Police chiefs have ordered a new inquiry into the mysterious death of a Highland man two decades ago.
The family of Kevin McLeod – who will mark the 20th anniversary of his death next week – said the probe raised hopes of finally uncovering “the truth”.
They believe the 24-year-old was murdered in Wick and have campaigned for years for a new investigation by officers from outside the Highlands.
The potential breakthrough yesterday emerged after Mr McLeod’s mum June confronted Scotland’s top police officer, Chief Constable Phil Gormley, live on radio last month.
Following the conversation, Mr Gormley has now written to the family to say that a review had been held and “further investigative work” would now be carried out “as a priority”.
Last night, Mr McLeod’s dad Hugh said: “We’re happy that this will happen – it’s just 20 years too late.
“The truth can be found. The truth is out there. It’s just a case of finding the right police officers, which hopefully we have now.”
The labourer’s body was recovered from Wick Harbour after he had been on a night out with friends to celebrate his forthcoming wedding.
He was last seen in the early hours of February 8, 1997, and his body was recovered from the sea the following morning.
The pathologist’s report showed he had suffered serious internal injuries before falling into the water, but his death remains unresolved.
A fatal accident inquiry found that foul play could not be ruled out, and his family has been desperate to discover the truth ever since.
In 2011, they wrote to the procurator fiscal imploring him to urge the police to make an appeal for information in relation to the death, but their request was turned down.
They also made a complaint to Northern Constabulary about its failure to follow the fiscal’s instructions that a murder inquiry should be carried out, but was told the force had no record of this request.
After the confrontation on radio last month, Mr Gormley wrote to the family to say he had ordered officers to brief him on all evidence relating to the case.
Subsequently, he wrote back to say: “I am able to inform you that over the past couple of weeks, under the direction of Detective Chief Superintendent Gareth Blair, Head of Major Crime, an experienced detective chief inspector has gathered in all the information and evidence in relation to the death of your son Kevin.
“As previously mentioned this will allow Police Scotland to fully consider all known information relating to this case and allow for an informed decision to be made as to how best to progress.
“As part of this assessment, Detective Chief Superintendent Blair has directed further investigative work to be carried out as a priority.”
The chief constable added that he had asked Detective Chief Superintendent Blair to visit the family to discuss the case with them “once all the circumstances have been fully explored”.
But Mr McLeod’s father last night demanded that the police speak to the family before it reaches any conclusions on the case.
“We need to be spoken to by this inquiry team before they come to a conclusion. They need to come to the family. We’ve got things we need to talk to them about,” he said.
“What is more or less being done should have been done 20 years ago when a murder inquiry was instructed by the procurator fiscal. The police just ignored the instruction.
“It has been hard for the whole family, keeping up the pressure up for 20 years. There’s not a day goes past where we’ve not done something, and it won’t stop.
“It is sad that it had to take June calling up a radio station. I honestly think that he (Mr Gormley) wasn’t aware of the letters being sent to him. I think the man wasn’t given the chance to look at it.”
Mr McLeod added: “It doesn’t matter what they come to, if it’s a negative conclusion, we will go on. We will never give up, never, until the last breath goes out of our body.”
Gail Ross, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, has written to the chief constable and the Lord Advocate on the new inquiry.
She asked “why Police Scotland has now deemed it appropriate to re-examine this case when less than 12 months ago the family were informed by Police Scotland that they were satisfied with the results of the initial investigation?”.
She added: “I would like to be able to reassure the McLeod family that officers and detectives involved in the re-investigation of Kevin’s death have robust experience of investigating suspicious deaths and murders.”