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Monday, June 12, 2006

The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important events as they happen in our field.
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compiled by Jon Stimac

New Evidence May be Given to McKie Inquiry   HERALD, UK - Jun 8, 2006 ...ministers are considering releasing fresh documents to the parliamentary inquiry into the McKie affair...

Experts Clash on McKie Fingerprint   GLASGOW DAILY RECORD, UK - Jun 8, 2006 ...experts continue to clash as a probe continued into the Scottish case which caused an international furor...

'More Than 20 Flaws' in McKie Print Claim GLASGOW EVENING TIMES, UK - Jun 7, 2006 told the MSPs more than 20 differences show a disputed print could not belong to former detective...

Plot Twist: Fake Crime Scene, Real Body   MSNBC.COM, US - Jun 6, 2006 ..high school criminology class’s field trip turns bizarre when corpse turns up...

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Square Peg. Round Hole.
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Methods for making prints for ninhydrin study?
Debs McDonald Fri Jun 09, 2006 9:02 pm

Need advice about RTX(developed by Kenzoh Mashiko)
charliu Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:16 am

Digital Imaging for Small Departments
Hillary Moses Tue Jun 06, 2006 7:55 pm



Updated the Detail Archives


Last week

we took a look at how Daniel Perruzza finally got his man, offering inspiration for those latent print examiners who memorize those latent prints in cases they will never forget.

This week

we look at the fourth oral evidence session in the Justice 1 Committee's inquiry into the Scottish Criminal Record Office.


The overriding aim of the inquiry must be to help to restore public confidence in the standards of fingerprint evidence in Scotland. I expect that the report that the committee will produce at the end of the inquiry will contribute to that process.

I will outline what will happen this morning. We will have a presentation from Arie Zeelenberg, whose presentation will be published on the web on Friday, followed by one from Peter Swann. There will then be two separate round-table discussions. I will introduce those when we come to them.

Once again, I formally welcome Mr Zeelenberg and his colleague Herman Bergman to the Justice 1 Committee. You offered to make a presentation and we took you up on your offer. The committee appreciates that you would have liked to have more time for the presentation, but time is very tight. We want to get through everything this morning, so we will try to squeeze the presentation into 45 minutes to allow time for questions. Without further ado, I invite Mr Zeelenberg to make his presentation.

Arie Zeelenberg (Dutch National Police Force):
Thank you. I would like to start by reading out a short statement.

I regret being here today, in a position in which I have to expose my fellow experts. It has, however, become inevitable after so many years of mismanagement of the problem. From the beginning, I have stressed that the resolution should be quick—in the interests of the people involved, including the experts, and for the sake of the profession. That was my position with Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary and it was the underlying reason for the Tulliallan meeting.

My activities to instigate a resolution have always been within the professional circle or—when things have happened in the public domain—as an invited independent expert in the inspection by HMCIC, the inquiries that followed, the court cases, the panel for the action plan, and now the parliamentary inquiry. I have always restrained myself from making public appearances; on the rare occasions when I have appeared in public, it has been in relation to the inquiries that I have just mentioned. I have consistently broadcast one message: admit the mistake, apologise, learn from it, and move on.

The suggestion that was made to the committee last week that I have criticised the SCRO in public is therefore untrue. I have rejected what was done in a particular case by particular experts but I have no personal problem with the SCRO or any individual. In fact, I am confident that in the SCRO there are people of integrity who have considerable experience and knowledge, and that there are experts who know that a mistake was made and who are waiting to be part of a better future. That future should whole-heartedly embrace transparency and accountability and should make room for a mature manner of handling differences. A culture that is open to the admission of mistakes is essential to that.

Although it is not the subject of today's meeting, I will share an example. It was recently alleged that the SCRO had made a misidentification. On the basis of the material that was presented to me—on this matter I also speak on Allan Bayle's behalf—I am confident that that allegation was wrong. I firmly believe that an expert who acknowledges a mistake is a better expert from that day onwards. To be able to recognise fallibility is an important commodity in any expert. I know that because I have to tell myself daily that I am fallible. It is never too late to join the club.

I will cover a few topics. First, I must explain some basics of fingerprint analysis and comparison. I will go over the material and I will go over print Y7, which has been discussed. I will scrutinise the SCRO's presentations, including the Tulliallan presentation. I will try to address the matter of opinion and I will consider the management of the case from several angles. After that, I will make closing remarks, if the convener will let me.

