This week in SR...

4 December 2013

Last week we reported that children as young as nine were asked about their drink and drug-taking habits in a research survey conducted on behalf of Perth and Kinross Council and that children as young as 14 were asked if they had ever had anal sex. Perth and Kinross Council asks us to point out that the children completed the questionnaire online and that paper copies did not await collection in classrooms. Although we are happy to make this clear, we do not feel reassured. We will be returning to this story in next week's edition.

But today, much of the Scottish Review is devoted to the results of our long and exhaustive investigation into a cause célèbre.

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2Part I
A body
on the
beach
Kenneth Roy

1

I
Eight years ago today the body of a young Swedish woman was recovered from an Ayrshire beach. A few days later, on 7 December 2005, a local newspaper published a brief account of her death:

An area of Prestwick beach was cordoned off at the weekend after a woman's body was found washed up on the shore.

A dog walker discovered the 31-year-old woman's body about 8.30am on Sunday near to Maryborough Road.

A police investigation team quickly sealed off the area but there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.

As the Post went to press the dead woman's details had not been released.

In this 72-word story there were two minor inaccuracies and potentially one major one: the dead woman was not 31 but 30 years old and her body was found not near Maryborough Road but near Grangemuir Road. But the most intriguing assumption in the report was that there were 'no suspicious circumstances' – an innuendo commonly used by the police to rule out foul play and suggest the probability of suicide.

While the Ayrshire Post was reporting this news, a post-mortem on the body of Annie Borjesson was being conducted in the mortuary of Ayr Hospital. Why, on that very day, did the police confide in journalists that there were no suspicious circumstances when they were unaware of the post-mortem result? Why did they not confine themselves to a factual statement, familiar in cases of unexplained death, that the cause was unknown? 

The rush to judgement, without any forensic support, became the first of many questions about Annie Borjesson's death – questions still unanswered despite the personal intervention of the first minister, Alex Salmond, who had a meeting with Annie's mother in Edinburgh; a petition to the Scottish Parliament signed by 3,000 people; and a tenacious campaign by family and friends. Yet the authorities have consistently refused to reopen the case.

After a thorough investigation during which we were given access to many documents never before made available to the media, the Scottish Review presents its dossier on the case, including new evidence which in our view points to the need for a fresh inquiry.

II
On 27 July 2007, the then solicitor-general for Scotland, Frank Mulholland, who is now the lord advocate, replied to a letter from Eva Seiser of the Swedish embassy in London. He repeated the initial police opinion, 20 months earlier, that there was no evidence of suspicious circumstances and cited the autopsy report as one of the justifications for his conclusion.

There was no acknowledgement from Mr Mulholland – doubtless because he had no personal knowledge of it – that the police had reached a view of the case in advance of the post-mortem. He was at pains to point out that the procurator fiscal at Kilmarnock had undertaken 'a full investigation...assisted by the local police' and that there were 'no lines of inquiry to pursue'. For that reason, he had decided that the case would not be reopened – although he did add the qualification 'at this stage'.

We have obtained a copy of the autopsy report, signed by the two doctors who conducted the post-mortem. It noted that the body was heavily contaminated by sand and seaweed, that the lungs were congested, that the air passages contained 'a frothy material'. Conclusion: death by drowning.

No sinister significance was attached to an unexplained 'depression' in the skin, small areas of bruising in the right temple, scratched abrasions on the left arm and ‘two patterned roughly square contused areas’ on the right arm.

Although there was no penetration of the skin, the police were satisfied that these minor injuries had been caused by contact with rough objects in the water.

Annie’s body was flown home to Sweden on 16 December. The family were shocked to discover areas of more extensive bruising, which had not been recorded in the post-mortem report nine days earlier, but again it seemed there was an innocent explanation. They were assured that bruising could occur between eight and 10 days after death.

The undertakers in Vargarda, Sweden, were surprised by what they found when they opened Annie's coffin. Gun Daneberg and Lennart Svensson discovered 'big bruises' on her right arm and side – 'about the size of a palm' – as well as bruising behind her right ear. They insisted that these bruises, far beyond anything included in the autopsy report, were not the result of post-mortem lividity ('We consider we have the knowledge to state the difference between bruises and corpse patches on a body').

The striking divergence between the undertakers' observations and the autopsy report disturbed the Borjesson family.

III
Pieces of body tissue removed during the post-mortem were examined by RMV, the Swedish forensic service. RMV sent bone marrow from Annie's body to a professor in Strasbourg for analysis. He found tiny diatom shells – algae – in the sample and identified them as navicula lanceolata. 

It was an unexpected discovery. Far from confirming that Annie had drowned, it tended to cast doubt on the result of the post-mortem. Navicula lanceolata is a freshwater rather than a seawater diatom. 

The family independently contacted other diatom specialists. One who checked the salinity in Prestwick bay found only a 'weak influence' of freshwater inflows and said it was more likely that navicula lanceolata had entered Annie's body through drinking tap water. 'Annie,' he wrote, 'may have had it in the bone marrow long before she passed away.'

A second specialist corroborated this view. 'Although the species might be found in low numbers in a coastal environment,' he wrote, 'it would not be one of the common species living or transported there. The source of the diatoms found in the bone marrow is therefore very unlikely to have been from the sea.'

In the opinion of these marine experts, the presence of navicula lanceolata in the bone marrow had failed to establish drowning as the cause of death. They agreed that this could only be established by analysis of other organs. One of the experts offered to conduct an extended test pro bono. The Swedish authorities not only refused to permit such a test, but declined to give any explanation for this decision. 

Their counterparts in Scotland seem equally unwilling to contemplate any scrutiny of the autopsy findings.

On 15 December 2005, eight days after the post-mortem, toxicologists at Glasgow University received two samples of blood and one sample of urine labelled 'Annie Borjesson' from a consultant pathologist at Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, who was acting on the instructions of the procurator fiscal.

The toxicologists analysed the samples for alcohol and drugs. They found 19 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, well under the drink driving limit; Annie, who seldom drank alcohol, had had a small quantity shortly before her death, perhaps the night before. There were no drugs in her body or, at any rate, no detectable ones.

Two years after her death, the principal procurator fiscal depute at Kilmarnock, Robert Bloomer, released the results of the toxicology report to the family at their request. The family had also asked for histological samples which would have enabled a deeper examination of the body tissues to be performed. Robert Bloomer felt unable to make a decision on this request and referred it to the Crown Office.  

On 13 December 2007, the procurator fiscal wrote to the family informing them: '...Crown counsel have instructed that these [the samples] will be retained and not destroyed but that they will not be released other than to a skilled person for a specific purpose'.

Inescapably, then, the authorities have body tissues which could confirm whether or not Annie Borjesson died by drowning but, for unexplained reasons, will not readily part with them.

Click here for Part II:
Four minutes 41 seconds