8 June 2006
EXPERTS CLASH ON MCKIE FINGERPRINT...
FINGERPRINT experts clashed at Holyrood yesterday as a probe continued into the Scottish case which caused an international furore.
Forensic experts from as far afield as Holland and the USA lined up to insist a print found at a murder scene could not have belonged to former policewoman Shirley McKie.
But the Scottish forensic team who first claimed the prints DID belong to McKie were backed - by an expert once called upon by the ex-cop's own defence.
Peter Swann said the case had now been labelled "The Scotch Botch" - but insisted: "The Scotch haven't botched anything."
The two sides made their case at a marathon parliamentary inquiry into the fingerprint service yesterday.
McKie, from Troon, Ayrshire, has always denied being in Marion Ross's Kilmarnock home in January 1997, while she was serving as a detective with Strathclyde Police.
During the trial of David Astbury for the murder, she denied being in the house and was subsequently charged with perjury but found not guilty.
She sued the Executive in the civil courts and went on to receive £750,000 in an out-of-court settlement this year.
Yesterday, Dutch expert Arie Zeelenberg insisted there was no way the print in the house - known as Y7 - belonged to McKie.
He told MSPs that he had found more than 20 differences between it and McKie's fingerprint.
And he attacked the Scottish Criminal Records Office fingerprint team over the cropping of images, claiming they had been trying to hide differences between the prints.
He said: "The presentation of productions was not professional, not transparent, not honest, misleading and wrong, and this shows awareness of a large number of discrepancies."
He claimed they had "closed ranks" because they were "caught in a fish trap and not able to swim back".
He told MSPs on the Justice 1 Committee: "It was the closest to malpractice I have seen."
But Peter Swann - originally hired as a defence expert by the McKie team but never called at the perjury trial - insisted the former policewoman had made the print.
He and a colleague found no fewer than 32 matching characteristics between the disputed Y7 mark and McKie's left thumb print, adding: "It's as positive as one can be."
Asked if the SCRO officers who made the original identification had made a mistake he said: "They haven't. I'll vouch for that."
But PatWertheim, the first expert to reject the findings of the SCRO officers, told the committee: "That crime scene mark was not made by Shirley McKie."
The American described the case as the most controversial in the history of fingerprints and said: "In the long run, history will record this case as an erroneous identification by the Glasgow bureau of the SCRO."
Representatives from the Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee fingerprint bureaux all told the committee that they did not believe the print was McKie's.
But last night, Labour MSP Ken Macintosh, who represents a number of the SCRO officers, said: "For the first time, we have actually heard in this case McKie's own defence witness, her own fingerprint expert, testifying in public that he supports the work of the SCRO officers.
"He authenticates their accuracy and I think that is a key message."
ARCHIVE:FINGERPRINT images shown in Shirley McKie's court case were manipulated to make them look like they were hers, experts claimed last night.
A series of three images shown to the jury in Ms McKie's perjury case were cropped and blurred to hide details that did not match the policewoman's actual print, experts told the BBC's Frontline Scotland programme.
Gary Dempster, of Grampian Police, Pat Weirtheim, from the United States, and Arie Zeelenberg, of Interpol, all concluded that evidence presented by the Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO) at the trial had been manipulated.
Mr Weirtheim, hired as an expert by the McKie family, said: "These three charts... to me are conclusive proof that the SCRO knew before [the] trial that it was an erroneous identification and ... removed the differences in an attempt to mislead the court."
Mr Dempster, the first Scottish fingerprint expert to criticise the SCRO publicly, made what he confirmed was a "grave allegation"
. He said: "From the information that we have seen, I don't believe it was an honest mistake. I do believe a mistake was made, but I don't see it as an honest mistake."
Mr Zeelenberg, of Interpol's expert working group on fingerprint identification, said: "I conclude [the manipulation] was most likely done dishonestly in order to conceal [conflicting information]."
The allegations refer to fingerprint evidence prepared by four unnamed SCRO officers against Ms McKie at her trial in 1999. She was cleared of perjury when American experts called the SCRO evidence into question.
A spokesman for the Unison trade union said of the SCRO officers: "No criminal charges have been brought against [the four]. I would suggest [that is because] they did not fabricate the evidence."
MSPs yesterday voted against holding a public inquiry into the affair, rejecting an SNP amendment calling for the full-scale probe.
However, MSPs passed a vote making clear ministers would co-operate with any inquiries that parliament may decide on in scrutinising reforms within the fingerprint service.
