Simon Bunter recently reviewed an arson case where burning newspaper was allegedly pushed through the letterbox of a hotel staff accommodation block.
Police reported that “two sheets of partially burnt newspaper” were recovered and found to bear the defendant’s fingerprints. When Mr Bunter examined the exhibit in question, he found that the newspaper was not fire damaged in any way. The defendant’s fingerprints had been correctly identified on the unburned newspaper but their position was consistent with the defendant holding it to read it.
Further investigation revealed that the newspaper had been recovered from a communal area inside the staff accommodation block, to which the defendant had legitimate access. The date on the newspaper suggested that it could have been there for some weeks.
At court, the Crown’s experts re-examined the newspaper and agreed that it bore no signs of burning, resulting in the prosecution offering no evidence.
This case highlights the importance of examining the exhibits in fingerprint cases, rather than simply relying on photographs of marks or checking identifications.