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

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

A lawyer told of the suicide of a client wrongly imprisoned for sex offenses.

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

Smith, who was named Attorney 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 said he regretted the last call Malcolm had made to him before he committed suicide that same night. Sheriff Charles Palmer died of a heart attack in Edinburgh’s red light district.

The lawyer said he refused to promise the lifeguard that once he was released he would not return to prison until his appeal.

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

Attorney Iain Smith

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“It was indecent, libidinal, and indecent practices by a man who suffered from hypoxia at a young age, which made him a bit easier on the colloquial side. So he was a very easy going young man.

“He was convicted and Sheriff Palmer had given him a year in prison. I managed to temporarily free him.

“He used to call me and ask if everything was going to be okay and I would try to calm him down.

“I remember he called me and again he said, ‘All you have to do is tell me I’m not going back to jail. ‘

“I said, ‘I can’t tell you because I don’t know, but you are very attractive. I’m sorry I don’t know ‘

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

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

Speaking to the Hey Legal podcast, Smith added, “In retrospect, I appreciate that we cannot change history.

“But I wish I had lied a little, considering the people I have dealt with, and said, ‘Your calling will be fine. ‘

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

“I’m still friends with the family. They never accused me and they actually said he called everyone to ask the same thing. “

Malcolm was found guilty in November 1999 following a trial of indecent, indecent and libidinal practices against three girls, ages seven to nine.

In December of that year, Sheriff Palmer sentenced him to 18 months in prison. He died in March 2000 on the same night that the 54-year-old sheriff died in the arms of prostitute Sarah Clarke in the back of his car.

Witness Sarah Clarke

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

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

He was taken to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh in an ambulance, but the doctors couldn’t save him.

In May 2001, the Court of Appeals ruled that Malcolm had been miscarried because Sheriff Palmer presented highly adverse evidence to the jury at his trial.

He allowed the jury to hear evidence about “nursing” because he thought it would be “educational and informative”, although there was no indication that Malcolm had looked at the practice.