"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Feb 26, 2006

McKie Case - Demand a public inquiry!

The time has come for Scottish Ministers, and in particular for the Justice Minister Cathie Jamieson, to heed calls for a public inquiry into the disgraceful conduct of the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) in the "McKie fingerprint" case.

A report by former Tayside deputy chief constable James Mackay into exactly how, in 1997, the then detective constable McKie (from Troon, Ayrshire )was wrongly identified as having left her fingerprint at a murder scene adds further to the already discredited reputation of the Scottish Justice system.

Reported in Scotland on Sunday the report was based on over 30o witness statements and almost 800 documents and shows a shocking level of malpractice in SCRO - a central part of the Scottish Justice system. It reports that fingerprint experts in SCRO must have known they were wrong even while they defended their flimsy evidence and, shockingly, it concludes that, to protect their reputations, they were willing to take McKie to court, and jail her if necessary.

It shows also how for nine years the truth over what happened was hidden from the public by the Scottish state: by police chiefs, lawyers and government ministers.

The whole sorry episode began a month after the body of a 51-year-old bank clerk, Marion Ross was discovered in her home in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. Shirley McKie, then with Strathclyde Police, had been brought in as part of the murder investigation. In the house, a fingerprint was discovered on the door frame of Ross's bathroom, near the body. Then on February 10, 1997, that print was linked to McKie.

The Mackay report shows how the link to Shirley McKie was made by a middle-ranking expert at SCRO. The expert could only find 10 so-called points of comparison between the print and McKie's though fingerprint experts need to find 16 to ensure a match.
But a more experienced officer, who also examined the print, is aid to have found the required 16 points. "The senior expert pointed out that it was an important mark and suggested that, in this instance, it would be beneficial if 16 points could be found by the expert second-checking it. The witness indicated [that] he was unable to achieve 16 points and suggested getting someone else."
It only took until the following day, February 11, when no fewer than four other SCRO analysts corroborated the senior expert's findings. The evidence of the first expert had apparently been forgotten. These four "experts" were to play a central role in the events that followed.

On February 14, McKie was told that she had been identified as having left her mark on the crime scene. The consequences would have been devastating. McKie had already been involved in a previous incident, when her fingerprints had been found on a polythene bag in 1993 at a crime scene. She was facing the end of her career.

SCRO were therefore under pressure from Strathclyde Police to prove the identification beyond doubt. The Mackay report reveals that on February 18, the deputy head of the fingerprint bureau was summoned to the SCRO director's office and "lectured to in a 'threatening tone' indicating that the identification had better be correct and that an officer's career was at stake".

The deputy head and SCRO's quality assurance manager themselves then checked the fingerprint, and confirmed the identification. But the Mackay report shows that those who did not agree were ignored; "a number of on-duty experts (four) were asked to examine the mark by way of a blind test... one witness was able to find about eight points of comparison... his feeling at the time was that the mark was the same as the elimination [McKie's print] although it was not sufficient for an identification for court purposes. Another recalls spending five minutes looking ... and finding 10 points of comparison ... enough to eliminate [McKie]... two other experts who took part found difficulty in identifying characteristics and asked for more time. They were not shown the mark again."

So the original expert and three of the four analysts in the blind test expressed doubts over identifying the print as McKie's. But the investigation against her began nevertheless. In the May she gave evidence in the trial of the man accused of Ross's murder, David Asbury, and again insisted the print was not hers but in March 1998, she was arrested for perjury.

But McKie was cleared in the later perjury trial - following evidence by two American experts showing how badly SCRO had got it wrong. It emerged that none of the 32 police officers who guarded the crime scene reported McKie's presence.

The Mackay report also shows just the determination of senior officials to cover up their mistakes. Mackay discloses sent the original print material - including the door frame in the Ross house - to the National Fingerprint Training Centre in Durham. Their conclusions are damning. The Durham experts declared of the four SCRO "experts": "Given the inferior quality of their productions for court presentation, we have grave doubts that the examinations conducted by the four persons were carried out totally independently; a process which is paramount to the integrity of all identifications. Without adequate explanation, there appears to be collective manipulation of evidence and collective collusion to erroneously identify Shirley McKie."