...Presentation of discrepencies...

...Presentation of the cropping of the SCRO exhibits...

I will talk about the managing of the case before wrapping up. If, as a manager, you are confronted with such a problem, you need to manage the situation. You need to manage the conflict and the people and stay out of the professional debate. The experts swam like fish into a trap and they cannot swim back. The management should have stepped in, but managers did not manage the situation. Instead, they took a position in a debate. They should have learned from the Mayfield case, in which things were handled very differently.

Why did that happen? I think that the management took its position in a Pavlovian reaction. We are dealing with an expert organisation and a police organisation. Police organisations close ranks. That is a good commodity in a riot situation or in an army. People close ranks, identify the enemy and never give up. Last week, the experts said that the issue will all blow over. That is also an odd attitude. Expert organisations say, "We make no mistakes, so stay out of what you do not know." These two attitudes merged together fatally. Then people found the arguments and excuses for the position that they had taken. They said that the issue is an opinion matter and they questioned the use of internet images.

I have some questions. For the court ruling—and at the invitation of the Parliament—I gave my opinion, which was accepted. If people do not accept that opinion, they can ask another thousand experts. That is fine with me. The Minister for Justice declared in 2000 and 2006 that there had been a mistake. HMIC asked for transparency and accountability. On what authority did the management change a mistake into a difference of opinion? If people truly believed the opinion argument, why did they not act accordingly? Did they induce or promote further discussions? Were all opinions allowed? Why did they not seek further independent advice from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New Scotland Yard, the Bundeskriminalamt and the Sûreté nationale? Why did they covertly ask for advice and put it in a drawer when they did not like it? They got advice from 171 experts worldwide, which they ignored. That could have been the moment to change their minds and to look further.

I have other questions. The position of the management implies that both parties could be right, but we all deny that. We cannot both be right. Why do they not act accordingly? If both can be right, they should treat Shirley McKie as innocent. Did they say in her court case that they could be right or wrong? Did they say in the Asbury trial that they could be right or wrong?

The flip-side of the opinion matter is this. If Scotland accepts that diametrically opposed conclusions are contributed to, and left as, a matter of opinion, will we say that in court? Is fingerprint evidence that is currently put before courts presented as evidence that could be opposed by others in Scotland?

I come to the most compelling questions, which will take about one minute. Did the management pursue accountability and transparency? Did the police management pursue justice and truth? Those are my questions.

Members all know the story of King Solomon and the disputed baby. One baby had been killed and two mothers were fighting over the living boy. King Solomon knew that there was no middle ground. When he challenged the mothers and said, "Cut the baby in half," the lying mother exposed herself and the true mother said, "Please save the child."

I accept that the Parliament has a responsibility to discuss and negotiate the best judicial system along party lines and in view of society. That is members' job. However, my message to members is that justice is not a partisan issue and the truth is not negotiable. I wish members the wisdom and decisiveness of King Solomon.

...Questions and answers...

The Convener: I welcome Peter Swann. Thank you for agreeing to give a presentation to the Justice 1 Committee. You are here today with David Russell, with whom we have been corresponding. The format of the session will be same as for Arie Zeelenberg. You will have 45 minutes for your presentation and there will be some time at the end for questions.

Peter Swann:
Thank you, convener. My presentation is not quite as flamboyant as the previous one—it is quite basic, to be honest. I will use basic material and follow the format that I think is appropriate.

My task this morning is to explain to you my findings, based on the material that was made available to me. I will describe how I reached my conclusions and try to inform the committee, by means of charts, why I know that the other people have got it wrong. That might sound like rather a bold statement, but my reason for making it is simply that, in my opinion, people have not been using the correct material. That answers a lot of the questions that Mr Zeelenberg raised in relation to the tip of the fingerprint. Not one of the impressions of Shirley McKie's left thumb that I saw in his presentations was a rolled impression. I will explain what I mean by a "rolled impression" later.

...Explanation of case involvement...

...Presentation of charted enlargements...

