Category Archives: United Kingdom

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Fingerprint identification based on flawed assumptions

From The (London) Telegraph

By Sarah Knapton, Science Correspondent

Fingerprint evidence linking criminals to crime scenes has played a fundamental role in convictions in Britain since the first forensic laboratory was set up in Scotland Yard in 1901.

But the basic assumption that everyone has a unique fingerprint from which they can be quickly identified through a computer database is flawed, an expert has claimed.
Mike Silverman, who introduced the first automated fingerprint detection system to the Metropolitan Police, claims that human error, partial prints and false positives mean that fingerprints evidence is not as reliable as is widely believed.

Nobody has yet proved that fingerprints are unique and families can share elements of the same pattern.

And there are other problems, such as scanning fingerprints of the elderly as their skin loses elasticity and in rare conditions leaves some people with smooth, featureless fingertips.

Mr Silverman, who was the Home Office’s first Forensic Science Regulator, said: “Essentially you can’t prove that no two fingerprints are the same. It’s improbable, but so is winning the lottery, and people do that every week.

“No two fingerprints are ever exactly alike in every detail, even two impressions recorded immediately after each other from the same finger.

“It requires an expert examiner to determine whether a print taken from crime scene and one taken from a subject are likely to have originated from the same finger.”
However there are numerous cases in which innocent people have been wrongly singled out by means of fingerprint evidence.

In 2004, Brandon Mayfield, was wrongly linked to the Madrid train bombings by FBI fingerprint experts in the United States.

Shirley McKie, a Scottish police officer, was wrongly accused of having been at a murder scene in 1997 after a print supposedly matching hers was found near the body.
“What both cases clearly demonstrate is that, despite the way fingerprint evidence is portrayed in the media, all comparisons ultimately involve some human element and, as a result, they are vulnerable to human error,” said Mr Silverman who has recently published his memoirs ‘Written in Blood’ and now works as a private forensic consultant.

“And the fingerprint often isn’t perfect, particularly at a crime scene. It might be dirty or smudged. There are all sorts of things that reduce the accuracy.
“I think it is important that juries are aware of this. Too often they see programmes like CSI and that raises their expectations. What you see on CSI or Silent Witness simply doesn’t exist.”

Unlike other forensic fields, such as DNA analysis, which give a statistical probability of a match, fingerprint examiners traditionally testify that the evidence constitutes either a 100 per cent certain match or a 100 per cent exclusion.
Previous studies have shown that that experts do not always make the same judgment on whether a print matches a mark at a crime scene, when presented with the same evidence twice.

A study by Southampton University found that two thirds of experts, who were unknowingly given the same sets of prints twice, came to a different conclusion on the second occasion.

It was Scottish surgeon Dr Henry Faulds who first discovered that fingerprints might be useful for identification purposes. He published a paper in the journal Nature in 1880 and offered the idea to the Met Police, but at the time the force was not interested.
Undeterred, Dr Faulds approached Charles Darwin who passed the concept on to his cousin Francis Galton. Galton published a book on the forensic science of fingerprints and claimed that the chance of two people having the same prints was about one in 64 million.
On the back of his work and later research Fingerprint Bureau was founded at Scotland Yard in 1901 and eventually the national Forensic Science Service (FSS) was founded with provided services to all UK forces.

However in 2010, the service was closed and forensic work is now carried out by the private sector, although the Met Police recently re-established its own lab.
Mr Silverman, whose opinion was sought on the murder cases of Damilola Taylor and Rachel Nickel, believes the closure of the FSS could lead to miscarriages of justice in the future.

“Police forces have to slash their budgets and the easy thing not to spend money on is forensic services,” he said.

“You have to ask yourself what price you put on justice.”

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic’: increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Birmingham Six member Paddy Hill has claimed that police sent secret letters promising immunity to two of the men responsible for the 1974 pub bombings.  The miscarriage of justice campaigner, who received a life sentence for the terrorist atrocity but was released from prison and cleared after his conviction was quashed, believes two of the pub bombers were told they would not face prosecution for IRA crimes.  The 68-year-old, who now lives in Scotland, said he has been told IRA members previously admitted that five people carried out the bombings at the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town.  He said that two of the five have since died, two were promised immunity – but a fifth bomber has not received any assurances that he could escape prosecution.  Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the mass murder of 21 innocent people on the streets of Birmingham on November 21, 1974, which left 182 injured. Full article here
  • Nebraska exoneree Troy Hess has compensation claim rejected by Nebraska Supreme Court
  • In Canada, a judge has allowed former Vancouver real estate developer Tarsem Singh Gill to withdraw his guilty pleas in connection with a $40-million mortgage fraud.  In a ruling Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Terry Schultes said that the possibility of a “miscarriage of justice” loomed large if he denied Gill’s application to withdraw his pleas to two counts of fraud.  Full story here….
  • Exoneree Edgar Coker discusses life on the sex offender registry.
  • Article about the Uriah Courtney exoneration in California

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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UK Parliamentary debate on definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’

There have been recent moves by the government in the UK, to severely restrict access to compensation for victims of miscarriages of justice. There has rightly, been (muted) outrage about the proposed requirement that the person claiming compensation had to prove their ‘innocence’ to be eligible for compensation. (see post here…)

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“A statutory definition was first attempted by the government as part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which originally stated a miscarriage of justice has occurred if new evidence must “show beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence”. When the bill progressed to the House of Lords, peers voted to defeat the government and change the wording so that the new evidence “shows conclusively that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it”.

