John Docherty loses appeal against conviction and sentence for murder of Elaine Doyle

The man found guilty of the murder of Elaine Doyle, who claimed that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable”, has had an appeal against conviction refused.

John Docherty, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with a punishment part of 21 years in 2014 for the 1986 murder, also argued that the minimum term imposed was “excessive”, but judges also rejected the appeal against sentence.

The Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, sitting with Lady Dorrian and Lord Bracadale, heard that the body of 16-year-old Elaine was found in a lane beside an Air Training Corps hut near her home in Greenock on the morning of Monday 2 June 1986.

She was found naked with her clothing lying around her, having been strangled with a ligature.

The teenager had spent the previous evening with a group of friends at a disco at the Celtic Supporters’ Club, which the appellant had also attended.

The principal evidence against the appellant came, first, from matches between the appellant’s DNA, ultimately obtained in 2012, and cells captured on tape applied to the body of the deceased as it lay in the lane shortly after its discovery.

He was ultimately convicted of the murder in June 2014 after a 52-day trial, but on appeal he argued that the jury had returned a verdict which “no reasonable jury, properly instructed, could have returned”.

Counsel submitted that the police inquiry had been “inept and corrupt” as there had been “no measures to prevent contamination of the scene”.

The taping exercise, which was carried out according to the standards of the time, was “wholly inadequate” for the recovery of items to be subjected to DNA analysis, as there had been “ample opportunity” for contamination, cross-contamination and de-contamination.

It was accepted that the appellant’s DNA had been found on the tapings, but it was submitted that the issue was whether the Crown had proved how it got there.

The DNA found was a “microscopically small quantity” and it was also argued that the jury may have been “overly influenced” by the scientific findings about it.

Refusing the appeal, the judges said there was a “compelling circumstantial case” against the accused and that there were “undoubtedly other adminicles which the jury would have been entitled to regard as incriminating”.

Delivering the opinion of the court, the Lord Justice General said: “The starting point, so far as proof of guilt is concerned, must be the DNA findings. It is not disputed that the appellant’s DNA was found on tapings taken from the back of the deceased’s body, as well as from her face, as it lay in situ not long after the murder.

“It is undoubtedly true that there were significant deficiencies, applying modern standards, in the manner in which the crime scene and the recoveries from it were preserved for laboratory examination. The risk of contamination was clear and, in some respects, realised.

“It can readily be understood how DNA from those involved in the investigation of the murder may inadvertently have found its way onto the deceased’s body or clothing. On the other hand, there is simply no plausible explanation as how the appellant’s DNA could have found its way onto the tapings, other than if the appellant had been the killer and deposited microscopic elements of DNA onto the naked back of the deceased when he strangled her to death. This evidence alone would have entitled the jury to convict the appellant.”

The appellant also challenged his punishment part on the basis that he “ought to have been sentenced in accordance with practice at the time of the offence”, but the judges refused the appeal.

Lord Carloway added: “This was a murder of an innocent 16 year old girl making her way home along the public streets after a night out in central Greenock. It is a crime of rare callousness and brutality. As the trial judge records, it caused widespread public revulsion and anxiety and terrible anguish for the deceased’s family over many years.

“Although the fact that the appellant was in his early 20s when he committed the crime, and is now 51, is a matter to be taken into account, a significant punishment part was inevitable notwithstanding the appellant’s unblemished record since joining the army in the year after the crime. That record was a matter to which the judge had due regard… In these circumstances, the punishment part selected for this murder cannot be regarded as excessive.”

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