...Questions and answers...

including the following question and answer:

Mike Pringle: Right. My question will probably show my ignorance of the situation. If we look at points 1 and 8 on the left-hand fingerprint on chart D, and then at points 1 and 8 on the print on the other side, there is obviously a substantial difference in the distance between point 1 and point 8. There is also a substantial difference between points 6 and 7 on the left-hand and right-hand charts. Why is there that difference?

Peter Swann:
It is caused by the pressure that has been applied on the mark at the crime scene, and there could have been a twisting action that might possibly have had a bearing. The other print has been taken under ideal conditions. Pressure has broadened the ridges on the crime scene mark. The more you press down, the more you will flatten out the ridge structure and distances between ridges will appear to be wider.

Mike Pringle:
I can see four different ridges between points 1 and 8 on the right-hand side print on chart D. Is that right?

Peter Swann:

Mike Pringle:
There are four ridges between the two points on the right-hard print, but it looks as if there are about six or seven on the left-hand print.

Peter Swann:
It does, I agree, but it is caused by the pressure that was applied when the mark was laid down.

...Additional Questions and Answers...

The Convener: I reconvene the meeting. We now have our first round-table discussion and I will outline who will be taking part. We have already heard from Arie Zeelenberg, and I welcome him back. Pat Wertheim and Allan Bayle are independent fingerprint experts. John McGregor is a fingerprint officer at the Scottish fingerprint service Aberdeen bureau, Jim Aitken is a fingerprint officer at the Edinburgh bureau, and Ken Clacher is a fingerprint officer at the Dundee bureau.

I thank all of you for attending. We have approximately an hour, which I know is not long. You will be aware that, although we are beginning to learn a bit about the subject, we are laypeople, so we would be grateful for concise and straightforward answers, if at all possible. I am sure that members will, as ever, keep their questions focused so that we can get the maximum out of this session.

We have already heard Arie Zeelenberg's presentation, which I am sure we will come back to, because there are some further points of clarification that the committee will want to ask about. However, I ask Pat Wertheim to begin by telling the committee when he first got involved in the McKie case and what approach he took to the identification.
Pat Wertheim: It is an honour to be here. I want to do my best to help the committee to understand my involvement and the conclusions that I reached. I was first aware of the McKie case in late December 1998, when I received a phone call from Iain McKie asking me if I would look at a case involving his daughter. As I planned to come to Scotland on holiday in March 1999, I agreed to look at the case while I was here. I was then contacted by Levy & McRae, a firm of solicitors in Glasgow, and I made arrangements through it.

I first viewed the evidence on 24 March. I have brought my original notes, and if the committee is interested I would be glad for you to have a copy. On 24 March at 10.30, I met Angela McCracken at Levy & McRae. At 11.30, we arrived at the High Court, where I received the documents, photographs, evidence and so on at 11.45 at the procurator fiscal's office. Primarily, I was asked to look at the mark on the door frame for signs of fingerprint forgery. In the early 1990s, I did a research project on fingerprint fabrication and forgery, which has been widely published and shorter versions of it have been republished. However, when I began examining the mark on the door frame, it was obvious to me that it was not a forgery. All the indications of forgery were completely missing from the mark on the door frame, and everything that I saw confirmed that it was a legitimate mark that represented a touch of skin from the person who left it, still present on the door frame.

I also examined the productions that were given to me from the SCRO. I know that much has been made of the fact that I commented that it was instantly obvious to me that the identification was erroneous. As an analogy, convener, suppose that you have a rubber address stamp with your name on it: "Pauline McNeill, 123 Main Street, Edinburgh". If you look at a stamp mark and see the letter X in it, it does not take any longer than that to know that it was not made by your address stamp, because it has such a glaring dissimilarity in it. The dissimilarities between Shirley McKie's thumbprint and the crime scene mark were as glaring as that, as if the letter X appeared on one side and was completely missing from the other stamped message.

Having reached that conclusion at the procurator fiscal's office that morning, I advised Ms McCracken that I needed to take my own inked impressions from Shirley McKie, and she made arrangements to do that. It was at 3.30 pm on 24 March that I returned to the Levy & McRae offices. At 4 pm, Shirley McKie arrived, and between 4 and 4.15 I fingerprinted her.

