Top QC calls for review of fingerprint cases
"There needs to be an official awareness that evidence on fingerprinting is more of an art than a science and that people do make mistakes. The McKie case has stuck at the very root of the legal system." - MICHAEL MANSFIELD QC
Story in full A LEADING QC is to write to the Attorney-General in the wake of the Shirley McKie controversy, requesting him to order a review of court cases in England and Wales which relied on fingerprint evidence.
Michael Mansfield - who specialises in high-profile miscarriage of justice cases, including Angela Cannings, the Guildford Four, and Danny McNamee, the so-called Hyde Park bomber - said the McKie case had profound implications for the reliability of fingerprint evidence north and south of the Border.
He added that all Scottish cases involving the four experts at the Scottish Criminal Record Office's fingerprint bureau involved in the McKie case should also be reviewed.
Mr Mansfield said last night his request to Lord Goldsmith, the government's senior law officer, would be the "logical outcome" of the "discreditation" of fingerprint evidence which emerged during the McKie case.
Shirley McKie's career as a detective with Strathclyde Police ended after experts at the fingerprint bureau of the Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO) said a fingerprint found at a murder scene in 1997 belonged to her. David Asbury was jailed for life but Ms McKie was prosecuted for perjury after maintaining she had never entered the crime scene.
She was later acquitted after fingerprint evidence from SCRO witnesses was discredited by experts from the United States.
Last month Ms McKie was awarded 750,000 after she sued the SCRO through a damages action against the Scottish Executive, alleging malicious prosecution. Although there was no admission of liability, the Executive said there had been "an honest mistake".
Mr Mansfield said the McKie case had parallels to the Angela Cannings appeal. Mrs Cannings served 18 months after being accused of murdering her two baby sons in 2002. She was freed after the Court of Appeal ruled it was unsafe to prosecute when the only evidence was from experts on each side.
Professor Sir Roy Meadow, a leading child paediatrician who gave evidence at Mrs Cannings' trial also spoke at the trials of Sally Clark and Trupti Patel. Both women were jailed for murdering their children and later freed on appeal after Sir Roy's evidence was challenged. While this led to nearly 300 similar cases being reviewed, the McKie case has much wider implications with campaigners and politicians saying it could become a "test case" in a great number of appeals.
"The Attorney-General should be confronted about the implications of the Shirley McKie case. He should do what he did in the Angela Cannings case and order a review of all cases dependent on expert evidence. There should be a groundswell of concern about this case," Mr Mansfield said.
"There needs to be an official awareness that evidence on fingerprinting is more of an art than a science and that people do make mistakes. The McKie case has stuck at the very root of the legal system.
"There has been very little or nothing in the press about Shirley McKie other than in Scottish newspapers with the result very few people [in England] have heard the full story."
Mr Mansfield said he believed the McKie case would come to prominence very shortly when a BBC Panorama programme in which he appears is shown in England and Wales.
"This silence is extraordinary given how intense the public interest is in anything of a forensic matter. The McNamee appeal was similar and didn't get much publicity."
Mr Mansfield said he believed a full review of the McKie case and the fingerprint bureau's input should have been ordered in Scotland six or seven years ago.
"There should be a review of any cases the four experts were involved in. There also needs to be an examination of the science which was used."
Mr Mansfield also said the McKie case had a direct bearing on that of Mr McNamee who served 11 years for the Hyde Park bombing in 1982 before the Court of Appeal found his conviction unsafe because of doubts over fingerprint evidence. In his appeal 14 fingerprint experts from all over the UK differed widely on whether a partial print found on a battery belonged to McNamee.
"The circumstances of McKie's legal case are highly comparable to that of McNamee's appeal which centred round the differences of opinion from experts."
Mr Mansfield said he would approach the Attorney-General to ensure the McKie case remained high on the legal agenda.
"Without a direct approach there is always the terrible feeling that it will ruffle a few feathers but that life will go on. I am not prepared to let this happen," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney- General said last night: "We await the details of what Michael Mansfield intends to propose to the Attorney-General."
Shirley McKie's father, Iain, welcomed Mr Mansfield's move. "Mr Mansfield will face massive opposition from the legal establishment and the police. We believe it is time the system in England got a wake-up call. It's long overdue," he said.
"Fingerprint experts in the south know all about my daughter's case but they choose 'not' to know about it."
A Crown Office spokeswoman said last night they were unable to comment on Mr Mansfield's proposed action.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive, referring to Mr Mansfield's calls for a review of cases, said: "On the back of the Shirley McKie case, there was actually a period of 13 months when cases were checked and double-checked as part of a procedure. We don't believe there is any necessity for this to be challenged."
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