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Authors: Gillian Galbraith

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The next witness was the previous witness’s wife. She entered the conference room and looked round it fearfully, registering that all eyes in the place were fixed upon her. She was dressed
in an overly tight cream suit. Under one arm she clutched a beige handbag. It was her Sunday best, but the heels she had chosen to go with the ensemble were higher than those she usually wore to
church. She had calculated that she would not have to walk too far, so there would be no danger of keeling over in them, as she had once done en route to the Ladies in the bingo hall. On TV
programmes, her only insight into trials, witnesses stood still to give their evidence. She answered the questions in a faint, smoke-scarred voice and had to be warned by the chairman to speak up
on three separate occasions. Finally, the crucial question was posed to her.

‘Did either of the police officers you spoke to mention the fact that Mr Longman was a sex offender, either of them call him a “paedo”?’

She nodded her head by way of a reply, and had to be advised once more by Chief Superintendent McLay that for the sake of the recording they needed an audible answer.

‘Aha,’ she confirmed, her voice almost too low to be made out.

‘Which one mentioned it, Mrs Meldrum – was it the man or the woman?’

Once more, complete and intense silence reigned until, finally, it was broken by her stuttering reply. Miss Howard was staring at the woman like a hawk, all her attention and energy focused on
her prey, willing her to give a particular answer. Her victory depended upon it.

‘It w . . . was . . . the m . . . man.’

For a second, shock transformed the black-suited lawyer’s expression, but she recovered quickly and, in an even tone, said, ‘You say that it was the man. Are you absolutely sure
about that, Mrs Meldrum? Could it, in fact, have been the woman?’

‘Aye, it could’ve,’ the witness said, her bag now held across her chest as if to protect herself. ‘At first I thought it was her. But later me and Davie spoke about it,
and I realised it wasn’t her, it was him. I’m dead sure of that now. Certain it was him. The first time she spoke, like, was to tell him to keep quiet. She said, “That’s
enough, Bill”, or something like that.’

Unexpectedly, Alice felt a long arm extend across her back and pat her shoulder, and she turned to see her lawyer’s beaming face.

‘We should be fine now,’ he whispered conspiratorially to her, and then he returned his gaze to his opposite number. She was deep in discussion with her sidekick, and the clerk,
having left his own table, appeared to be drawing something to the attention of the panel.

Giving evidence herself, for once in her career, Alice almost enjoyed the experience. She answered the critical question confidently and without hesitation: ‘I did not
inform any of Mr Longman’s neighbours in Grange Loan or elsewhere that he was a sex offender, or a paedophile.’

She felt a little more nervous about the follow-up question. In a solemn tone, and looking straight at her, Alan Norton asked, ‘Did you hear your colleague, DS Stevenson, so inform the
occupants of the second-floor flat next to Longman’s house, Mr and Mrs Meldrum?’

She had answered that particular question in her head on countless earlier occasions, in the office in St Leonard’s Street, in the supermarket, while driving her car and in every room in
her flat. Usually, incandescent with anger at her predicament, she had almost shouted out the word, ‘Yes!’ But here, now, at this hearing, she found herself hesitating. Even if the
bastard had lied throughout the investigation in the full knowledge that she would be dragged into the proceedings, it went against the grain to ‘tell’ on him, inform against him. But
if she did not do so then her own career might still be brought to a premature end, despite her innocence. And he would have no such bloody scruples. He had dropped her into this mess, and had this
coming. So, loudly and as if she felt no qualm, she responded, ‘Yes.’

After a short interval during which Alice put her hands behind her head, leant back on her chair and tried to relax, the two female lawyers began conversing in hushed voices, both of them
suddenly looking tired and rather grim. Eventually, the black-suited one stood up and turned to address the Chief Superintendent. Glancing down at a bit of paper she was holding in her hand, she
said, ‘In all the circumstances, Sir, including the evidence given by Mr and Mrs Meldrum and DS Rice’s own testimony, the prosecution move that the hearing be discontinued and that DS
Alice Rice be found Not Guilty on all the charges laid against her.’

With the collapse of the first hearing, the timetable for the second was brought forward. The proceedings against DS Stevenson were to begin straight away. Looking out through
the open doorway of the interview room, Alice saw his unmistakable snub-nosed profile as he proceeded down the corridor on his way to the Force Conference Room. Trying to read that day’s copy
of
The Times
, she could still overhear the voices of the Meldrums as they discussed what they would have for their tea later. Mrs Meldrum wanted a pizza and Mr Meldrum said that he would
prefer a proper fry-up with eggs, bacon, sausages, black pudding and beans. Unable to agree, their voices got higher and higher, until footsteps could be heard followed by a harsh admonishment.
There was a momentary silence, then a muted, ‘Fine. Right. Well, I’ll cook my own tea then!’ from Mr Meldrum.

The next sound that Alice heard was more footsteps, two sets this time, heading in the direction of the hearing. She peered out of her room and caught sight of the departing figure of Mr
Meldrum, a minder leading him along as if he was a child.

