Back to the Scottish Parliament Justice 1 Committee Report - Inquiry into the Scottish Criminal Record Office and Scottish Fingerprint Service
Archive Home

Business Bulletin 1999-2011

Minutes of Proceedings 1999-2011

Journal of Parliamentary Proceedings Sessions 1 & 2

Committees Sessions 1, 2 & 3

Annual reports

   
Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Contents Previous Next

SECTION 4: THE FUTURE OF THE SCOTTISH FINGERPRINT SERVICE

Introduction

654. Having considered the implications of the McKie case and the unparalleled degree of change to fingerprint services in Scotland since 2000, the Committee now considers the future of the Scottish Fingerprint Service.

655. As discussed in section three of this report, HMIC, in its report of the Primary Inspection of SCRO in 2004, welcomed the extent of progress since the Primary Inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000 and discharged all the outstanding recommendations and suggestions from the original Inspection.  Although HMIC noted that further work was needed to achieve total integration of the SFS, it concluded that, overall, SCRO was efficient and effective.

656. The Committee has acknowledged that an extensive programme of reform to fingerprint services in Scotland had been carried out under the auspices of the newly created Scottish Fingerprint Service.  This included—

  • external annual competency testing of all fingerprint officers;
  • external training and assessment of fingerprint officers by Centrex National Training Centre for Scientific Support (NTC), based at Durham;
  • the creation of national guidance on fingerprint standards and procedures in Scotland; and
  • bureaux accreditation to ISO9001:2000 quality standard.

657. Despite this record of reform, and its endorsement by HMIC, the Committee’s inquiry has revealed that there remain weaknesses in several aspects of the operation of the Scottish Fingerprint Service.

658. The purpose of this section of the report is as follows:

  • to set out the evidence received by the Committee which explores existing weaknesses in the operation of the Scottish Fingerprint Service;
  • to set out how the Action Plan for Excellence proposes these weaknesses should be addressed, together with the Committee's recommendations on how this document should be strengthened further;  and to highlight possible pitfalls to successful implementation of the Action Plan for Excellence and to provide some suggestions as to how these pitfalls may be avoided. 

Existing weaknesses

Action Plan for Excellence

659. Media and public reaction following the settlement in February 2006 of the civil action brought by Shirley McKie against Scottish Ministers prompted the Minister for Justice, Cathy Jamieson MSP, to announce further reform to the SFS.  On 22 February 2006, in a statement to the Parliament, the Minister announced that she had instructed the then interim chief executive of the Scottish Police Services Authority, Deputy Chief Constable David Mulhern, to bring forward by the end of March 2006 an action plan to develop the Scottish Fingerprint Service as an integrated part of the new Scottish Forensic Science Service (SFSS) from April 2007. 

660. As part of her statement, the Minister set the following objective for the Scottish Fingerprint Service—

  • “I am determined that Scotland's fingerprint service should be acknowledged as being world class.  I believe that we have an historic opportunity to realise that ambition by demonstrating independent oversight, scientific excellence and transparent adherence to standards.”415

661. The Action Plan for Excellence (“the Action Plan”) was published on 21 April 2006.  It contains 25 action points designed “to embed and build on the positive measures that have been implemented since 2000.”416

662. The introduction to the Action Plan acknowledges that much good work has already been done to take the SFS forward.  The Action Plan was intended to take stock of the SFS as it was and to develop the organisation for the future.  The objective of the Plan is stated as being “to ensure that the Scottish Fingerprint Service adheres to the best possible international standards and is a recognised centre of excellence in its field.”417

663. Given the fact that the programme of reforms prompted by the HMIC inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000 had been so recently implemented, the Committee was surprised at the extent of further reform proposed in the Action Plan.  As part of its scrutiny of the actions proposed in the Action Plan, the Committee sought evidence on the current status and performance of the Glasgow Fingerprint Bureau and the wider SFS in order to ascertain whether there were outstanding issues which required to be addressed.

664. The Committee considered the following documentary evidence in order to inform its scrutiny—

  • Baseline assessment of the Scottish Fingerprint Service - The O’Dowd Report (March 2006);
  • Scottish Fingerprint Service Employee Consultation Report – The ICAS Report (June 2006);
  • Action Plan for Excellence – first progress report (July 2006);
  • Review of Scottish Criminal Record Office Primary Inspection of 2004 – HMIC (December 2006);
  • Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report (January 2007).