Much has been made of the fact that I used plain impressions, not rolled impressions. The shape of a thumb tip is a complex surface. It is a curved surface, and a rolled impression reduces that complex curved surface to a square or rectangular flat image, which includes gross areas of distortion. Normally, rolled impressions are used for comparing with latent prints because the inked prints are taken before seeing the latent print. In this case, however, I had the advantage of having first seen the crime scene mark—the latent print—on the door frame. I could see that, if the print was of a left thumb, it must have been placed not flat against the door frame but slanted at a slight angle upward and canted just slightly to the right or clockwise, so the best inked impression to compare to that latent print was one that was taken in the same manner.

During the aforementioned time period, I took from Shirley McKie between 80 and 100 inked impressions of her left thumb to try to duplicate as closely as possible the direction and angle of touch in order to minimise the difference in distortion. The crime scene mark—the latent fingerprint—is not a complex, convoluted, compound, double-touch smear but a single touch of the tip of a finger. It has some distortion and some pressure differential from one side to the other. In the middle of the print—or, rather, to the top of the middle—there is an area where the pressure was great enough to run the ridges together. However, the latent print is not a complicated or complex image. It is one touch of the finger.

In taking the plain impressions from Shirley McKie, I duplicated the direction and pressure of touch as closely as possible, so that I could compare like with like and minimise the distortion differences. Once I took those impressions from Shirley McKie and did further comparisons, I confirmed the conclusion that I had reached earlier in the procurator fiscal's office, which was that the crime scene mark was not made by Shirley McKie. At that point, I advised her solicitors and Donald Findlay, her barrister, of that.

The Convener:
Thank you. I am sure that we will have many questions on what Pat Wertheim has said, but I will first ask Allan Bayle similarly to advise the committee when he first got involved and what approach he took.

Allan Bayle:
I did not take any notice of the trial or anything like that when it was going on. I was asked to look at the Lockerbie mark, on which I prepared a forensic ridgeology report. I was then sent to Canada to get it second checked, because there was nobody in the United Kingdom who could second check my work.

When I went to Canada, a particular gentleman—there is no point in my mentioning his name—showed me the photograph of the mark. He asked me to look at it and do a comparison. He showed me a photograph of Shirley McKie's left thumb. When I looked at the mark and did my comparison, I said, "That is not identical." He replied, "Well, what are you going to do about it?"

I returned to New Scotland Yard—I was working there at the time—and I told my senior officers, "I think we have a mistake here. What are you going to do about it?" I was politely told, "We don't investigate other fingerprint bureaux." At the time, I was an instructor at Hendon police college. I left the issue for about six months, but it was getting to me. Seriously, I could not sleep, because I knew that there was a problem. I went back to my superior officers and said, "You have got to do something about this. It is getting out of hand."

I then decided to go on "Frontline Scotland" and state my views. I also went on the internet. That was my downfall. If people think that the people at the SCRO had a bad time, I can tell them what it was like being an instructor at Hendon police college who appeared in that programme. I was marched in—I will never forget it—and told, "You are not allowed to say anything in public about another bureau or another mark." I was then prohibited from going to meetings of ACPO, to which I was an adviser on the non-numeric standard and the future training of experts in the United Kingdom, and I was prevented from lecturing to fingerprint experts and officers who were doing fingerprint work. I was just allowed to teach forensic scene of crime examination.

It was becoming impossible to work there, so I requested a transfer back to crime scene examination in London. I was refused—I was told that there were no vacancies—so I decided to hand in my resignation, because the pressure was so great. After that, I met Pat Wertheim and various other people, including the McKies. It was I who approached the McKies, not the other way round. I volunteered to help them, because I saw the case as an injustice.

John McGregor (Scottish Fingerprint Service Aberdeen Bureau):
I became involved in the matter after Ewan Innes, the head of the Scottish fingerprint service, came up to me in Aberdeen on 10 May 2005 with a letter from David Russell on behalf of Peter Swann, which talked about his involvement in the examination of the mark and said that the fingerprint was identical to the left thumbprint of Shirley McKie.

For years, we tried to obtain material. From 1999 to 2000, we wanted the material to be peer reviewed, so that rather than follow what was going on on the internet we could view the material and make our own judgments. However, we were constantly denied that material, even though we knew that Robert Mackenzie, the deputy head of the Glasgow bureau, had done a presentation for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. He gave other presentations, but they were always to non-fingerprint experts, which was frustrating for practitioners. We had heard the speculation that an erroneous identification had been made, but we could not check that.

