Help
BBC OnePanorama

MORE PROGRAMMES

Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Monday, 4 September 2006 12:27 UK

Fingerprints in the dock: Transcript

NB: THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT: BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY.

PANORAMA

FINGERPRINTS IN THE DOCK
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE
DATE: 21:05:06

SHELLEY JOFRE: No two fingerprints are the same. A single print found at a crime scene, can be enough to send someone to prison for life. But for the last 6 years, the BBC has been investigating a case that threatens to undermine over a hundred years of faith in fingerprint evidence. What began as a routine murder inquiry, has turned into a major international scandal, with accusations of conspiracy and cover-up that have put the science of fingerprinting itself in the dock. February this year, and after 9 long years and a very public battle, a former police detective is paid ¾ of a million pounds of public money when her legal case is settled out of court.

SHIRLEY McKIE: The stuff that we've uncovered has just been unbelievable.

JOFRE: Shirley McKie had accused experts from Scotland's largest fingerprint bureau of wrongly identifying a print as hers, then trying to cover up their mistake. She lost her career and even faced going to prison.

SHIRLEY KcKIE: It's been hell enough, it's been a nightmare. I don't know how I've actually got here to be honest with you. I felt for many, many years that this day would never, ever come.

JOFRE: Her case is now cited in courtrooms around the world.

PAT WERTHEIM: You cannot underestimate the amount of damage done to the science of fingerprints in the world today.

JOFRE: Last year it was even used by lawyers at Michael Jackson's trial, to question whether fingerprints should continue to be regarded as evidence of fact.

PAT WERTHEIM
Fingerprint expert
It's been published in articles critical to fingerprint science as a reason that you cannot trust fingerprint identification. So¿ and those are articles not in small local publications, but those are articles published and read by defence world-wide.

JOFRE: The story began 9 years ago in Kilmarnock, a large town near Glasgow. A woman in her fifties, living along, had been stabbed to death in her own home. There hadn't been a break-in, so the police suspected Marian Ross knew her killer. They began to trace everyone who'd been in her house recently. When the hundreds of fingerprints found at the murder scene were examined, they found one belonging to a local joiner, David Asbury. He'd done building work for Marian Ross in the past, and said he'd been in her house by chance the week before the murder. He just accepted the print on a gift tag, had to be his.

DAVID ASBURY: Police put that to me that I must have touched this gift tag, and I said: "Yeah, I must have touched it at that time", and I never challenged that in any way.

JOFRE: But, when the police searched his house, they found a biscuit tin full of cash. David Asbury said it was his. The police didn't believe him. And, when it was sent for analysis, a fingerprint was found on the tin, that couldn't be explained away. It belonged to Marian Ross, the murder victim. The police now had a motive for the murder: robbery, and, it seemed, watertight forensic evidence.

ASBURY: And I said at that time "No, it's not possible, because the tin's mine and it's never been out the house. There's no way that could be her print. It must have been planted."

JOFRE: But, the police were convinced he was the killer. Even though he'd never been in trouble before.

ASBURY: And they were saying: "We know you'd done it. You better tell us everything you know. Tell us everything, it will be better for you if you tell us everything that you know."

JOFRE: He was up against 100 years of established forensic science. Fingerprint evidence has long been accepted as infallible, and has rarely even been challenged in court. At a crime seen, police experts painstakingly dust with aluminium powder to reveal any fingerprints that might be there. Many marks they find are little more than smudges. But, if they're detailed enough, they're either photographed or lifted with tape and sent back to the lab for analysis. Fingerprints are accepted as one of the most reliable forms of forensic evidence. No two people have ever been shown to have the same prints.

SHELLEY JOFRE: The case against David Asbury was built entirely on fingerprint evidence. But there was another important print found at the crime scene, that didn't belong to him. The police were desperate to identify it, so there would be no way that Asbury's lawyers could use the print at trial to suggest that someone else had been inside the house and killed Marian Ross.

