Asbury & McKie
Jan 8, 1997 (Kilmarnock)

David Asbury was convicted of murdering 51-year-old Marion Ross and stealing a biscuit tin from her containing £1800. The victim's ribs were crushed and she was stabbed in the eye with scissors. The scissors were left embedded in her throat. There were no signs of forced entry, but police discovered that some builders, including Asbury, had had access to her home the previous year. During a search of Asbury's apartment, Detective Shirley McKie found a biscuit tin in his bedroom containing £1800. Asbury maintained the tin and the money were his. However the Scottish Fingerprint Service, a division of the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO), found Ross's fingerprint on it. Since the tin provided a possible motive of theft for the murder, police believed the tin had belonged to the victim. At Asbury's trial for murder, expert witnesses from the SCRO testified that a fingerprint found on the tin was that of Ross.

During the investigation, after police dusted Ross's home for fingerprints, they reported finding the left thumbprint of Detective McKie inside the home. (The same detective who found or would find Asbury's biscuit tin.) McKie was part of the team investigating Ross's murder. She had stood outside the house, but was not part of the unit that entered the crime scene. The fingerprint meant that McKie had illegally entered the house some time after the killing.

McKie denied ever having set foot inside the victim's house. But no one believed her: they all knew that fingerprints do not lie. Even McKie's father, a former police detective, did not at first believe her. He told his daughter, “Look, Shirley, if they say your fingerprint was found in there, then it must be your fingerprint ... They had it checked and they had it checked. You never argue with that – people have been hung on a fingerprint.”

At Asbury's trial, McKie was called to give evidence and testified that she had never been inside Ross's house despite the fingerprint evidence. Her testimony cast doubt on fingerprint evidence. Her challenge of the Scottish Fingerprint Service was unheard of. Nine months after the trial, McKie was charged with perjury.

At this stage, McKie, and those who supported her, believed that the found fingerprint was hers. The question was, “How did it get there?” According to her father, “We wondered if she'd once visited a joiner's yard and touched a plank of wood that ended up inside Marion Ross's house.” There was also the possibility that it was forged. While surfing the Internet, McKie came across an American fingerprint expert named Pat Wertheim, who had trained FBI personnel. He came to the UK with another expert named David Grieve.

At McKie's perjury trial, the American experts testified that the fingerprint found in Ross's house and identified as McKie's bore no resemblance to her actual fingerprint. One of experts stated that the “obvious” differences took only “seconds to see.” As a result of the expert testimony, McKie was acquitted of perjury. She was later awarded £750,000 for her ordeal.

McKie's vindication led the BBC News organization to question Asbury's conviction, as the same four SCRO experts who had misidentified McKie's fingerprint had made the fingerprint identification in Asbury's case. The BBC had Wertheim and Allan Bayle, a fingerprint expert for New Scotland Yard, examine the fingerprint that convicted Asbury. While the experts found similarities between the print on the tin and that of Ross, both agreed that it was not Ross's print. The finding meant that the SCRO had been wrong on two prints in the same case. In 2000, Asbury was released from jail on appeal after having spent 3 1/2 years in prison. In 2002, his conviction was quashed.  (Guardian) (BBC)  [9/08]