Fingerprint Errors

Murder, Perjury and Fingerprints

Below is an overview of where two cases where a person was convicted of murder and a police officer convicted of perjury based on fingerprint evidence provided by the Scottish Criminal Records Office – SCRO. The fingerprint evidence given was shown to be so mistaken, that no other expert outside that the SCRO agreed with the findings.

One independent fingerprint expert even stated that the error was so great it could not have been an accident but rather “shameful fabrications”. Despite this the SCRO continued to insist they were correct, and even published a memo to that effect.

This case exposed a huge flaw in the fingerprint system in the UK. This is a case where a DC, with a large amount of resources and experience at her disposal managed to expose the problems, the question of “how many more times this has happened but remained undetected?” remains unanswered.

Despite this the UK Government is continuing to push for more fingerprint systems, from biometric passports to Project Lantern, the mobile fingerprint reading devices now being deployed.

In addition to this the UK has created laws that allow the police to take and retain fingerprints of people who have not been convicted or even charged of any crime.

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Hardly

Case Overview

In January 1997 Marion Ross was stabbed to death in her home in Kilmarnock, as she was a rescluse and no sign of forced entry to the house the police had few leads. The police therefore looked for anyone with connections to the victim, and discovered there had been building work at her house in 1996.

Fingerprint Evidence and Conviction

The police located one of the builders, David Asbury, at his family home in Kilbirnie, Ayrshire. David’s house was searched by DC Shirley McKie (then a Strathclyde police detective) who’d been assigned to the case. During this search the she found a tin containing bundles of cash – £1,800 in all. The tin was connected to DAvid Asbury through its location and finger prints (and his later statement that it was his). However the tin contained a print of the murder victim. Therefore linking the suspect to the victim, with a possible motive of theft for the murder, as it was believed the tin and the money were the victims. In addition to this David Asbury’s print was also found on a gift tag at the victims house. Again linking the victim and the suspect. David stated that this print must have been left there when we was working in the house. David Asbury, and his family, insited that both the tin and the money were his.

On this evidence David was convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, the fingerprint evidence did have problems. The Fingerprint of DC Shirly McKie was found at the victim’s house. Dc McKie stated, on oath, that she had never been in the house and this was an error, therefore calling the fingerprint evidence into doubt. The Scottish fingerprint service, part of the Scottish Criminal Records Office – SCRO, refused to admit this, and as such DC McKie was latter arrested and then tried for perjury and found guilty in 1998.

Fingerprint Dispute #1

DC McKie appealed the conviction using independant fingerprint experts from the US. They concluded that the fingerprint identified as being DC McKie was not in fact hers. One of these expert was Pat Wertheim. Pat is a finger print expert with 20 year’s experience, mainly in the US and has served on an FBI fingerprint think-tank. After examining the print allegedly left by DC McKie Pat stated that “It was clear to me that a mistake has been made. This was not an identification“. Because of of this and other experts refuting the SCRO evidence, the jury found Shirely innocent, unanimously in May 1999.

SCRO refuses to admit error

Following this aquittal 5 other indepent experts were asked to look at the print that the SCRO identifed as McKie’s. They, along with Pat Werthein, all agreed independtly that the identity of the fingerprint was wrong. Despite this the SCRO still refused to admit any error.

Fingerprint Dispute #2

Later on, while David Asbury was still in jail, Pat Werthiem along with Allan Bayle (a fingerprint expert at New Scotland Yard, with 24 years’ experience) re-examined the evidence that convicted David. Then both agreed that the print on the tag was Asbury’s (and David Asbury had admitted this earlier). However, both Pat and Allan agreed that the print on the tin was not that of the victim. I.e. the print that convicted David Asbury, was not what the SCRO said it was. While there was similarities between the print on the tin and the victim, it was not the victims. Alan stated “This is incompetent marking up“, referring to the identification of the print.
This meant that the SCRO had now been profoundly wrong for two prints in the same case.

When Pat Wertheim was asked if his findings were accurate he said “They are, and my career is on the line on this. And I’m not putting my career on the line on a gamble, I don’t gamble with that. I am right. My position has been confirmed by other experts from other countries all over the world. The SCRO is wrong. They have no one to support them in this. No one at all except their own internal people who are applying the whitewash to this thing”

Outcome

In May 1999 DC McVie was found innocent perjury, therefore showing that the SCRO was wrong.

In 2000 a report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary also confirmed that fingerprint evidence against DC McKie was wrong (reports are below)

In August 2000 Four fingerprint experts who gave evidence against the DC McKie were suspended.

In March 2002 the following statement by fingerprint expert Wes Sossman was published:

“I know of not a single latent print examiner who has viewed the images of the “identifications” that concurs with the “opinions” offered by the SCRO “experts” in these infamous cases…..our colleagues who are recognized as some of the world’s foremost authorities….have gone on record and clearly exposed these shameful fabrications for what they really are. ”

In August 2002 David Asbury’s conviction was quashed and he was released from jail, having spent 5 years in prison.

Report into SCRO

Second Report into SCRO

BBC Article Fingerprint Experts suspended

BBC Article – Transcript of documentary about cases

BBC Article – Transcript of documentary about Dc McKie

BBC Article – Conviction of David Asbury Quashed

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4 Responses to “Fingerprint Errors”

  1. Mistaken Identity: Brandon Mayfield « Data - Where is it? Says:

    […] case, along with the case of David Asbury, shows how large amounts of data, and fingerprints in particular, can and are […]

  2. Prum Convention: Technology « Data - Where is it? Says:

    […] fingerprints are infallable, so surely that cannot be a […]

  3. Are innocent ever convicted based on fingerprint evidence? « Data – Where is it? Says:

    […] the UK there have been two cases, stemming from one crime, in where people were wrongly convicted based on fingerprint evidence. One […]

  4. Forensics: Hashes, do they work? « Data – Where is it? Says:

    […] really fake evidence? Sadly yes, it could still happen. The most obvious example of this is the fingerprint case involving the Scottish police. In this case numerous fingerprint officers in Scotland went to court […]


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