JOFRE: That print was found on a door frame above the body. It was photographed and sent for analysis to Scotland's largest fingerprint bureau, the Scottish Criminal Record Office. Unidentified prints are usually fed into a computer database that stores the 5 million or so prints of people who've already committed crimes. Police officers' prints are also recorded as they are often left at crime scenes, and may need to be ruled out. The computer though, can only suggest matches. The final identification must be made with the human eye. In the Marian Ross murder inquiry, the print from the door frame was identified by 4 experts at the Scottish Criminal Record Office. They said it had been left by a police officer working on the murder inquiry, Detective Constable Shirley McKie. But she said she'd never been inside the house.

SHIRLEY McKIE: And I said: "That's impossible." In fact my sergeant was there at the time, when he was telling them this and we both said, we¿we weren't in the house, so there must be a mistake.

JOFRE: By questioning the SCRO's expertise, Shirley McKie threatened to undermine the fingerprint evidence against David Asbury. At that time, the SCRO and the police worked from the same building. Shirley McKie felt under pressure from all sides.

McKIE: Was terrifying for me because, even although I was being bullied and harassed by¿with one interview after another from one senior officer to another, who thought that they could break me¿they could get me, in their eyes, to tell the truth, I still as a police officer thought: "We have a person who's a suspect for a serious, horrendous crime", and I knew that my position was questioning that whole murder conviction, putting it into question.

JOFRE: But it made no difference. At trial, the jury convicted David Asbury of murder anyway. Apparently convinced by the fingerprint evidence against him. He left court to begin a life sentence.

ASBURY: It was terrible. It was¿I nearly fainted. I was in total shock, I couldn't believe it. I thought I was gonna get found not guilty. Shocked, stunned, I don't know how to describe it.

McKIE: I thought: "Great, they've caught the bad guy." I was able to go into court, tell the truth and they still got their conviction. And I believed that¿good¿they'll leave me alone, I'll get back to work. I knew it would be difficult, because people thought that I was now some sort of a lunatic, for taking the stance I'd taken, but I felt that there was still¿was a way back to work for me.

JOFRE: But, there wasn't. First she was shunned by her colleagues, then she was arrested and charged with perjury. It was claimed Shirley McKie had lied under oath at the murder trial when she said the print wasn't hers. If she couldn't explain how it was found at the crime scene, she now faced a long prison sentence.

McKIE: I still thought at this point that it was my fingerprint, and was coming up with all these weird and wonderful ideas of how it could possibly have got there.

JOFRE: She wondered if it could have been planted somehow, and hired an independent fingerprint expert to investigate. But he concluded, the print hadn't been planted and it was hers.

McKIE: It was just absolutely gut-wrenching for me. I felt that as soon as someone on my side, so to speak, got a chance to look at the evidence then this would all become clear. But then when we get the report back, I mean, my world just crumbled in even more if that was possible, because I thought that this would be the answer.

JOFRE: In Scotland and Northern Ireland, an identification can only be presented in court as evidence if 16 points match between the crime scene mark and the inked fingerprint of a suspect. There's no magic number in England and Wales. Experts just have to explain to the court why they think 2 prints match. Throughout the UK though, an identification must be verified by 2 more experts, each working independently of the other. You'd be forgiven then for thinking there's no room for mistakes if a print's been triple checked before it reaches court. The truth is though the whole process is highly subjective. No-one even knows what the margin for error is. An identification really is only as good as the expert who makes it.

And in Shirley McKie's case, four experts from the same Scottish Bureau had by now concluded the print at the murder scene belonged to her. Even her own expert consultant agreed. But she didn't give up. She was getting nowhere in Britain, so she began looking abroad for help. Just weeks before the trial, Shirley McKie found a top American fingerprint expert willing to take a look at the evidence. Pat Wertheim has trained hundreds of police fingerprint experts worldwide. He examined the actual print on the door frame which had been removed from the crime scene and preserved. His conclusion was startling. He said it wasn't Shirley McKie's print at all.

PAT WERTHEIM
Fingerprint expert

Here is a mark that was not only identified, but had been verified by 3 other experts in the SCRO, and allegedly verified by one other expert outside the SCRO. And to look at this and think that all of those people were wrong, left me extremely disoriented.