To cut a long story short, the chief fingerprint officer then retired from our bureau. When we were clearing out his possessions and emptying his desk, we came across two photographs, which we recognised as being the images that were on the internet. To establish the authenticity of the marks and to ensure that they were original, we decided to contact Pat Wertheim, who sent us an e-mail that stated, "I am fascinated by the images you sent because they are indeed the original crime scene mark from the bathroom door frame in Marion Ross's house, directly above where her body was found, and an inked left thumbprint of Shirley McKie. You can confirm those images by going to" We were satisfied beyond doubt that we were in possession of genuine marks from the case. Mr Wertheim offered to send us inked impressions of the left thumb of Shirley McKie that he took in 1999 to aid us in our comparison. The photographs that we retrieved from the head of the bureau's desk had been circulated to bureaux in England, but we do not know where they came from. That is how I became involved.

The Convener:
To be clear, were the images that you found photographs of the latent mark?

John McGregor:
Pat Wertheim confirmed that they were the original material.

The Convener:
And you compared them with prints that you obtained from Pat Wertheim.

John McGregor:

Jim Aitken (Scottish Fingerprint Service Edinburgh Bureau): When the case came to light in 1999, everybody was aware of it, but I first became directly involved, by seeing the images from the case, at the end of 1999. At that time, one of the 18 experts at the Edinburgh fingerprint bureau had contacted Mr Wertheim and had sourced from him copies of the mark that he had used for his comparison and images of impressions that he had taken from Ms McKie. The images had already been authenticated by Mr Wertheim, because he supplied them to my colleague, and they were passed around the 18 experts in the Edinburgh bureau.

However, we had also received from the director of the SCRO bureau in Glasgow a memorandum that dumbed down Mr Wertheim's abilities as a fingerprint expert. As a result, when we in the Edinburgh bureau were asked to make the comparisons, we half expected to agree with the Glasgow experts. We did not begin our examination of the material biased against SCRO—indeed, we were fully open and objective. Only after all the experts had examined the material did we discover that there was a problem with the identification.

As a result, in January 2000 we decided to commit our findings to paper and we collectively drafted a letter. However, I must make it clear that only a certain number of the experts in the Edinburgh bureau were civilian employees. In our letter, we distanced ourselves from the police organisation and made it clear that the views expressed were our own. After all, some of the experts were police officers and they felt that the course of action could jeopardise their careers. That letter was sent to Lord Hardie and the Minister for Justice.

...Questions and Answers of the round-table panel...

Including a response by Pat Wertheim:

Pat Wertheim: I believe that it is fair to say that this is the most controversial fingerprint case in the history of the science of fingerprints. I am somewhat humbled by the fact that I was a mere Texan on holiday in Scotland when I stumbled into this thing. I am perfectly comfortable with my place in the history books; I know what they will say 20 or 30 years from now. In the long run the case will not have an adverse effect on the science of fingerprints—it is a low speed bump on that road. I am comfortable with what the history books will say and I am comfortable with my place in them. The case has come up in cross-examination all over the world. Mr Bayle ran into it in Australia and in the United States I have been cross-examined about the case by attorneys who did not know that I was involved in it.

The point is that, in the long run, history will record that an erroneous identification was made by the Glasgow bureau of the SCRO. I do not believe that the case will affect the science worldwide in the long run. How it affects the practice of fingerprints in Scotland in the short term is the issue with which the ladies and gentlemen on the committee have to deal.

...Continued questions and answers...

The Convener: I am afraid that we must draw to a close this part of our evidence taking. Mr Zeelenberg, the committee would be grateful if you could come back to us on Peter Swann's presentation—I do not think that you will have a chance to look at it today. Peter Swann pointed out specifically where he thinks that you misidentified the print, so if you are willing to have a look at the presentation, that would be helpful. It is up to you—the presentation is here.

Arie Zeelenberg:
I am happy to put in any effort that is necessary to look at the matter again. However, I stress that I have not identified the print. We cannot identify prints that are not identical.

The entire transcripts are available in written form:

Or you can view the inquiry at:
by clicking on the June 7 link.

The inquiry will continue at a date and time yet to be determined.


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