Are fingerprint identifications merely an opinion?

The short answer to the question to question that is the title of the post is an unequivocal yes!

There is a very good article that was published in the Daily Telegraph which is a daily morning newspaper that has a wide distribution primarily in the United kingdom, but also internationally.

It is presented here as it was found online:

Fingerprint evidence ‘should be regarded as opinion not fact’

Evidence from fingerprints should be “recognised as opinion and not fact”, a public inquiry has recommended.

The report concluded that fingerprint evidence should be 'recognised as opinion evidence and not fact'

The report concluded that fingerprint evidence should be ‘recognised as opinion evidence and not fact’ Photo: REX

7:00AM GMT 15 Dec 2011

The investigation was ordered after a former police officer was accused of perjury when a fingerprint found at a murder scene was wrongly identified as hers.

Tom Nelson, the director of forensic services at the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA), publicly apologised to Shirley McKie and her family for the “errors that took place” and the “subsequent pain” it had caused them.

Mr Nelson said the inquiry’s report “challenges the infallibility of fingerprint evidence”, and added: “We accept that this will be a huge cultural change for fingerprint examiners across the world.’’

Miss McKie, a former detective constable with Strathclyde Police, was tried for perjury after insisting a fingerprint found in the home of murder victim Marion Ross in 1997 did not belong to her.

She was later cleared of lying under oath and in February 2006 was given £750,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

In his report, Sir Anthony Campbell, the inquiry chairman, concluded that fingerprint evidence should be “recognised as opinion evidence and not fact”.

A former Northern Ireland appeal court judge, Sir Anthony said the fingerprint in question had been “misidentified as the fingerprint of Miss McKie”.

He also said a fingerprint found in the home of David Asbury, convicted then cleared of murdering Miss Ross, had also been misidentified as belonging to the dead woman.

But he put this down to “human error” and said there was “no conspiracy against Miss McKie”. Sir Anthony also recommended that special processes be developed for complex fingerprint marks, saying these should be examined by three experts who should reach their conclusions independently, making notes at each stage.

Fingerprint examiners perform “important, difficult and at times complex work”, Sir Anthony said, adding that his recommendations were “designed to assist them to these challenges’’.

Forensic experts Hugh Macpherson, Charles Stewart, Fiona McBride and Anthony McKenna had originally identified the mark found in Miss Ross’s home as being made by Miss McKie. They said they were “disappointed in some of the findings of the inquiry”.

The SPSA will draw up a plan to make the necessary improvements and in January will begin a new approach to dealing with complex fingerprint marks, in line with the inquiry recommendations. The SPSA has accepted the inquiry’s findings and recommendations in full.

Last night Miss McKie’s father, Iain, welcomed Mr Nelson’s apology.

He said: “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.’’

Mr McKie added: “No father can stand by and see his daughter assaulted and abused, because that’s what the system did to Shirley.” Miss McKie, 49, was not present at the press conference when Sir Anthony presented his findings. But her father said she was left “speechless” when he told her the SPSA had apologised.

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