SHIRLEY McKIE: I mean it's just like, oh my God, that hadn't even¿I hadn't even thought that it may not be mine. It hadn't even been a thought that had entered my head, and I had been living with this trying to come up with an answer for years. How could that print have got there? I never thought for a second it wasn't mine.

JOFRE: But the perjury trial still went ahead. And what was to become a historic showdown between fingerprint experts. 3 of the 4 experts from the Scottish Criminal Record Office gave evidence, still insisting it was Shirley McKie's print. If the jury accepted their evidence, there was a very real risk she was going to jail.

McKIE: They were arrogant, and they stood there and said to a jury and to a judge: "Well, I know you can't see the points of identification, but I'm an expert, and you just have to believe me." It was an utter joke. And I just couldn't believe that after all this time, that was their¿ that was their evidence: "I'm an expert, you just have to believe me."

JOFRE: Pat Wertheim took time to demonstrate to the jurors how, in his opinion, it simply couldn't be Shirley McKie's print. When I first interviewed him back in 2000, he showed me too.

WERTHEIM: This is the crime scene mark, this is a photograph that I took of the crime scene mark. The dark lines represent the ridges and what I've done here, is prepared an overlay on acetate, showing my interpretation of the ridges. The first step in comparing prints, is to find a cluster of these ridge endings, or these splitting ridges in the crime scene mark, and then look for that cluster in the known print or the inked print. And so, in this particular crime scene mark, one good cluster is comprised of these five points, here we have a splitting ridge, a second, a third, a fourth and a fifth. However, we also have to look for dissimilar points. Circled right up here, is a ridge that comes in from the right and splits into two ridges, opening towards the left. And if I remove these acetates, you can clearly see in the crime scene mark itself a ridge that comes in from the right and at this point splits into two ridges and it opens towards the left. So if this crime scene mark was made by Shirley McKie, then you'd have to be able to come from these five points and count up the number of ridges you'd skip. Let's say from this point, we'd come up to here and skip one, two, three, four, the fifth ridge above that, has to split and open to the left. This is Shirley McKie's inked thumb print. We looked for the target group. Here are the five points, but remember, from this point, if we come up and skip one, two, three, four, five, we have to have a ridge that splits and opens to the left. And instead we've got a ridge that splits and opens to the right. This alone is sufficient to exclude Shirley McKie. Shirley McKie could not have left the crime scene mark. This thumb did not make that fingerprint.

JOFRE: A single discrepancy is enough to prove the prints don't match, but Pat Wertheim found many more.

WERTHEIM: It's a different print entirely. What I've got circled here, are more points in Shirley McKie's thumb that do not exist in the crime scene mark itself. So there's not just 1, there are dozens of points in this print that don't match.

JOFRE: Once all the evidence had been heard, the jurors took less than an hour to reach their unanimous verdict. Shirley McKie was not guilty of perjury. For the first time in a 100 years, a fingerprint identification had been successfully challenged at trial.

McKIE: I was sobbing uncontrollably, and I remember just stopping enough to hear the verdict. The relief was just overwhelming, just totally unbelievable that I'd done it - I'd won.

JOFRE: Incredibly though, in the months that followed, the Scottish Criminal Record Office continued to maintain its experts had been right all along. So BBC Scotland's Frontline programme, decided to try and settle the matter once and for all. Four fingerprint experts with no previous connection to the case, were asked to examine the evidence. And one by one, they all came to the same conclusion.

FRANK WILLIAMS: They were not made by the same finger or thumb.

RAY BROADSTOCK: I've looked at those 2 fingerprints and I've come to the conclusion they were not made by the same person.

FRANK REED: That mark is not identical and I fail to see how it could have been concluded otherwise.

RON COOK: In my expert opinion, that¿that particular crime scene mark there was not made by you.