SCRO's handling of McKie case was verging on malpractice, says expert.
A DUTCH expert yesterday told MSPs that the work of Scottish fingerprint officers in the Shirley McKie case was "the closest to malpractice I have ever seen".
Arie Zeelenberg, a former head of the national fingerprint department in the Netherlands, said more than 20 clear differences showed that a hotly-disputed print could not belong to the former Strathclyde detective.
Mr Zeelenberg said members of the Scottish fingerprint service's Glasgow bureau had "invented" comparison points to support their position that the print belonged to Ms McKie.
During a marathon evidence session at a parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO), Mr Zeelenberg clashed with a second expert, Peter Swann, who insisted that the print was made by Ms McKie.
Mr Swann said he and a colleague had found no fewer than 32 matching characteristics between the disputed "Y7" mark and Ms McKie's left thumbprint. "It's as positive as one can be," he said.
But Mr Zeelenberg instead concentrated on the numerous discrepancies he claimed he had found between Y7, which was found at the home of Kilmarnock murder victim Marion Ross in 1997, and Ms McKie's print.
"There are 20-plus differences," he said. There are numerous differences in ridge detail and invented points marked by SCRO, and this is what you may expect with fingerprints coming from a different source."
Ms McKie, from Troon, always denied the print was hers and was later cleared of perjury over the matter.
She went on to receive £750,000 from the Scottish Executive in an out-of-court settlement earlier this year.
But four experts at the SCRO who identified the print as hers have always maintained they were correct, including at the parliamentary inquiry last week.
They say taxpayers' money was wasted in the settlement with the former policewoman.
Controversial "cropped" images of the disputed print presented previously by the SCRO experts were also addressed by Mr Zeelenberg. These led to claims that the Scottish experts had been trying to hide clear differences in the cropped areas between the disputed print and that of Ms McKie.
Mr Zeelenberg said: "Point 19 and 20 are conveniently brought out of sight. The big ones." This indicated that the Scottish experts were being dishonest, according to the Dutch expert.
"I must conclude in general that the presentation of productions was not professional, not transparent, not honest, misleading and wrong, and this shows awareness of a large number of discrepancies," he said.
Mr Swann had originally been asked to look at the print by Iain McKie, Ms McKie's father. But he was dropped from their defence team after concluding that the mark was hers.
Mr Swann said the McKie case had been described by some as the "Scotch botch".
But he argued the original identification was correct, saying: "The Scotch haven't botched anything." He added: "The other one that's been conjured up by ministers, I believe, is an honest mistake."
But he asked who had made the mistake and said it was not the fingerprint officers who made the original identification.
However, Pat Wertheim, the first expert to reject the findings of the SCRO officers, stood by his findings that the identification was wrong. "That crime scene mark was not made by Shirley McKie," he told the committee.
The American described the case as the most controversial in the history of fingerprinting, and said: "History will record this case as an erroneous identification by the Glasgow bureau of the SCRO."
With the session running for five hours, the MSPs were unable to hear from all the witnesses who had attended, and some were told they would have to come back later.
After the hearing, Labour back-bencher Ken Macintosh, the MSP for Eastwood, said he did not know if the differences of opinion about the Y7 print would ever be settled.
Consultant apologises after false accusation
A FINGERPRINT expert at the centre of the Shirley McKie case was forced to apologise yesterday after he wrongly claimed the Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO) had misidentified a palm print.
Allan Bayle, a consultant on fingerprint issues who previously worked for the Metropolitan Police, had publicly said the SCRO got it wrong over the palm print from a criminal case in February this year.
But it emerged yesterday that a review by the Met has found the original identification to be correct.
Mr Bayle admitted he had got it wrong and told MSPs: "I do apologise to the media and everyone else."
He has said previously that it took him only a "couple of minutes" to see the palm print was not identical and he endorsed calls from the SNP MSP Alex Neil for the closure of the Glasgow fingerprint bureau.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said new procedures were in place to handle such disputes.
"Following the recent allegations made by Mr Bayle, and in line with these new arrangements, the disputed print was referred to the Met for consideration as soon as possible.
"The Met has confirmed that the original identification by the Glasgow bureau was correct. Mr Bayle has also confirmed that he, too, supports that view," he said.
Mr Bayle was giving evidence at the parliamentary inquiry into the SCRO, instigated after former police detective Ms McKie's print was wrongly identified at the scene of a murder in 1997. He believes the print was not Ms McKie's.