Chief of Legal Services at the Scottish Legal Aid Board. He has sat on various Scottish Government consultation groups which included the most senior members of the legal profession, the Law Society of Scotland, and senior Police officers. Oh dear. It’s all so familiar, isn’t it? But if this didn’t bring SLAB into disrepute, more was to come.
On 11th July 2011, the Daily Record reported that ‘a leading criminal lawyer is being probed by police over an alleged Legal Aid fraud. Advocate Mark Strachan, 52, is alleged to have swindled more than £60,000 in travel expense claims from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB). The fraud is alleged to have been going on for the past four or five years. Strachan, who specialises in criminal trials and carries out work at the Court of Criminal Appeal, made £91,600 from legal aid work last year, £79,800 in 2008-9 and £102,700 the year before that.’
Oddly enough, SLAB board member Paul McBride QC also earned over £217,000 in legal aid fees while representing clients in the Scottish courts last year. In fact, SLAB corruption goes back a long way: in 2006, the Record exposed a Glasgow Solicitor, Robert Taylor, for giving clients’ money to solicit legal aid business…..persuading them to sign legal aid claim forms. In 2011, Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, 60, was accused of having raked in more than £600,000 in two years via a similar fiddle.
By the time 2012 dawned, the case in general (and the one against Lockhart) was growing in size. So much so, in fact, that the McLegal elite decided to step in with a fix: SLAB itself having already been caught by Lothian police covering up evidence, the top legal beagles decided they’d seen enough dirty linen for one decade.
In a grubby, shameless deal done between the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Legal Defence Union over Lockhart being investigated by the Law Society, solicitor James McCann from the Legal Defence Union stepped in to prevent any further investigations or prosecutions of ‘their client’ Niels Lockhart. Sod the taxpayer: let’s make sure the lawyers come out as clean as a whistle.
Once again, the obvious stitch-up was roundly condemned by senior members of the legal profession and even insiders at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. But in the end, with a staggering fourteen lawyers facing damning evidence of embezzlement, not one of them was brought to trial. Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny McCaskill backed the…yes, for a third time…Crown Office refusal to prosecute any of the Felonious Fourteen. The Crown Office had said it was not in the public interest that lawyers be hauled before the courts on criminal charges…and that was good enough for Kenny.
No mention at all was made of the paedophilia element involved. And so – after this appalling run of bad luck by Strachan in being wrongly accused of both paedophile advances and embezzlement from the taxpayer – he was left at liberty to follow another legal interest: trying to get paedophiles off. On 22nd November 201o, he defended Ranald Matheson (69) of Muir of Ord against charges of indecency against six young girls. During the case, Defence counsel Mark Strachan said Matheson denied any wrongdoing, but Matheson was quickly convicted of 16 charges, of which 12 were for indecency offences. The abuse began in 1995. It included getting the girls to bathe in a wheelie bin at a garage business he had owned, and giving some of the girls alcohol to encourage them to watch pornographic videos.
Strachan closed his post-verdict appeal to the judge with the words, “while a prison sentence is inevitable in this case, I would ask your Lordship to consider imposing one as short as possible”. No rationale as to why was added to this, but the Judge Lord Brailsford prompty obliged by sentencing Matheson to four years. With good behaviour, he’s probably due to come out at any time. Lord Brailsford, in a masterpiece of understatement, told the guilty man that his behaviour was “unacceptable”. Ranald Matheson showed no remorse.
SEQUEL: Paul McBride QC (left) went on a trip to Pakistan in March this year, and was found dead in his hotel room. Two men were at the time on trial in Glasgow accused of conspiring to murder him. Pakistani authorities later said McBride had died of “a heart attack”.
In fact, McBride was on a mission to bring mega tax evader Imran Hussain back to the UK. Significantly, sources close to the action have asserted that the QC went with authority from the Crown Office to deal on the case – an entirely credible assertion given his life history. It seems he had carte blanche to broker a deal for a shorter sentence, but the negotiations did not go well: Hussain preferred to pay a large fine, rather than be sentenced to a jail term. A legal insider said he believed parties within the negotiations had “got lippy over what was on offer”. McBride was later found dead in his hotel room. The Sunday Mail in Scotland continues to refer to ‘the increasingly questionable circumstances surrounding the death in a Pakistan hotel room of one of Scotland’s most celebrated lawyers, the late Paul McBride QC’.
Those who live by the sword must expect to die by it, and there can be little doubt that McBride was a major-league crook. But he was no ordinary hood: he was a senior and influential officer of the Scottish State. In the same way that the English State colludes with Stephen Hester over his activities at RBS, and Rotherham Council and police colluded with paedophiles there; in the same way that MPs and the police in the West Country collude with the Judiciary to obtain gagging orders; and in much the same way that Home Office staff and police have in the past colluded with paedophile MPs to cover up the scandal of endemic sexual abuse of children in care, so too in Scotland, lawyers with odd proclivities and infinite greed pervert more than defenceless kids: they pervert a justice system they are supposed to be in charge of protecting.
But when faced with searching questions on a TV sofa, the Prime Minister of Great Britain answers, “If you think you know something, go to the police”. The interviewer is later forced to apologise for daring to put a politician on the spot. And Boris Johnson calls the entire affair “scandalous rumour and innuendo”.
And still the idiots ask, “But how did Jimmy Savile get away with it for so long?” Well, you decide.
I am indebted to Sloggers on both sides of the Border for their contributions to this account. However, I must also single out the tireless efforts of law blogger Peter Cherbi for his tenacious pursuit of the bad, the brazen, and the ugly north of the Border. His site at the link above is a reminder that good men are still doing something.