JOFRE: The program prompted the Scottish Justice Minister to set up an official inquiry into the SCRO. The head of the Dutch fingerprint service, who also advises Interpol, was called in to look at the evidence in the McKie case. He too concluded the SCRO was wrong.

ARIE ZEELENBERG
Interpol Fingerprint Expert Working Group

You can see in very early stages that the fingerprint is not identical. And I¿I think I can point it out to any layman.

JOFRE: The day after his conclusion was delivered, at last, an apology for Shirley McKie in the Scottish Parliament.

June 2000
JIM WALLACE MSP
Scottish Justice Minister 1999-2003

This case has caused great distress to Shirley McKie and to her family. I very much regret that. I hope that the action we have taken will reassure Shirley McKie and her family of our good intentions¿

JOFRE: Good news for Shirley McKie, but David Asbury was still serving time in jail. He had always denied murdering Marian Ross. But, he had no explanation for how her print came to be found on a tin in his house.

DAVID ASBURY: Because of course the tin I knew something wasn't right, somewhere. But I just¿I couldn't really get it straight, exactly what it was.

JOFRE: We discovered the print on the tin had been identified by the same 4 experts who had misidentified the McKie print. Was it possible they were wrong twice in the same case? Might David Asbury be telling the truth? By this time he had already spent 3 long years in jail.

ASBURY: They were hell, they were absolute hell. It was a nightmare that happened. It was terrible.

As David Asbury served his time, we obtained access to the actual fingerprint evidence that had been used against him in court: the biscuit tin with Marian Ross's print on it, that linked him to the murder. We brought back Pat Wertheim and Allan Bayle, an expert from New Scotland Yard. We asked them to examine the tin and the SCRO's mark-ups of the print. Their findings were remarkable.

WERTHEIM: This is the sweets tin that was found at David Asbury's apartment. The so-called 16 points that were found by the SCRO on this are pure fiction. If we look at the inked print, we see 16 numbers and 16 little red lines coming into the photograph. However, if we come to the mark itself, we find that while it does in fact have 16 number, many of these lines end out in the middle of nowhere. Point number 6, for example, goes basically nowhere. Now, interestingly here, point number 7 ends at a horizontal line. And yet, in the inked print of Marian Ross, point 7 is a vertical line. How do you get that?

June 2000
PAT WERTHEIM
Fingerprint expert

It's not Marian Ross's print.

ALLAN BAYLE
Fingerprint expert

It's definitely not hers.

JOFRE: You can say that with absolute certainty?

BAYLE: With absolute certainty.

JOFRE: Remember, this was the fingerprint that sent David Asbury to prison for life. What we uncovered cast serious doubt on his conviction, and forced his case back into the appeal courts. An official inquiry confirmed we were right and the SCRO was wrong again. David Asbury was once more a free man after his conviction was quashed.

ASBURY: They couldn't challenge, they'd nothing to challenge it with. Their evidence was destroyed and the SCRO¿ they were in bother.

JOFRE: A complete overhaul of the fingerprint bureau was ordered and it moved to new offices away from the police. The experts who had made two mistakes in the same murder inquiry were suspended, and a top level police inquiry was begun. Its findings have never been published, but we have obtained the summary.

Reconstruction
MacKay Report Executive Summary

It shows that the identification of the McKie print back in 1997 was far from the independent and objective process it was supposed to be. The report describes how a senior fingerprint expert first identified the door frame mark as Shirley McKie's. He passed it to a junior colleague who could only find 10 points of comparison. The report reveals, the senior expert pointed out it was an important mark and suggested that it would be beneficial if 16 points could be found. His colleague said he was unable to achieve 16 points and suggested getting someone else. None of which sounds particularly scientific. And that's something that concerns top criminal defence council, Michael Mansfield.

MICHAEL MANSFIELD QC
Defence Barrister

The problem here is that there is a culture within, I think a lot of police fingerprint departments, wherever they are, that once they've begun a process, it's very difficult to roll it back again. In other words they're wanting, in a sense, to support each other on the whole.

