Human Error in Fingerprint Verification- Shirley McKie case of Scotland

Human Error in Fingerprint Verification- Shirley McKie case of Scotland

There is a curiosity among the people about the authenticity of fingerprint. They always ask the question “Is the basic principle of fingerprint identification completely faultless”? The basic principle of fingerprint identification is unquestionable. However, the verification of biometric evidence is done by the human beings. Therefore, there is a possibility of human error. Sometimes, innocent person may be accused for heinous crime due to human error.  Sensational Shirley McKie case of Scotland is a perfect example of this type error. Shirley fought for about seven years to prove her innocence and she had to face many trouble in that period. Her relentless fight against her department had again proved that the theory of fingerprint identification is based on science, it is not a perception.

In the month of January 1997, Marion Ross, a woman of 57 years old was found murdered in her residence near Glasgow.  The Police went there for the investigation. They have found a fingerprint mark on the doorframe of bathroom. After a few days, the forensic experts declared that the mark was identical with the fingerprint of Shirley McKie, a young police officer of the investigation team. However, Shirley challenged the allegation and said that she did not enter the room during the investigation. She was posted at the outside of the room. Nobody believed the statement of Shirley because the people thought that the fingerprint verification could not be wrong. .

Iain McKie, father of Shirley, came forward in support of his daughter. Mr. Iain served the Criminal Investigation Department of Police for 36 years. He was very much familiar with the activities of the U.K. Police Department. In the course of trial, David Ashbury, an accused of the case was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The fingerprints were used as the evidence in the trial.


After the conviction of Ashbury trial, Shirley was arrested for lying at the time of producing evidence in the court. Iain and his family challenged the proceedings and hired Pat Wertheim, a reputed American F.B.I. trained fingerprint expert for counseling. Wertheim and his assistant Grieve claimed that the mark found in the house of Ross was not identical with the fingerprint of Shirley. After the trial, the jury unanimously found that Shirley was not guilty and she was acquitted.  Jury observed that there was a significant difference in the opinions among the forensic experts of Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO). Later on, Scottish Executive sought apology for wrongful detention of Shirley and awarded her £750,000 as compensation for the damage of her reputation. .

The Scotland case created significant repercussions in the use of fingerprint evidence at criminal proceedings.


About ANIMESH CHATTERJEE Junior   Article Writer

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