A NORTH-EAST man who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit is calling for a public inquiry to uncover the truth behind one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice.

George McPhee and his family in Willington, County Durham, have protested his innocence since he was convicted in 1985 of murdering Elizabeth Sutherland in Scotland.

His wife, Pauline, originally from Page Bank, near Spennymoor, and sons George, 24, and Andrew, 23, never wavered in their support as he served 18 years of a life sentence before walking free in 2003 while an appeal was considered.

Last night, son George said: "There was never any doubt in any of our minds that he was innocent. He couldn't have done it. He is not that sort of man."

Their faith was justified this week when three judges quashed the conviction, agreeing that there had been a miscarriage of justice because of "untrue" evidence given by the senior police officer in charge of the inquiry.

Mr and Mrs McPhee and Andrew now live in Immingham, Lincolnshire, but George junior stayed in the Willington area with his partner, Danielle Baird, and their 11-month-old daughter, Ellie McPhee.

George junior added: "We grew up without a dad, but it is great to have him back. We are all getting to know each other again."

The McPhees were together on Monday to hear the verdict at the Court of Criminal Appeal, in Edinburgh. Mr McPhee, 50, said: "Right up until the last moment I hardly dared hope it would happen. I had waited so long.

"In the last two years of waiting, it had been constantly at the back of my mind that I might go back. I still had seven years to serve and I would not have been able to cope.

"Now I want a public inquiry. I want to know why I spent so long in prison.

"I hope they get the person that committed the murder because they are still out there somewhere."

Mr McPhee had been on the Black Isle, north of Inverness, at the time of the murder, in 1984, collecting scrap with two friends from the Willington area.

One of them, Colin "Rocky" Hawkins, gave evidence against him at the trial, while a prisoner called Trevor Proudfoot alleged that Mr McPhee had confessed to the murder while they shared a cell.

Mrs Sutherland, known as Totsie because of her small stature, had been stabbed in the chest several times and her throat was cut.

Her body was found by her ten-year-old daughter when she returned from school to the family home in Culbokie, on the Black Isle.

No forensic evidence linked Mr McPhee to the victim, the murder weapon or the scene.

The judges concluded the key witnesses were "unsavoury individuals" who had "serious problems of credibility".

The prosecution case also hinged on evidence said to link footprints found outside and inside the house to Mr McPhee.

But the judges ruled that the evidence of a senior officer, the late Detective Superintendent Andrew Lister, in this respect was untrue.