Kingsmill fingerprint expert admits ‘catalogue of errors’ in historical cases

November 13, 2017

A fingerprint expert who made errors in at least a dozen historical enquiries cases from the Troubles was not subject to any quality checks, Belfast Coroner’s Court heard last week.

Dennis Thompson was the only fingerprint expert working in the police’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) between 2006 and 2013 investigating evidence from “cold cases”.  Last year, an inquest into the Kingsmill massacre stalled after it was revealed that Mr Thompson had twice failed to match fingerprints connecting a suspect to an alleged getaway vehicle used in the murders.

The errors led to a random sample of his work being taken for quality testing, where it was discovered he made mistakes in at least 12 cases he worked on.

The Kingsmill atrocity saw ten Protestant textile workers shot dead after their minibus was stopped at Kingsmill near Whitecross in January in 1976. The only Catholic on board was ordered to flee while Alan Black was the sole survivor of the attack despite being shot 18 times.  No one has ever been prosecuted for the killings.

Mr Thompson was giving evidence into the Kingsmillsmurders last week when he revealed that there were no formal mechanisms in place at the HET to check the quality of his work.

He told the court that if you were an expert in status it was an unwritten rule that a query would be taken to someone else for a second opinion.  “It was up to the individual,” he added.

Mr Thompson said he did report to a line manager within the organisation, but that the manager was not an expert in fingerprint work. He added that the second opinion of other PSNI fingerprint experts within his building was on an informal basis only.

When given the number of cases he had made errors in, the fingerprint expert said the figure had come “as a surprise” to him and that it was the first time he had become aware of it.  Accepting that he had made a “catalogue errors”, he said,

“Yes. There’s no reason for it other than that I’ve made a terrible mistake.

“If there’s suspicion that it was deliberate, I can swear before this court and the scriptures that I’ve taken my oath on, that that’s not the case.”