Lawyer haunted by suicide of Scots client wrongly jailed for sexual offences – About Your Online Magazine


A lawyer told how he is haunted by the suicide of a customer who was unjustly arrested for sexual offenses.

Iain Smith revealed his sadness over the death of Malcolm Cowan, who was convicted of errors in 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 Lochgelly’s 31-year-old player, Fife.

However, he spoke of his regret after one last phone call Malcolm made to him before committing suicide the same night that Sheriff Charles Palmer died of a heart attack in Edinburgh’s red light district.

The lawyer said he refused to promise the pool attendant that he would not return to prison after being released pending his appeal.

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



Lawyer Iain Smith

“It was the lewd, lewd and indecent practices of a guy who had suffered from hypoxia as a young man that made him, in colloquial terms, a little simpler. So he was a very uncomplicated young man.

“He was convicted and Sheriff Palmer gave him a year in prison. I managed to obtain the provisional release.

“He always called me and asked if everything was going to be okay and I tried to reassure him.

“I remember him calling me and saying again: ‘I just need you to tell me that I am not going back to jail’.

“I said, ‘I can’t tell you this because I don’t know, but you have a very good appeal. I’m sorry, I don’t know. ‘

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

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

Speaking to the Hey Legal podcast, Smith added: “Looking back, I am grateful that we cannot change history.

“But I wish, when considering who I was dealing with, that I had told a little lie and said:‘ Your appeal will be fine. ’

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

“I am still a friend of the family. They never blamed me and, in fact, said that he had called everyone to ask the same question. “

Malcolm was found guilty after a trial of obscene, indecent and libidinous practices against three girls, aged seven to nine, in November 1999.

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



Witness Sarah Clarke

At the time, Sarah told the Sunday Mail that her father of three was a regular customer of her in the red light district of Leith.

She said the sheriff “collapsed in the back seat of the car” after one of his meetings.

He was taken by ambulance to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, but doctors were unable to save him.

In May 2001, the Criminal Appeal Court ruled that Malcolm had suffered a judicial error because Sheriff Palmer had allowed highly damaging evidence to go to the jury at his trial.

He allowed the jurors to hear evidence of “enticement” because he thought it would be “educational and informative”, although there is no suggestion that Malcolm was involved in the practice.



Paula Fonseca