The O’Dowd Report

665. The starting point for the Action Plan was to revisit the recommendations and suggestions made by HMIC in its 2000 report. 

666. In order to give an informed and impartial assessment of the discharge of the various recommendations and suggestions made by HMIC in its inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000, Sir David O’Dowd, former HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales, was asked to re-visit HMIC’s 25 recommendations and 20 suggestions and to provide a current assessment of the position, given the passage of time and the opportunity that the publication of the Action Plan for Excellence presented to evaluate the changes already introduced in the Scottish Fingerprint Service.418  The stated intention was that this would inform a baseline assessment of the SFS, including an examination of current practice.419

667. On 6 September 2006, during his second appearance before the Committee, David Mulhern stated that Sir David had completed his report.  The Committee requested a copy of the report in order to inform its scrutiny of the Action Plan.  David Mulhern provided the report to the Committee under cover of a letter which sought to set the findings in context.420

668. Sir David prepared his report largely by means of a paper review of the HMIC reports, considering progress against the recommendations and suggestions contained in the Primary Inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000.  Sir David also visited HMIC and SCRO on 20 March 2006, prior to publication of the Action Plan, and held discussions with Ewan Innes, Head of the SFS, and Ian Todd, Deputy Director of SCRO, in order to better inform his review.421

669. Sir David considered each of the 25 recommendations and 20 suggestions made by HMIC in its report in 2000 in order to validate their subsequent discharge.  Given the limited time available to complete the report, the terms of reference agreed between David Mulhern and Sir David involved consideration of the evidence presented by SCRO to HMIC at each review inspection but did not extend to validating actual implementation.422

670. Sir David noted in his report that following his analysis, a “second stage review team” would consider specific issues in greater detail.  In his covering letter to the Committee, David Mulhern explained that Sir David’s conclusions were feeding into a baseline assessment of the fingerprint service.  He expressed confidence that the issues raised were either being specifically addressed in the Action Plan or were being considered more widely by SFS management.423

671. Sir David highlighted a range of weaknesses in a number of areas. The Committee has chosen to highlight those which it considers to be the most significant:

  • Structure, leadership and management of fingerprint services in Scotland
  • Human resources
  • Procedures
  • Quality Assurance

Structure, leadership and management of fingerprint services in Scotland

672. Sir David considered the structure and leadership of the SFS in connection with the HMIC recommendation that a centralised model for a national fingerprint service be considered.424  He noted that HMIC had discharged the recommendation following the third year review inspection in 2003.  However, Sir David also noted the findings of the HMIC primary inspection in 2004 which had clearly highlighted problems of integration.425  He stated—

“It was clear to me during this review that corporate identity and integration was far from satisfactory.  There was not always clear evidence of commonality of purpose within and between bureaux and there is currently the potential for it to become dysfunctional.”

673. Sir David suggested that “strong and effective leadership was required to address the integration issues which presently exist within and between the four SFS bureaux.”426  Although he considered that the new governance arrangements which will be introduced from 1 April 2007 would assist this process he did not believe that “this alone would satisfactorily resolve these matters”.427  Sir David concluded—

“Due to the issues identified and having regard to HMIC’s report of 2004, I believe further attention should be given to the way the bureaux are managed at this present time.”428

674. Sir David also questioned the discharge of an associated recommendation relating to the creation of a corporate identity for the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau.429 He suggested that HMIC had “been somewhat premature” when discharging the recommendation in 2003.430 

675. Looking forward, Sir David questioned whether the forensic science service was ready for the impending merger with the fingerprint service.  He counselled that the change processes during the merger would need careful planning and handling.431

676. HMIC also commented on these issues in its most recent review inspection report of SCRO, published in December 2006.432  The report noted that while effort had been made to establish the corporate identity of SFS, “variations in working patterns (e.g. shift and on call arrangements) and conditions of service (e.g. appraisal systems and sickness management polices) between the four fingerprint bureaux still exist.”433

677. HMIC also acknowledged in December 2006 that the progress made in implementing the Action Plan  had contributed towards the corporate branding of the service in particular.  However, HMIC concluded that “considerable work is still to be done in terms of conditions of service and working patterns, before a truly integrated Scottish Fingerprint Service can be considered a reality.”434  HMIC confirmed that it would revisit this area at the next inspection.

