Bungling cops thought murder victim had simply fallen over
Police have apologised to the family of a man who was brutally killed after they failed to launch a murder investigation until a week after his death.
Officers initially thought Brian McKandie, 67, had fallen over after finding his body at his blood spattered cottage in Badenscoth, Aberdeenshire.
Despite him suffering more than 15 blows to the head, police made the decision not to call a pathologist to assess the body.
After Steven Sidebottom, 25, was found guilty of murder this week, Superintendent Iain Smith revealed the force had apologised to Brian’s relatives for their mistakes.
The blunder allowed the crime scene to be contaminated by emergency crews, a police photographer and even the family undertaker.
Speaking outside the High Court in Aberdeen , DS Smith said: “We fully apologised to Mr McKandie’s family.”
When police first went to view Brian’s body in March 2016, Detective Inspector Kerry McCombie was duty SIO (senior investigating officer).
By the time she had made the 30-minute drive from Aberdeen to Badenscoth, colleagues had a theory Brian had fallen and banged his head.
McCombie agreed and chose not to call out a police pathologist.
In court McCombie, 46, admitted: “With hindsight and what I know now, I would have done things differently.”
Three days later, pathologist Professor James Grieve unzipped Brian’s body bag – and immediately closed it, telling police he suspected foul play.
His full examination revealed Brian had suffered at least 15 blunt-force blows to his head, leaving it “shredded”.
Nearly a week had been lost before a full-blown murder investigation was launched.
Almost seven weeks after his body was found, police found a number of sweet tins and shoeboxes in the rural cottage containing around £200,000.
Grieve said he’d have preferred to have seen Brian’s corpse as it was found – wedged behind his living room door.
He insisted a forensic pathologist would have been “the best person present” to assess Brian’s injuries.
Brian’s head had been bludgeoned with a heavy implement. He likely lived for several hours, lapsing in and out of consciousness.
The trial heard police, firefighters, forensic photographers, paramedics and undertakers traipsed through the blood-stained hallway, unaware it was a murder scene.
None of those present wore protective clothing and shoe covers, putting the scene at risk of contamination.
It meant time had to be spent eliminating DNA and fingerprints left by members of the emergency services.
There were fragments of scalp, hair and blood on wall harling and drainpipes outside but police still suspected a fall.
With rain falling outside, a part-time fireman used vehicle hubcaps to protect the pieces of scalp skin and hairs.
Scottish Police Authority forensic scientist Kenneth Brown was sent photographs by Grieve, showing blood inside the house.
He said the blood patterns, known as “impact spatter”, was “quite different” from someone falling and banging their head.
Brown identified areas of heavy blood-staining and drips of blood.
He said it all pointed to the deceased “having been struck multiple times”.
There was also evidence of cast-off from “a bloody weapon” being swung. No DNA linking Sidebottom to Brian McKandie was ever found.
Referring to the contamination of evidence, Brown said: “It seemed to happen more in this case than other cases I have worked on.”
Despite the blunders, Sidebottom was convicted of murder yesterday.
Brian’s brother Billy said: “Whatever the outcome at court, the fact remains that Brian is no longer with us.
“He was a much-loved and respected member of the
community – a hard-working and quiet man who wouldn’t have done anyone a bad turn.
“The reality is we will never understand why Brian – a complete gentleman – died in such a brutal and senseless way, and it is something we will never come to terms with.”
The probe into Brian McKandie’s death was marred from the start by errors from police, who failed to recognise that he had been bludgeoned and risked destroying evidence at the scene.
Here are the mistakes that could have put killer Steven Sidebottom’s conviction in jeopardy.
● Detective Inspector Kerry McCombie, the senior investigating officer (SIO) concluded that Brian McKandie had fallen and banged his head.
● On visiting Brian’s home, she opted not to call out a police pathologist.
● Brian’s death was put down as “unexplained” pending a post mortem.
● Police Scotland’s major investigation unit were only called after pathologist James Grieve told the procurator fiscal he suspected foul play.
● Grieve’s examination revealed Brian’s head had been battered to a pulp. He told the trial he should have seen Brian’s corpse as it was found – wedged behind his living room door.
● Scottish Police Authority forensic scientist Kenneth Brown said blood patterns, known as “impact spatter”, were “quite different” from someone falling and banging their head.
● Brown said all evidence pointed to the deceased “having been struck multiple times” while bleeding in the hallway. There was also evidence of cast-off from “a bloody weapon” being swung.
● While the death was being treated as unexplained, police officers, firefighters, forensic photographers, paramedics and undertakers walked through Brian’s cottage, unaware it was a murder scene.
● Pieces of scalp skin and hairs were seen outside the house by a part-time fireman, who, suspecting foul play, used vehicle hubcaps to cover them.
● Hours of police time was taken
up eliminating DNA and fingerprints left by emergency services and others, including an undertaker, at the scene.
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