THE FINGERPRINT INQUIRY, set up by the Scottish Government to look into the case of former Strathclyde Police Officer Shirley McKie who was accused of leaving her fingerprint at a crime scene has found the fingerprint evidence wrongly identified Ms McKie.
The inquiry, led by former Northern Ireland judge Sir Anthony Campbell which has cost taxpayers a projected £4 million, went onto find the case involving the misidentification of fingerprint evidence was down to “Human Error” and there was “nothing sinister” at work in the case which saw the former Police Officer accused of perjury, being cleared by a jury and later awarded £750,000 in compensation over the bungle.
BBC News, reporting on the Inquiry’s findings said : Among the key recommendations was that "fingerprint evidence should be recognised as opinion evidence, not fact". Examiners, he said "should discontinue reporting conclusions on identification or exclusion with a claim to 100% certainty".
The inquiry also recommended that examiners should receive training which emphasises that their findings are based on personal opinion and that these differences should not be referred to as "disputes".
Sir Anthony said that "a finding of identification should not be made if there is an unexplained difference between a mark and a print".
He also recommended that the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) - which now incorporates the former SCRO "should develop a process to ensure that complex marks, such as those in the McKie case, are treated differently".
Following publication of the inquiry report, Tom Nelson, director of forensic services at the SPSA, said the organisation had apologised directly to Shirley McKie and her family.
Mr Nelson said: "As an organisation, we accept the findings of the inquiry and we expect all of our staff members to do the same. We accept that Shirley McKie did not make the mark known as Y7. We have today apologised directly to the McKie family for the errors that took place in the late 1990s and for the subsequent pain that has caused them."
Following Mr Nelson's apology, Iain McKie, Ms McKie's father, said: "He just apologised on behalf of the SPSA. He accepted the recommendations of the report in full. He apologised to Shirley and myself and our family for the mistakes that were made in the past. Its an extremely important apology because it's the first time I have ever heard anyone say sorry. This is the first real apology that has been made in 14 years. I feel I can move forward myself now."
The cost of the Fingerprint inquiry was revealed in response to a Parliamentary question lodged by Scottish Labour leadership contender MSP Ken Macintosh who is known to have represented some of the former SCRO officers caught up in the McKie scandal. Mr Macintosh previously commented on the inquiry’s use of public funds saying “This is really not the best use of that amount of money.” Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, responding to questions lodged in the Scottish Parliament from the Labour msp confirmed that the estimated spend on the Fingerprint Inquiry to March 31, 2010 was £3,399,400. But he added: “Projected total cost is £4,014,126, based on the total to date and projected future expenditure estimated by the Inquiry.”
The spend on the inquiry was also criticised by the then Tory Justice spokesman Bill Aitken who said “This is a serious amount of money and it could have been better spent. It is high time that we moved on from this issue.” Mr Aitken however was forced to resign his position on the Justice Committee and left the Scottish Parliament in disgrace after attempting to blame the Herald newspaper for comments he made in relation to a rape crime in the centre of Glasgow.
One of those weirdly anonymous Scottish Government spokesman commenting on criticisms of the inquiry’s expenditure said at the time : “It is important to establish the full facts and, where necessary, learn lessons to prevent anything similar happening again. The priority is the integrity of Scotland’s justice system.”
The Scottish Government’s Press Release : Fingerprint Inquiry 14/12/2011
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said today he believed the detailed findings of the three year public judicial inquiry into the Shirley McKie fingerprint case would further enhance the delivery of Scotland's forensic services.
Sir Anthony Campbell published the detailed report of his Inquiry into Fingerprints in Scotland today.
The public judicial inquiry was established in March 2008 by the Scottish Government, with a remit to:
Inquire into the steps that were taken to identify and verify the fingerprints associated with, and leading up to, the case of HM Advocate v. McKie in 1999
Determine, in relation to the fingerprint designated Y7, the consequences of the steps taken, or not taken
Report findings of fact and make recommendations as to what measures might now be introduced, beyond those that have already been introduced since 1999, to ensure that any shortcomings are avoided in the future
Mr MacAskill said: “This is a comprehensive and detailed report and I would like to thank Sir Anthony Campbell and his team for their dedicated work on the Fingerprint Inquiry. For well over a decade, the Shirley McKie case has cast a shadow of uncertainty and suspicion over the individuals involved and the wider Scottish criminal justice system. Though previous reviews had helped address some key issues, they had not resolved them all. This government was firmly of the view that as long as some matters remained unresolved, and public concern remained, that the right and proper action was to establish an independent public judicial inquiry into the case.”
The Justice Secretary continued : "Scotland's Criminal Justice system is a cornerstone of our society, and it is paramount that there is total public confidence in it. Though there is a lot to digest in Sir Anthony's report, I believe that the Fingerprint Inquiry has brought to an end the many years of uncertainty surrounding the Shirley McKie case and has, I sincerely hope, brought welcome closure to those involved. We should all recognise that there have been significant advances in the delivery of Scotland's forensic services since the McKie case, and I am confident that the recommendations from this Inquiry will further enhance these services. We said when we set up this inquiry that it was not intended to try or retry any individual for events of the past, nor to challenge the decisions of the prosecution, the defence or the courts in relation to any of those events. It was to open up and understand those events and to learn from them to ensure that Scotland has a fully efficient, effective and robust approach to the identification, verification and presentation of fingerprint material. Sir Anthony's report delivers on this and gives all those involved the clear basis for moving forward with a system that commands full public confidence."
The Rt Hon Sir Anthony Campbell was one of the most senior judges in Northern Ireland at the time he was appointed to chair the Inquiry. He was educated at Campbell College, Belfast and Queens' College, Cambridge, called to the Bar of Northern Ireland (NI) in 1960 and to the Bar of England and Wales by Gray's Inn in the same year. From 1971 he was Junior Counsel to the Attorney General for NI until 1974 when he took Silk and Senior Crown Counsel from 1984-1988. He was a judge of the High Court from 1988-1998 and then a Lord Justice of Appeal before retiring in August 2008.