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Panorama
Finger of suspicion
Finger of Suspicion
Sunday 8 July 2001


Programme update - 17 May 2002
Alan McNamara's first appeal was dismissed, but a second one is in the process of being launched. Last year Alan's wife Lisa wrote to Panorama thanking viewers for their support.
Programme update - 17 July 2001
Alan McNamara was given a 30 month sentence for a burglary he says he did not commit. Panorama had previously revealed there are flaws in the evidence against him.
A London burglar became the first criminal to be caught and convicted on the basis of fingerprint evidence a hundred years ago. Since then courts throughout the world have come to accept identifications as infallible.

But Panorama has uncovered a number of cases north and south of the border, which cast serious doubt on the integrity of some fingerprint evidence in Britain today.

Shirley McKie
The case of Shirley McKie casts doubt on fingerprint evidence
Policewoman Shirley McKie's world fell apart when her fingerprint was found at the scene of a murder in Ayrshire. It was identified in a routine elimination of prints of the officers who had attended the scene - nobody ever suspected her of the crime.

There was only one problem. She insisted she had never stepped inside the house. But four experts maintained that the print was hers. Everybody knows that fingerprints are unique and infallible, so it followed Shirley McKie must have been lying. She was suspended and charged with perjury.

In despair, Shirley contacted an American fingerprint expert. Incredibly, he found that the fingerprint was not hers, despite the unanimity of the four Scottish experts. She was acquitted of perjury.

For a century, fingerprint identification has been a trump card for prosecutors. Juries accept it as conclusive proof. Defence barristers rarely challenge it.

In the wake of Shirley McKie and some other disturbing cases, reporter Shelley Jofre asks whether fingerprint analysis is a matter of fact or opinion.

Can print identifications be trusted? Fingerprint expert Dave Charlton took your questions in a live forum.

See also:

Businessman Alan McNamara was sentenced for a burglary he says he did not commit. The evidence linking him to the scene of the crime was a single thumbprint. Shelley Jofre reveals there are flaws in the evidence against him.

When Shirley McKie questioned a fingerprint identified as hers, friends and colleagues preferred to believe she was crazy than think the experts could have got it wrong. Shelley Jofre reports on this extraordinary case.

Production Team:
Reporter Shelley Jofre
Producer David Peat
Assistant Producer Andrew Martin

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Finger of Suspicion
Alan McNamara was arrested in 1999 for a burglary he said he did not commit
Finger of Suspicion
Alan McNamara tracked down fingerprint expert Pat Wertheim
Panorama's Shelley Jofre
"The police were not prepared to let the case against Alan McNamara drop"
Links to more Panorama stories are at the foot of the page.


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