Her mind drifted onto Reginald Longman, still on the loose, no doubt sheltered as usual by some smitten woman, ignorant of his predilections and with a child in tow. The infant would be the draw
for him, something unimaginable to its mother, until the worst happened and the cycle began again.

It was so easy for him. He did not resemble the tabloid caricature of a paedophile, an inadequate with thick glasses and a woolly hat pulled down over a Neanderthal forehead. Looking into his
eyes at their last interview, Alice had been horrified how attractive he had seemed to her, making her doubt for a second that they had apprehended the right man. But the contents of his computer
had shattered any first impression that he had made. And the mask had slipped when he saw her as he was being escorted from court, his face contorting in fury, spitting at her like a snake.

Attempting to put the image of him out of her mind, she picked up her paper and started to read it again, homing in on an article about the plight of the Siberian tiger. Forty minutes later,
hearing the sound of more footsteps, she peeped out again and came face to face with Mrs Meldrum as she was being shepherded away to give her evidence. She would be next, Alice thought, and she
prayed inwardly that the Meldrums would not, for some reason or other, change their testimony.

This time when Alice entered the conference room she was directed to take a seat close to the door, facing the large table and opposite the panel. Annigoni’s picture of Queen Elizabeth
wearing the Garter robes looked down regally upon the proceedings, the Prussian blue of her cloak now a little faded by sunlight. Alice was aware that William Stevenson was looking at her. His
colour was not good and he appeared anxious, an uncharacteristic pleading expression in his eyes.

Once more she gave her evidence efficiently, describing the call, her investigations following upon it, the drive with DS Stevenson and finally their inquiries in Grange Loan. The Presenting
Officer in the Stevenson case, another lawyer, was an untidy, grey-haired woman with specks of dandruff on her shoulders. She had the confident swagger of a battle-scarred fiscal, an old-timer who
could cope with whatever emerged in the evidence. Looking relaxed, she introduced the ‘house to house episode’ as she called it.

‘DS Rice. Did you at any stage mention the fact that Reginald Longman was a sex offender, a paedophile in fact, to either Mr or Mrs Meldrum?’

‘No, I did not,’ Alice replied.

‘Did you . . .’ the woman asked, holding the lapels of her crumpled, navy suit as if it was a gown, ‘hear DS Stevenson tell either of the Meldrums that Mr Longman was a sex
offender, a paedophile?’

‘I did.’ Alice answered quickly, deliberately avoiding meeting her colleague’s eye.

‘What expression did he use?’

‘Paedo.’

DS Stevenson shook his head from side to side in an exaggerated fashion, signalling to everyone present that she was not telling the truth and should not be believed.

Giving evidence in his own defence, he maintained, as he had throughout all the investigations, that he had not told the Meldrums that Longman was a paedophile but that his fellow sergeant, DS
Rice, had done so. Foolishly, he felt the need to embellish the scene and was soon reporting other conversations with the couple, unaware that in the previous hearing they had said that the meeting
on the landing had finished almost as soon as it had begun.

Once all the evidence had been taken, the panel listened to the Senior Officer’s report. Alice, who had remained in the room, was surprised to hear in the course of it that Stevenson had
already picked up two regulation warnings in his sixteen-year career. One, a breach of regulation five, was for a trivial neglect of duty, and the other, a breach of regulation six, for misconduct
involving the sexual harassment of a female colleague. Everyone in the room knew that the verdict was a foregone conclusion, so the Chief Superintendent surprised nobody when he finally delivered
it in his booming baritone. Solemnly, and now sweating copiously in the heat, he declared that William Stevenson was required to resign in relation to both counts. Then, mopping his brow with his
damp handkerchief, he rose and strode out of the room, the assessors following behind him like puppy dogs, desperate to keep up with their master’s gigantic strides.

The drive home did not take long despite the rush hour traffic or, if it did, Alice was not aware of it. The elation she now felt made everything seem bright and blessed, and
she could find fault with nothing. With her hands resting loosely on the steering wheel and with the radio playing an old Beach Boys hit, she set off, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted
from her shoulders. She had survived, been left with no stain on her character and the system had worked. No more accusations, no more questions, and life, normality, could be resumed at last.

Looking across Carrington Road onto the east elevation of Fettes College, the edifice as picturesque as a French chateau with its lofty central tower straining to touch the sky, she felt only
pleasure. The immense building appeared as benign and well ordered as the world itself now seemed to be.

Turning right at the lights on East Fettes Avenue onto Ferry Road she joined the eastbound traffic, the car now warming up nicely. Stationary on Inverleith Row, her attention was caught by a
party of Japanese tourists who had clustered together near the gates to the Botanic Garden. In the spitting rain, they were hurriedly unpacking their umbrellas from their backpacks and putting them
up to protect themselves. One, who had turned his back on the treacherous wind, had his sugar-pink brolly blown inside out, causing a ripple of consternation amongst the entire group.

BOOK: The Road to Hell
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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