JOFRE: According to the confidential police report that's exactly what happened within the SCRO. Three other experts went on to confirm the initial identification. The report says they were wrong and that their error was easily detectable. It says therefore, that criminality entered this case at an early stage. Nearly a year later though, it was announced there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the four experts, and they all returned to work. Then the SCRO's fight back began. Rather than admit to any mistakes, they dug their heels in deeper. They even put forward a senior police officer to tell us they hadn't in fact misidentified the McKie mark, it was all just a difference of opinion.

May 2001
ANDREW BROWN
Former Chief Constable Grampian Police

These are opinions of experts in this particular case. And in this particular case, they differ.

JOFRE: You can't have it both ways. Either¿

BROWN: I'm not having it both ways.

JOFRE: Either it was her print or it wasn't her print and so long as you talk about a difference of opinion, you allow people out there to think that "Well, it just depends on which expert you believe".

BROWN: No it doesn't, it doesn't depend on which expert you believe.

JOFRE: So it wasn't her print.

BROWN: No, I'm not saying that. I'm¿ neither am I saying it was her print. I'm saying in this particular and in a single case that a difference of opinion occurred and that the correct decision was made in court.

JOFRE: If no two prints are the same though, how can there be two completely conflicting expert opinions about who they belong to? Either a print matches or it doesn't. The trouble is that fingerprints lifted from crime scenes rarely look like this. They're usually smudged or incomplete, and not always easy to identify. Like in the case, 20 years ago, of the Hyde Park Bomber.

July 1982
[News Report]

The forensic evidence which secured his conviction today, centred upon fingerprints he'd left on 2 pieces of electrical tape and a battery found in 2 arms caches hidden in the English countryside.

JOFRE: Danny MacNamee was convicted in 1986 of making an IRA bomb that killed four soldiers. At his trial the jury was told, without debate, that a partial fingerprint found on a battery among the bomb debris, was definitely his. But 11 years later at his appeal, 14 different fingerprint experts couldn't even agree on whether there was enough of a print to make an identification. His lawyer was Michael Mansfield.

MANSFIELD: There was very little agreement between the different fingerprint branches about whether the control print, Mr McNamee's print, was in fact the same as the print said to be found at the scene. At one end of the spectrum there were people saying it can't be compared. It is not susceptible to a comparison at all. At the other end of the scale, you have the Metropolitan Police saying, the longer we look at this print, the more convinced we are that it's come from Mr MacNamee.

JOFRE: The disagreement was in itself enough for the appeal court judges to declare the murder conviction unsafe. They never did resolve which experts were right, and which were wrong.

MANSFIELD: Now it seem to me for the first time ever, there was a recognition finally, that fingerprinting is not a science, it's an art. It's subjective, it's in the eye of the beholder.

JOFRE: Shirley McKie though, believes the fingerprint bureau in her case was not only wrong, but the experts deliberately covered up their error at her perjury trial 7 years ago. So she sued for damages. She was paid ¾ of a million pounds when her claim was settled out of court in February. But the first minister told the Scottish parliament, the McKie case wasn't a conspiracy, just a cock-up.

February 2006
JACK McCONNELL MSP
First Minister of Scotland

In this case it is quite clear, and it was accepted in yes¿in the settlement announced on Tuesday, that an honest mistake was made by individuals. That, I believe, has been accepted by all concerned.

SHIRLEY McKIE: For anyone to say that it's an honest mistake after 9 years, is a joke. You say something's a mistake the day it's happened, the day after it's happened. You don't maintain that something's an identification for 9 years and then all of a sudden you choose to say, oh, made a mistake.

JOFRE: The official line from the SCRO is that they acknowledge and accept the out of court settlement. However, that's at odds with the experts themselves. Their union representative told us they don't believe they made a mistake at all.

KATH RYALL
SCRO Union Spokesperson
UNISON

The experts are maintaining their original identification, because in all honesty, they do not believe that their identification is wrong.

JOFRE: We asked all four experts to come on this program to explain how they matched the crime scene mark with Shirley McKie's print. But, they all refused.

