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Fingerprints Beyond Comparison

March 01 2013

Forensic Science Interpreting The Evidence

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Fingerprint Experts

At Keith Borer Consultants we don’t just check the fingerprint identification, we examine the fingerprint evidence from a forensic perspective.

Fingerprints are the most commonly used forensic evidence across the world and have a long history of use in criminal investigations.  In the UK, we see comments within police statements that on further examination may not be supportable by scientific research.  Examples of these comments are ‘your fingerprints were left recently’ or ‘your fingerprints were consistent with climbing in through the window’.  Research carried  out by Keith Borer Consultants has demonstrated that such statements are often assumptions that need further evaluation taking into consideration the circumstances of the case.

In each of the recent cases listed below the prosecution dropped the case after the production of a forensic fingerprint report from Keith Borer Consultants.  A fingerprint comparison alone could have easily led to guilty verdicts.

Case 1: The Trinket Box

In a domestic burglary the offender had moved a trinket box.  The defendant’s fingerprints were allegedly found on the base of the box and our comparison work confirmed the identification.

When we examined the trinket box, however, we observed significant differences between the background details in the fingerprint lift containing the defendant’s fingerprint to that on the trinket box itself.  Although the fingerprint matched that of the defendant the mark had NOT been recovered from the box as the police statements alleged.  The prosecution subsequently dropped the case.

Case 2: The Bookmakers

CCTV footage and fingerprint evidence were presented in relation to an armed robbery of a bookmaker’s shop.  The CCTV footage showed one of the two offenders placing his right hand on the counter and vaulting over it.  Several fingerprints were recovered from the shop counter, one of which matched the defendant’s right palm.  Initial work carried out by Keith Borer Consultants agreed with the identification.  The counter, however, was accessible to the public and the defendant was a local man.

We examined the shop counter itself and the notes made by the SOCO.  The counter was 6 metres long yet the SOCO had not taken measurements to show exactly where the marks were found.  The SOCO’s poor quality thumbnail sketch failed to correlate the position of the defendant’s palm print on the counter with the position of the offender’s contact on the CCTV footage.  As a result of our examination the case was dropped.

Case 3: The Rugby Club

A man was charged with the burglary of his former rugby clubhouse.  The SOCO recovered several fingerprints including a palm and finger mark on an internal kitchen door.  Although the marks matched that of the defendant, he was adamant that he had not been in the premises for four years and claimed his marks must have persisted for this extended period of time.

Prospects for the defendant were not looking good when the Chairman of the club stated that the door had been re-painted 18 months prior to the burglary.

Our examination of the kitchen door at the rugby club, however, led to a remarkable discovery.  The defendant’s finger and palm marks were visible in the white layer of paint applied 18 months before the offence.  Removal of this layer of paint, however, showed that the marks were actually formed in an underlying layer of yellow paint applied many years earlier.  Our findings demonstrated that the defendant had touched the door several years previously, leaving his marks in the yellow paint before it dried.  The door was subsequently painted white, 18 months before the burglary, and the marks continued to be  visible through that more recent layer of paint.  The SOCO had recovered the defendant’s marks not realising they were in paint.  Again, the Crown decided not to proceed with the case after being provided with our report.

To Summarise

These cases illustrate the importance of examining  the crime scene and/or exhibits and that solely comparing recovered marks with a person’s fingerprint form can often be insufficient to properly evaluate the fingerprint evidence in the context of the case.  If we had carried out only a comparison of the fingerprints in these cases, it is likely that the defendants would have been found guilty.

Author

Simon Bunter

Simon Bunter
BSc(Hons), MCSFS, ChFP (Fingerprint), FFS

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