The Mackay report conculdes that the case shows a culture of fear and rigid hierarchy within the SCRO. "Junior staff at the SCRO appear to ingratiate themselves to senior experts ... The hierarchical situation pervaded in the SCRO, with a senior expert making the initial identification and making initial judgments prior to his 'juniors' viewing the prints... Evidence indicates that should another junior expert fail to support his identification to the 16-point standard, then another expert prepared to confirm the identification would be utilised to do so. This, combined with a lack of quality control and a clear independence between experts, is the catalyst [for the mistakes]."

Astonishingly as the perjury case against McKie was being brought, no one at the SCRO was prepared to admit their mistakes. "The fact remains that errors occurred which should have been discovered at an early stage. However, an unbelievable attitude prevailed among the experts involved which ignored the consequences and was designed to protect reputations, irrespective of the impact on others."
Indeed at a presentation by two senior SCRO staff in August 2000 they attempted to prove not just 16 but 45 matches in the McKie print. "They remain arrogant and obdurate...the apparent deception incredibly continues despite the overwhelming evidence, both SCRO representatives vehemently adhere to their assertion."
Mackay bluntly that the behaviour of those in SCRO led to "a criminal course of action which disregarded the consequences and the impact on others.... There is a weight of opinion that suggests the errors must have been discovered by the time the evidence was being checked and re-checked and thereafter marked up for court.... In an adjournment of the Shirley McKie trial, two SCRO experts were seen in heated discussion at a stage when one had given evidence and one had not .... "
Fingerprint experts not connected to SCRO suggest the cover up was a result of a wider fear that if McKie's print had been shown to have been wrognly identified, so would a print of Marion Ross's which had been 'found' at the home of David Asbury. One source reported: "When it emerged that Shirley's print was wrong, they couldn't admit that, because then the whole case would have been peer-reviewed and it would have emerged that Asbury's mark was wrong as well."
But it turned out the Ross print identification was wrong. Asbury was convicted of the murder but acquitted on appeal in 2000. Mackay writes: "It is the obdurate and arrogant stance which has prevailed through the chain of events, contributing in the conviction of David Asbury and the prosecution of Shirley McKie, which transferred both misidentifications from an error status to a criminal act with dire consequences."

Other have suggested recently that fear over problems arising with the identification of the Ross print were not the only motive.Indeed it has been suggested that USA organisations had a hand in events. Suggestions have beenmade that the FBI sought to bring pressure for doubts over the McKie fingerprint identification to be suppressed due to concerns that if this came out it would weaken the case which was being brought following the Lockerbie bombing.

Whether one believes such a theory and it does not seem unlikely what is clear is that the McKie case is not isolated one as the "establishment" have been trying to assert. Scotland on Sunday reports a minute of a meeting of SCRO experts from 1995 which shows the pressure being exerted on SCRO staff. "Concern was shown by the group over the question of persons' names being taken over not signing an identification; ie not seeing 16 characteristics when supervisors do."
Among those attending was Fiona McBride, one of the four "experts" who mis-identified the McKie print in 2000. She claims not to recall the 1995 meeting, and denies being put under pressure by her superiors. Others while remaining anonymous do not. In a letter sent to the then Justice Minister Jim Wallace in 2001 a former expert at the SCRO states: "I was shocked and appalled at the level of malpractice... I soon became a victim of bullying, intimidation, harassment and victimisation."
Major questions need to be addressed by government officials and by the current Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson (Labour & Co-op MSP for Carrick Cumnock and Doon Valley.)
Lord Advocate Colin Boyd for example read the Mackay report in 2001, and concluded that, despite Mackay's findings, there was not enough evidence to bring a prosecution against the SCRO officers involved. Boyd told the Scottish Parliament last week that his decision was based on "conflicting positions on identification of the relevant fingerprint evidence". Yet apart from SCRO, only one person - a fingerprint expert called Peter Swann - still claims that it was McKie's print.

Ministers claim SCRO has improved. But major doubts over the quality of prosecutions based on fingerprint evidence nevertheless remain with the possibility of further appeals in cases where fingerprint evidence was critical.

1 comment:

Brother Jeff said...

Very nice site, Rabbie! Glory!

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