678. The Committee questions the discharge in 2003 of the HMIC recommendation that a centralised model for a national fingerprint service be considered.  Although practical considerations had resulted in the establishment of the current four bureaux model, HMIC failed to carry out an assessment of whether this model would deliver an efficient and effective fingerprint service for Scotland.  Only one year later, in 2004, HMIC (now led by a new HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Andrew Brown) found that there were significant integration issues in the SFS.

679. The Committee is most concerned at the extent of the integration difficulties identified by Sir David O’Dowd and in particular Sir David’s comment that there is the potential for the service to become “dysfunctional”.  This appears to be damning criticism of how the SFS has been managed in the years in which it has been in existence. 

Human Resources

680. In the HMIC report in 2000, it was recommended that data be secured to inform management of sickness absence levels, to monitor trends, set targets and manage sickness absence in the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau.  HMIC also recommended that a strategy be introduced to offer support for the identification and prevention of stress-related illness among staff.  The first recommendation was discharged by HMIC in 2003, while the second was discharged in 2004.

681. Sir David reviewed the current situation within SFS.  He found that in the smaller bureaux in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, there was no clear standardisation of data collection and analysis although he accepted that this was being addressed.  Sir David also noted that at the time of his review, the sickness absence rate in Glasgow was a “worrying 12.24% with some 16 staff sick and seven of those being stress related.”  He commented—

“There is no doubt that since HMIC’s last visit there has been a deterioration of sickness management…..In light of recent events I question how effectively these issues are being dealt with within the Glasgow office and suggest that there is a pressing need for management intervention to develop an effective action plan accordingly. 

682. In relation to the strategy to offer support for the identification and prevention of stress-related illness, Sir David noted that, at the time of the HMIC review inspection in 2003, SCRO had adopted Strathclyde Police’s stress awareness policy and staff had access to the services of Strathclyde Police’s occupational health and welfare service.  He noted that the HMIC report of 2004 praised the progress being made in working conditions throughout the SFS and stated that all staff in Glasgow had access to a free, independent employee assistance programme.  Sickness levels at that time had been reduced and the recommendation from 2000 was discharged.

683. Sir David concluded that in light of recent findings further examination of these issues was necessary.  The Committee notes Sir David’s findings.  Issues affecting the morale, health and well-being of SFS staff are considered further at paragraph 704 to 719 below.

Procedures

684. In its report of the Primary Inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000, HMIC had recommended the production of a national guidance manual on fingerprint standards and procedures.435  In its third year review report in 2003, HMIC had said that the National Procedures Manual, which had been produced by that time, should be independently validated.  Sir David noted the production of the SFS National Procedures Manual, the separate Quality Assurance Manual and the achievement of ISO accreditation for the SFS as a whole.  He reported that the National Procedures Manual had been independently validated by the UK National Fingerprint Board.  Sir David considered that since this manual had now been validated and ISO accreditation had been achieved, this recommendation could be fully discharged.436

685. In 2000, HMIC had also recommended that the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau introduce systems to increase the independence of the identification/verification process.  Sir David commented that this was one of the “most crucial issues” in the HMIC report for providing public reassurance in the process.  Sir David noted that by the time of the HMIC Primary Inspection in 2004, an anonymous system of verification had been introduced in Glasgow with a separate checking team for second verifications.  This model had been inspired by a similar system operated by Greater Manchester Police.  However, Sir David noted that in the smaller bureaux in Scotland (with fewer staff) it had not been possible to implement an anonymous system for verification.  Nonetheless, HMIC had discharged the recommendation.437

686. Sir David commented—

“Whilst a great deal of work had been done to significantly improve the identification/verification systems there was still no common standard in operation yet the [HMIC] recommendation was fully discharged.”438

687. Sir David noted that in the Dundee and Edinburgh Bureaux the initial verification [a process referred to by Sir David as “second review”] is anonymous but Aberdeen had not so far accepted this change and continued to operate a non-anonymous process.  Sir David believed that this situation could not be sustained from a public or professional perspective.  He concluded that the original HMIC recommendation “could not be fully discharged at this time.”439

688. In his letter accompanying Sir David O’Dowd’s report, David Mulhern explained that an external fingerprint expert was now working on a review of processes and procedures, with particular regard to the verification processes applied by the SFS.