RYALL: The conditions under which that evidence is presented, need to be quite strict and controlled, as they were in a courtroom, and it's just quite inappropriate for that to be done on television. And the experts who have done that, I think haven't done this case any service at all, because what point is served by it? If they demonstrated how they came¿ how the came to their findings to yourself on a television programme, it wouldn't make any sense to you.

JOFRE: But Michael Mansfield believes expert witnesses must be able to explain their opinions. How else can juries reach safe verdicts?

MICHAEL MANSFIELD QC
Defence Barrister

I've always been deeply suspicious of any expert who says: 'Well, all I can say is you must rely on me, I've been doing it for years. But I can't tell you why I think this bit of handwriting is the same as that, or might be the same as that, or this part of the fingerprint or whatever it happens to be. That's not scientific, that is anecdotal, that is almost an emotional response. I'm not denying experience has a role to play, but it isn't the way in which you make a final determination, merely because one, two, three experts say: 'We know best.' The whole point about science is, it is demonstrable.

JOFRE: Pat Wertheim agrees there should be no mystery about fingerprint identification. He had no trouble explaining his opinion to the jurors at Shirley McKie's perjury trial seven years ago.

PAT WERTHEIM
Fingerprint expert

In its simplest form, fingerprint comparison is nothing more than comparing two images which consist of black lines on a background, a light-coloured background. If the lines match, then the prints were made by the same finger. If they don't match, they were made by different fingers. And in this case, they clearly did not match.

JOFRE: If Shirley McKie's damages claim hadn't been settled in February, 8 fingerprint experts from around the world were prepared to testify that the SCRO matched the wrong print. And at least 3 of them would have levelled a much more serious allegation, that the experts deliberately misled the court at her perjury trial. Instead of showing the whole of Shirley McKie's print and the crime scene mark it was matched with to the jury, the SCRO experts cut off the top portions. The effect was to highlight similarities and minimise differences.

PAT WERTHEIM
Fingerprint expert

The SCRO prepared a series of 3 charts in this case, and from the first to the second to the third, they progressively cropped and removed detail from the crime scene mark, and they finally, on the third chart went to a smudged fingerprint of Shirley McKie's that obliterated even more of the detail that didn't match. These 3 charts in series, 152, 180 and 189, to me, are conclusive proof that the SCRO knew before Shirley McKie's trial that this was an erroneous identification. And in preparing these charts they progressively removed the differences in an attempt to mislead the court.

JOFRE: This case has caused such controversy, that Scottish police fingerprint experts have now been banned from talking publicly about it. But one, Gary Dempster, felt he could no longer remain silent. He examined the disputed print recently and concluded that it's not Shirley McKie's. Speaking in a personal capacity, he told us in February that he's never seen a cropped print being presented in a Scottish court.

GARY DEMPSTER
Fingerprint expert

We would certainly try and show the whole fingerprint. And the perception might be that if you are to crop it, that you may be trying to hide some detail. Maybe you might see that there's characteristics which do not appear in sequence which possibly the jury might see for themselves.

JOFRE: It is possible, in your view, that this was an honest mistake?

DEMPSTER: I certainly¿ now from the information that we have seen, I don't believe it was an honest mistake. I do believe a mistake was made, but I don't see it as an honest mistake.

JOFRE: That's quite a grave allegation.

DEMPSTER: Yes.

JOFRE: That grave allegation has now been backed up in the Scottish Parliament by Arie Zeelenberg, an advisor to Interpol and Head of the Dutch Fingerprint Service.

April 2006
ARIE ZEELENBERG

I don't know where and when it became malicious, I don't know. But, I would say on a certain moment in time, they have known it was not Shirley's print. They had two years time to reconsider before they went to court. Two years.

JOFRIE: Arie Zeelenberg gave this evidence to a parliamentary inquiry that's just been set up to look into the McKie affair. He also told the inquiry, the SCRO's cropping of the prints left out crucial detail.

ZEELENBERG: If you look at the tip of the print, there is three incoming lines from the left, the three incoming lines are very clear to see. They're not in the fingerprints of Shirley McKie.

