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Forces’ Fingers Burnt Over Fingerprint Failures

(Posted on 09/01/19)


Gillian Tully, the government’s forensic science regulator, has warned that only 3 police forces – less than 10% nationally – are meeting basic quality standards for fingerprint evidence. The remaining forces have failed to achieve accreditation to ensure their laboratories meet international standards. The deadline for this was last November.

“The shortcomings identified do not mean that all fingerprint evidence is of poor quality, but they do highlight risks to the quality of evidence,” Dr Tully explained. “The risks are greatest in situations where the comparison is complex, for example because the fingermark is partial or distorted.”

Police forces will be obliged to declare a lack of accreditation in court, which could threaten prosecution cases. International standards are in place to prevent wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice.

“We are treating delays in gaining accreditation as a critical incident,” National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for forensics James Vaughan said in response, “with a chief officer overseeing forces’ progress and assisting them in gaining accreditation as soon as possible.”

Ch Const Vaughan said non-accredited forces had been advised to outsource work to existing accredited labs, and that they should be open in providing declarations to court otherwise: “It is then for the court to test the veracity and admissibility of the evidence and, to date, no concerns raised have been raised by courts.”