UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
Updated the Detail Archives
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.
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
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: Yes.
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
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
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
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
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 www.onin.com/fp." 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
The Convener: And you compared them with prints that you obtained
from Pat Wertheim.
John McGregor: Yes.
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
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 a
t a date and time yet to be determined.
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other
examiners. This is a free newsletter FOR latent print examiners, BY latent
print examiners. There are no copyrights on The Detail, and the website is open
for all to visit.
If you have not yet signed up to receive the Weekly Detail in YOUR e-mail inbox,
go ahead and join the list now
so you don't miss out! (To join this free e-mail newsletter, enter your
name and e-mail address on the following page:
You will be sent a
Confirmation e-mail... just click on the link in that e-mail, or paste it
into an Internet Explorer address bar, and you are
signed up!) If you have
problems receiving the Detail from a work e-mail address, there have been past
issues with department e-mail filters considering the Detail as potential
unsolicited e-mail. Try subscribing from a home e-mail address or contact
your IT department to allow e-mails from Topica. Members may
unsubscribe at any time. If you have difficulties with the sign-up process
or have been inadvertently removed from the list, e-mail me personally at
firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try
to work things out.
Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!