JOFRE: Yet the experts refused to back down, a sign he says, of an office culture where mistakes can not be admitted to.

ZEELENBERG: I wasn't a fly on the wall. I haven't been there, but I can try to understand what happened, and it does relate to culture, definitely.

JOFRE: The four experts have been called to give evidence to the inquiry in the next few weeks. Their union representative denies claims they acted maliciously.

KATH RYALL
SCRO Union Spokesperson
UNISON

Those were very, very serious allegations, and those allegations need to be made specifically to the four experts, which they have not been, in all this time since the perjury trial which was 1999. No criminal charges have been brought against them, and I would have thought that if there was evidence to suggest that they had fabricated their evidence which they took to court, then it would be certain that criminal charges would have to be brought against them. I would suggest to you that criminal charges have not been brought against them, quite simply because they did not fabricate the evidence.

JOFRE: Whatever happened in this case, one thing is clear. If the SCRO doesn't admit its mistakes, if it continues to maintain that these are just two differences of opinion between experts, then the credibility of fingerprinting will continue to take a battering around the world.

ARIE ZEELENBERGER
Interpol Fingerprint Expert Working Group

There is almost no court case, where I mean¿that the case is not brought up. So, then they say okay, it's a battle of the experts. It is damaging the integrity of fingerprinting throughout the world. We are all looking now at Scotland, how they resolve this case, and we all really hope that it's done quick. It has lasted long enough.

JOFRE: Seven years since Shirley McKie was cleared of perjury, the SCRO experts' position continues to cast her as a liar.

RYALL: They are not¿ they are absolutely not saying that she is a liar.

JOFRE: But if they say it's her print, then she must have lied.

RYALL: They are saying that they have made this identification on the basis of the material that was given to them.

JOFRE: And if they're right, she's a liar.

RYALL: That would be the consequence of that, but that is not what they are saying.

SHIRLEY McKIE: I just have to accept that there are those out there who will never admit that they were wrong, who will never admit that I'm right. There's absolutely nothing I can do about that. It's hard for me to take, because one person saying I'm wrong, upsets me deeply but I have to accept that.

JOFRE; David Asbury spent 3 ½ years in jail before he was cleared of killing Marian Ross. But the murder inquiry has never been reopened, which means, even though his conviction was quashed, a cloud of suspicion is still allowed to hang over him.

Did you have any involvement with the Marian Ross murder at all?

DAVID ASBURY: No, no.

JOFRE: Does it bother you that there might still be people who think that in some way you just got off with it?

ASBURY: Yeah, of course it does, it does bother me. That bothers me. It bothers me a lot.

JOFRE: The implications for fingerprinting as a forensic science are just as worrying. What has long been accepted as a matter of fact in court, will now be challenged by any defence lawyers worth their salt, as little more than a matter of opinion. In saving the reputation of the Scottish Criminal Record Office, it seems the century old faith in fingerprinting, has been put in jeopardy.

MICHAEL MANSFIELD QC
Defence Barrister

Well there's no question that this has ramifications¿throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, this case, because it has to be seen in tandem with the McNamee case which raised exactly the same issues. And therefore, all of us who are concerned in the system of criminal justice, should be asking ourselves seriously when one comes and is confronted with fingerprint evidence in the future, that if the government of the day, or the fingerprint authorities, or the police authorities are not going to do a reappraisal themselves, we have to be seriously questioning in each case.

JOFRE: Nearly seven years since we first revealed two serious errors at Scotland's largest fingerprint bureau, there's been no explanation of what went wrong. The four experts are still working there. But more worrying for the family of Marian Ross, nearly a decade has past and her killer has still not been brought to justice.

SEE ALSO
'Relief' over fingerprint verdict
07 Feb 06 |  Scotland
Fingerprints on trial
12 May 02 |  Panorama
Fingerprint evidence challenged
08 Jul 01 |  Panorama
Finger of suspicion
01 Jul 01 |  Panorama
Finger of suspicion: transcript
18 Jan 00 |  Scotland


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific