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Greater Mancehster Police and fingerprints
Pointing the Finger at Greater Manchester Police

The integrity of Greater Manchester Police's fingerprint bureau has been seriously undermined.

Two significant errors were made by the bureau within the last two years, one of which resulted in an innocent man's arrest.

Panorama discovered the mistakes while it was investigating the case of Alan McNamara, a Bolton businessman who was convicted of a burglary on the strength of one single fingerprint.

McNamara insists he is innocent and leading fingerprint experts have confirmed that the evidence of the crucial print, upon which his conviction solely depends, is flawed.

Mistaken arrest

The police said straight away: 'We've got your fingerprints, it's got to be you... burglary

Stephen Wallace
McNamara's case may be strengthened by the revelations of the two recent mistakes.

Stephen Wallace, who lives a few miles from Alan McNamara, was arrested by the police in November 2000.

"They came about ten past seven in the morning banging on the door: 'Open the door or we'll kick it in'.

"I said to them: 'What is it?' They said straight away: 'We've got your fingerprints, it's got to be you... burglary'".

Wallace was emphatic that he had never even been to the burgled address.

Even his solicitor was surprised: "He told me that he'd been charged with a burglary and I commented that I didn't think that was his thing really".

There was nothing linking Wallace to the crime apart from the fingerprint, and the police only had his prints on record because of a previous offence that was completely unrelated.

Checks questioned

Mike Armer, an independent fingerprint expert formerly with the police, confirmed that "there were some characteristics there that just didn't agree with Mr Wallace's fingerprints".
Stephen Wallace
Stephen Wallace was falsely accused

The police claim that the print had been checked three times.

But this raises the question of how three people could have made the same mistake separately, one after the other - when one independent person spotted the discrepancies straight away.

Wallace was formally acquitted, but Panorama discovered that a second print, also supposedly triple-checked, was misidentified in the same year.

The error only came to light when the investigating police officer pointed out that the suspect had an alibi and did not match the witness description.

No apology

Despite admitting to fellow experts that the two recent mistakes were "basic" and due to "human error", the head of the fingerprint bureau has refused to be interviewed.

Nobody has explained how two errors, involving six experts, could have arisen in the space of one year.

Neither have the police even apologised to Stephen Wallace.

Meanwhile, Alan McNamara remains in prison, convicted by the same bureau on the same grounds, and fights to establish his innocence.

See also:

01 Jul 01 | Panorama
Finger of Suspicion 8 July 2001
07 Jul 01 | Panorama
Fingerprint evidence is fallible
17 Jul 01 | Panorama
Fingerprint victim sentenced
26 Jul 01 | Panorama
Fingerprint appeal
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