689. In the second progress report on the Action Plan, David Mulhern set out details of the action which had been taken in response to Sir David O’Dowd’s finding. 

690. A forensic consultant had carried out scoping visits to all four fingerprint bureaux and produced a study highlighting areas for further investigation.  Further work was then commissioned covering the verification process, second checking of ‘negative’ marks, standardised case documentation and work sharing between bureaux.  A number of proposals for improvement were considered at a meeting involving some of the panel of experts on 11 and 12 December 2006.  At this meeting it was agreed that a cross-bureaux group should be set up to bring forward proposals to standardise appropriate documentation and processes across the SFS by 31 January 2007.440  The progress report stated—

“Despite the current so called ‘blind’ [anonymous] verification process arising from an original HMIC recommendation in 2000, the case to develop a more open and transparent verification process set out by the consultant was compelling.  However, there is a need for further consideration of potential options and consultation with staff and other stakeholders before a new model can be fully assessed.”441

691. The Committee shares Sir David O’Dowd’s concerns that there is still no common standard for fingerprint identification and verification in operation across the SFS.  The Committee is particularly concerned that in 2003 HMIC considered that its recommendation to increase independence in the process could be discharged while simultaneously stating that the SFS was still working towards a solution.

Quality assurance

692. In relation to the performance of the quality assurance function within the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau, HMIC had recommended in 2000 that the joint quality assurance and training officer roles should be separated.  Sir David noted in relation to the current structure of the SFS that the roles had only been separated in Glasgow where a quality assurance manager, training manager and training co-ordinator are based.  However, in each of the three smaller bureaux, the training and quality assurance roles are still performed by one person.  Sir David acknowledged that, in the Review Inspection in 2003, HMIC had accepted this position following the decision that had been taken to rationalise fingerprint services into a four bureaux model.  HMIC had commented at the time that “given the staffing levels at the bureaux outwith Glasgow it is acknowledged that separating the role of Quality Assurance and Training is not practical.”442  It was on this basis that HMIC discharged the recommendation.

693. Commenting on more recent developments, Sir David stated that the Head of SFS had expressed the intention to expand the Glasgow team to perform a generic quality assurance role for all four bureaux whereupon the three staff presently performing a dual role would become full time trainers in their respective bureaux.  However, Sir David noted that this plan was presently aspirational and would require funding for establishment.  Sir David concluded that once established, “this recommendation will be truly discharged.”443

694. In his letter to the Committee, David Mulhern confirmed that given Sir David’s comment, management was looking again at this issue “in the light of changes to the quality regimes that may be required when SFS merge with the Forensic Science Service.”444

695. The Committee has serious concerns about the effectiveness of the quality assurance systems of the SFS, particularly given the fact that the training and quality assurance officer roles have yet to be separated in the three smaller bureaux.  The Committee considers that SCRO and SFS management failed to treat this HMIC recommendation from 2000 with the degree of importance it clearly deserved. 

696. The Committee is also very concerned that in 2003 HMIC saw fit to discharge this recommendation when this had not yet been achieved in all SFS bureaux.  If there were practical difficulties in implementing the HMIC recommendation, the Committee considers that rather than simply discharging it, the correct action would have been for HMIC and SFS management to work together to produce a solution which was workable but still addressed the core problem which had been identified by HMIC. 

Conclusion on the O’Dowd report

697. The Committee considers that Sir David O'Dowd's report is illuminating in that it has identified several recommendations from the original HMIC report which, despite having been discharged by 2004, are still giving cause for concern now.

698. The Committee cannot discount the possibility that, in some situations, the decision by HMIC to discharge various recommendations may have been in response to some relative improvements in the operation of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau (for example the work being done to address sickness absence) and the wider SFS but that between 2004 and 2006 there had been a subsequent deterioration.

699. The Committee considers it more likely that the issues identified by Sir David in 2006 are problems which have persisted since they were first identified by HMIC in the Primary Inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000. 

700. The Committee concludes that a number of important HMIC recommendations were clearly discharged prematurely.  Sir David’s review would appear to call into question the diligence with which HMIC carried out its inspections following the HMIC Primary Inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000.

