NO evidence of fraud or contract-rigging has been found by an independent probe into the award of contracts to build Arran's two long-delayed new ferries.

But a report concludes that parts of the process for awarding the contract to shipbuilders Ferguson Marine were "not entirely satisfactory".

And the chief executive of Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) has admitted that "mis-steps" were made in the course of the procurement process for the controversial ships.

A BBC Disclosure documentary last year alleged the process for awarding the contract could have been rigged in favour of the Port Glasgow shipyard.

The BBC documentary claimed Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) had been given sight of a document detailing the design specifications by a consultant, some of which was copied into the yard's bid, while competitors had to submit a bid with the aid of a less detailed dossier.

King's Counsel Barry Smith was appointed to lead an independent investigation, and his report was published in full on Wednesday, October 18.

In his report Mr Smith said that Scottish ministers had intervened after it became clear that CMAL's board did not wish to give the contract to FMEL without 'full coverage' guarantees.

In the conclusion to his report, Mr Smith wrote: "Ultimately, the question posed was whether a fraud was committed during the procurement process. I did not find evidence of fraud.

"That is not the same as saying that the procurement process was conducted perfectly."

The Glen Sannox and the newly-named Glen Rosa were initially meant to cost £97 million - but the latest cost estimate is more than three times that figure.

The Glen Sannox was launched in November 2017, but is not expected to undergo sea trials until the first quarter of 2024 at the earliest.

Design blunders mean the vessels will be unable to use Ardrossan without major upgrades to the harbour.

These upgrades have been repeatedly delayed, and do not yet have a start or finish date - meaning the ferry is likely to sail to Arran from Troon for some time until the Ardrossan work is finally complete.

In his report, Mr Smith said he had met with the journalist behind the BBC programme in July this year.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Brodick Harbour

He received an email from the journalist stating: "We are concerned that your remit has been drawn so narrowly that it will exclude examination of the important allegations the BBC made."

Mr Smith's report said he doubted whether Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL)'s possession of a document called the statement of technical requirements (SOTR) gave it an advantage over any other bidders.

He said: "It is superficially attractive to conclude that FMEL gained an advantage in the procurement process by having possession of the SOTR but closer analysis of the process seems to me to cast doubt on that conclusion."

Mr Smith said it was a "poor quality document" and noted "somewhat bizarrely, when assessed by CalMac against the SOTR, the FMEL bid ranked second".

He said he could not draw any conclusions around the allegation that FMEL was allowed to effectively submit a new bid, saying "this aspect of the procurement process is not entirely satisfactory".

However, he found no evidence of any fraudulent intent on the part of any CMAL employee.

He concluded: "It is clear to me that just as there is no evidence of a fraud by any individual, or individuals acting in concert, there is equally no evidence of any fraud corporately.

"It is the singular feature of the period under consideration that the CMAL board did not wish to award the contracts to FMEL absent full coverage guarantees and that the Scottish ministers intervened."

Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL, said: "We welcome the findings of Barry Smith KC's independent investigation, which has established no evidence of fraud in the procurement of vessels 801 and 802 (the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa).

"We do, however, recognise that the report identifies a number of missteps over the course of the procurement during 2014 and 2015, and mitigations have been in place for several years to ensure these do not happen again.

"For example, all parties involved in a CMAL competitive tender are required to sign a confidentiality agreement, and all clarification meetings with bidders are now carried out using the same method of communication."

He added: "The KC's report recognises the CMAL team at the time of this procurement as diligent, dedicated, hardworking individuals - which we stand by entirely.

"This is also true of the current team, who are firmly focussed on the delivery of these vessels, working closely with Fergusons to ensure they enter service as soon as possible."