The debate on the amendment and the definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ is available here….  For those of us involved in miscarriages of justice in the UK, this is essential viewing – and those interested in how authorities approach these issues. It is a long debate, but very very interesting! There has been limited reporting so far of the debate – but you can see one article here…

Wrongly jailed in UK may not get redress

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The unintended consequences of compensating the exonerated
  • Canada’s system for reviewing alleged wrongful convictions “failing miserably”
  • West Virginia University Law Innocence Project pushes interrogation recording bill
  •  What does a record number of U.S. exonerations in 2013 tell us?
  • ESPN video on the wrongful accusation against Richard Jewel for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing
  • Ex-cop exonerated after 20 years in prison awarded $9 million
  • Mexican lawyers turned filmmakers win civil suit against them brought by family of victim in wrongful conviction case they exposed through the documentary Presumed Guilty
  • Planned changes in UK’s compensation laws for exonerees will make it nearly impossible to obtain compensation after wrongful conviction
  • New Zealand Innocence Project re-ignites debate about the need for a wrongful convictions commission
  • Idaho Innocence Project client Sarah Pearce may soon be released—settlement discussions ongoing

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

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Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • Innocence Project of South Africa now officially a member of the Innocence Network
  • In the UK, new law could limit compensation to exonerees who can conclusively prove innocence
  • Nearly 350 years after his execution, a french jew is exonerated and declared a martyr
  • Almost 70 years after a 14-year-old African American was executed in South Carolina following the slaying of two young white girls, family members asked a local judge on Tuesday to order a retrial and correct what they called a long-ago miscarriage of justice.  Continue reading….

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently awarded the William O. Douglas Award to UW law professor Jackie McMurtrie for her nearly 20 years of work toward bringing justice to wrongly convicted individuals with the Innocence Project Northwest.
  • In more Jackie McMurtrie news, an editorial in this week’s Seattle Times praised the efforts made by attorneys and law students at the Innocence Project Northwest Clinic at the University of Washington School Of Law in their pursuit to overturn a King County man’s wrongful conviction.  Way to go Jackie!
  • California Innocence Project exoneree Brian Banks, and NFL player, signed a movie deal to tell his story
  • Bad ballistics evidence may have caused a Quebec judge to be wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife
  • Scrapping the corroboration requirement in Scotland could cause more wrongful convictions
  • Exoneree Martin Tankleff settles wrongful conviction suit for $3.4 million.
  • Illinois exoneree Alan Beamon has wrongful conviction lawsuit dismissed

Recent UK Exoneree talks about release and time in jail

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Recent DNA exoneree Victor Nealon, who spent 17 years in prison for an attempted rape he did not commit, has spoken of his time in prison and his release. He was given just 7 days notice of his appeal, then when freed from the appeal court, dropped at a local train station with 46 pounds (approx US$75) and nowhere to live. He is now considering suing the police for his arrest in order to gain some compensation to rebuild his life. Read the full interview here….

Postman who spent 17 years in prison after wrongful conviction for attempted rape says he is a ‘greater person’ for being victim of miscarriage of justice

Holiday Quick Clicks…

  • clickIn Wisconsin, the governor says he’ll issue no “innocence pardons” because it is too hard to pick and choose who deserves attention and who doesn’t
  • Why is a Texas prosecutor still practicing law after having been found to have committed egregious misconduct to wrongfully convict Anthony Graves?
  • Philly police to implement sweeping interrogation reforms January 1, 2014
  • Virginia man Jonathan Montgomery says exoneration is “best Christmas present ever.
  • Details about the Little Rascals Daycare case in North Carolina, another of the alleged daycare hysteria wrongful conviction cases
  • Nora Wall, wrongfully convicted Irish nun, in talks with Irish government about compensation
  • Connecticut federal judge finds that Scott Lewis was wrongfully convicted as a result of Brady violations

Victor Nealon’s conviction overturned by UK Court of Appeal after his spending 17 years in jail

Carole McCartney previously blogged about Victor Nealon’s case here and the set-backs he and his lawyer had encountered trying to get his conviction referred to the UK Court of Appeal via the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the latter which had repeatedly refused Nealon’s request for DNA testing. Subsequently, independent DNA testing commissioned by Nealon’s lawyer found new DNA evidence belonging to another unknown man on the victim’s clothes. The Court of Appeal finally heard Nealon’s case today and ordered his release. Nealon has spent 17 years in jail. Read the Guardian’s write-up of the case here.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • CCRC’s referral of George case back to court of appeals a boost for the university-based Innocence Projects in the UK
  • Pending bill in Scotland could increase wrongful convictions
  • Exoneree Dwayne Dail gets $7.5 million compensation from state
  • The last of the Scottsboro boys exonerated
  • Derrick Deacon’s first days of freedom
  • Exoneree Christopher Scott uses compensation money to build a business, help others
  • Arizona adopts wrongful conviction provision of ethical rules for prosecutors

Exciting Case Successes Last Week in Netherlands and UK…

Last week, two innocence organizations in Europe got good news on several cases they have been working on for many months/years.

In the Netherlands, the Knoops Innocence Project obtained the exonerations Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas in the Dutch Antilles.  The Project was able to prove through expert analysis that Thomas was working behind his computer downloading music at the time of the murder, and that Melaan was on the other side of the island (proved via phone records).  The Court also accepted that Thomas’ confession was a false confession.  The two men served eight and five years in prison respectively.   More details here.

In the UK, the Cardiff Innocence Project has had a case referred back to the Court of Appeals by the CCRC.  The defendant is Dwaine George, and his murder conviction was based on faulty GSR testimony.  More details here.   Upon hearing the news, Dwaine said: ‘ I have said from day one that it wasn’t me.  I know there are still huge hurdles ahead, but I want to prove my innocence. I just want a chance to get justice, and I want to thank Cardiff’s innocence project students for the work they have done that will hopefully give me that opportunity.’

Congrats to the Knoops and Cardiff Innocence Projects, and more importantly, to Thomas, Meelan and George….