SAM Hallam was accused of murder, Victor Nealon of attempted rape. Both were implicated by mistaken eyewitness evidence. Both men were convicted. Both saw their convictions quashed in the light of new evidence. Neglected material from Hallam’s phone supported his alibi. Re-analysis of the complainer’s clothing using modern DNA techniques rendered Nealon’s conviction unsafe. Hallam spent seven years and seven months in prison before his release. Nealon was incarcerated for 17 years. To date, neither of these men has seen a clipped penny in compensation from the British state for these miscarriages of justice.

Post-traumatic stress, disintegration from society, lost relationships – we’re only just beginning to understand the effect wrongful convictions have on folk caught up in them. Compensation cannot gather up lost time, but turning these innocent men out of prison without a dime of consideration for their suffering is a national disgrace.

In 2014, David Cameron’s coalition introduced sweeping new restrictions on compensation rules south of the Border. Scotland, mercifully, hasn’t followed suit. Today, the wrongfully convicted in England and Wales aren’t entitled to recompense unless they can prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did not commit the offence.

The populist rationale for this change was that the guilty people who “get off on a technicality” shouldn’t be entitled to public pay outs – but the implications of this rule are dramatic. How would you prove you are actually innocent? How could anyone, particularly in an old, cold case? This week, the UK Supreme Court upheld these rules, with Lords Reed and Kerr dissenting.

There’s a new public gusto for miscarriage of justice stories, but at the same time, we seem strangely indifferent to the stories closer to home. We gawk in horror at the politicised excesses of America’s criminal justice system. Netflix has made international celebrities of Steven Avery and Michael Peterson. Liberated from the restrictions of the Contempt of Court Act, the British press went full Salem in the case of Amanda Knox, the American exchange student wrongly implicated and wrongly convicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia. But who has heard of Sam Hallam? Who knows Victor Nealon’s story? Who cares?

Scotland’s miscarriage of justice origin story must be the wrongful conviction of Oscar Slater for the murder of Marion Gilchrist in 1909. Gilchrist lived alone in West Princes Street, a once stately district in the west end of the city which is now curling a bit at the edges. On December 21, 1908, just days before Christmas, Gilchrist was brutally murdered. At the crime scene, Gilchrist’s papers had been interfered with and distinctive diamond brooch had been stolen, but the greater part of her great collection of jewels and gems – tucked, cannily, in her wardrobe – were left untouched.

Gilchrist’s maid and her close-sighted downstairs neighbour caught sight of a dark figure as he stepped out of her house. Another young woman in the street gave the police identification evidence of someone hastily making away from the scene.

Echoing Nealon and Hallam’s cases, the eyewitness evidence was all over the place. In one story, the figure was 25 to 30 years old, around 5ft8, slender, wearing a grey coat and a dark cloth cap. The witness in the street, by contrast, described a “tall and thin” figure with a distinctive twist in his nose, wearing a fawn overcoat and a tweed Donegal hat. All agreed the figure they saw was clean shaven.

A curiosity, then, that suspicion should fall on the 36-year-old, distinctively moustachioed Oscar Slater – but then, he was a suspicious kind of guy. I call him Oscar Slater, but he was born Oscar Leschziner. He also went by the names Otto Sando, and “A Anderson, Esq, Dentist”. Slater had acquired the habit of living and moving under assumed names. He was a suspect suspect. He had a storied professional career. Needless to say – Slater was not a dentist. He seems to have made ends meet through recreational gambling and gem-dealing. His French partner welcomed gentlemen to their shared flat, under the nom de plume “Madame Junio” – a fact introduced into evidence in the course of his prosecution.

He was also Jewish – a point consistently emphasised over the murder trial. The Scottish press of the day was charged with references to “foreign aliens”, coming over here, undermining the ethical integrity of the community. You don’t have to listen too intently to hear the contemporary echoes.

When Glasgow City Police discovered Slater had pawned a diamond brooch, they were cock-a-hoop. Here was their man. But when they descended on Mr Anderson’s Saint George’s Road flat, Macavity wasn’t there. Slater had left the city – first to Liverpool, and then on to the Lusitania, an ocean-liner bound for New York. This only crystallised the authorities’ suspicions.

Lifted at the New York docks, the Scottish authorities shipped their three material witnesses to America to identify Oscar Slater on the other side of the world. There followed a farcical identification parade where several witnesses saw him uncuffed before picking him out of the line-up as the man who killed Marion Gilchrist. All of them had also had the opportunity to see pictures of Slater circulating in the Scottish press. Convinced of his innocence, Slater surrendered himself to Scottish justice. It was a grave mistake.

He had an alibi. There was no evidence Slater knew Gilchrist. True, he didn’t live a million miles away from her address, but there was no evidence he knew about her magpie enthusiasm for gems. When the police combed through his luggage in New York, they found no blood-stained clothing – only a cheap, lightweight hammer which the Crown implausibly claimed was the murder weapon.

You’ll remember the diamond brooch which sent the forces of law chasing after Slater. As the Cunard line sailed him across the Atlantic, the municipal police discovered that the pawned brooch did not belong to the dead woman at all. All that was left – really – was a weak case of inconsistent, impossibly tainted eyewitness testimony.

At trial, the Lord Advocate of the day exaggerated and misstated the evidence. He claimed Slater had fled Scotland after seeing his face in the paper. This was false. Slater wasn’t named as a suspect in the Gilchrist case until after he had innocently left the city. Lord Guthrie, presiding, took the opportunity to tell the jury that because of his sordid domestic circumstances, Oscar Slater didn’t unequivocally benefit from the presumption of innocence.

Nine jurors voted to convict him. He was sentenced to death. Until 1926, there was no court of criminal appeal in Scotland. If you believe that justice had miscarried in your case, you had to throw yourself on the mercy of the Crown in the hopes your punishment might be remitted. Oscar Slater would wait until 1928 – doing hard labour at Peterhead – to have his appeal heard.

The Appeal Court quashed his conviction on the narrow basis that the trial judge misdirected the jury about the presumption of innocence. As an account of the catalogue of official errors in Slater’s case, this verdict leaves much to be desired. He was, at least, free. Slater later accepted £6000 in government compensation – worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in today’s money.

Miscarriage of justice cases often end in the public imagination with triumphant vindication on the steps of a court. Not so for Oscar Slater. He settled in Ayr and married – but was re-interned as an enemy alien during the Second World War.

Slater’s case opens a window into the myriad ways miscarriages of justice can happen. But what if Oscar Slater was put on trial today? What if he had the bad luck to be convicted in England after a bungling police investigation, suppression of inconvenient evidence, and prosecutorial and judicial misconduct? Would he – could he – prove he didn’t kill Marion Gilchrist beyond reasonable doubt? Could the Guildford Four? Could the Birmingham Six?