701. Accordingly, the Committee recommends that HMIC should conduct an internal review of its inspections of SCRO subsequent to Mr Taylor’s Primary Inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000, in order to consider the lessons to be learned for future inspection procedures.

702. The Committee also concludes that a number of failings identified by HMIC in 2000 have simply not been properly addressed by SCRO management.  These failings include, but are not limited to: structural and leadership issues; staff sickness absence; identification procedures and quality assurance.  The Committee recognises that the Action Plan for Excellence is the latest attempt  to tackle these failings. 

703. The Committee addresses the terms of the Action Plan in the second part of this section of the report (paragraphs 720-876 below).

Human Resources – the ‘ICAS Report’

704. Following the out-of-court settlement between Scottish Ministers and Shirley McKie in February 2006, sickness absence in the Glasgow Fingerprint Bureau increased dramatically.  Senior management at the Scottish Criminal Record Office were anxious about the impact on staff and, with the additional pressure of imminent restructuring, managers decided to consult with staff on how best to support them in the current situation and in moving forward.

705. In oral evidence to the Committee, John McLean, the then Director of SCRO explained the background to the decision—

“The media attention and the political scrutiny around the SCRO and the Scottish Fingerprint Service have had an effect on staff, and sickness levels rose sharply in February.  There was a lot of stress-related illness.  At that point, I decided to call in an external firm to support staff throughout the Scottish fingerprint service, not just those in Glasgow.”445

706. The firm chosen was Independent Counselling and Advisory Services Limited (ICAS), providers of employee support and behavioural risk management services.  ICAS was already contracted to SCRO to provide an Employee Assistance Programme, a confidential information and counselling service available to employees and their immediate families.

707. A series of staff focus groups were held in each of the SFS bureaux in order to—

  • identify key current issues impacting on staff morale and well-being
  • identify needs for immediate and future support
  • gain feedback from staff for input to the change management decision making process
  • remind Glasgow staff of the content of their Employee Assistance Programme.446

708. The responses from the focus groups formed the basis of a report which was delivered to SCRO management in June 2006. 

709. The ICAS Report identified a number of important issues regarding the health and well-being of staff, most notably in Glasgow.  Serious stress levels were identified at all levels throughout the organisation with the perception that increased support and a greater demonstration of concern [from management] would improve morale.447

Inter-bureaux tensions

710. The report pinpointed the McKie case as central to the difficulties being experienced within the SFS.  The report stated that Glasgow staff believed that the difficulties had been fuelled by the media and external influences and that there had been a political agenda at work.  However, there remained a divide in views about the case between the Glasgow Bureau and the other bureaux, which reflected their different understanding of the circumstances surrounding the case.  The facilitator suggested that some level of closure needed to be found if the majority of staff on all sites were to be able to move forward.448

711. Staff in the smaller bureaux were reported to be critical of senior management for being disproportionately influenced by the views of the Glasgow Bureau and not being prepared to listen to the views from other locations.  Although there had been changes among SCRO senior management, the perception was that the new team was allowing the uncertainty to continue.  Experts across the three smaller bureaux felt that association with the Glasgow Bureau had tarnished their reputation.449

Staff/management relations

712. The report also highlighted staff concerns about management style, short-tenures and lack of expertise in the discipline of fingerprinting among senior management in the SFS.

713. More positively, the feedback from staff also provided suggestions for improved support, solutions and positive responses that, in the opinion of the ICAS facilitator, provided evidence that staff were still willing to engage and look to the future.

714. The facilitator considered that if the staff were involved in the process, the impending restructuring of the service could be helpful to enable staff to move forward.  The facilitator suggested that to capitalise on goodwill and ensure that staff morale and motivation improve there would also need to be an investment in staff, management style, communications, and a creative solution found to provide some level of ‘closure’ for those involved with the McKie case.450

715. The findings of the ICAS report demonstrated to the Committee that many of the problems associated with management, leadership, communications and support have still not been resolved.  In oral evidence, Mr Mulhern considered that only when measures to deal with those matters are in place, will the staff be willing to move forward.451

716. The Committee considers the ICAS Report to be an important barometer of staff morale, health and well-being at a time of extensive impending change within SFS.  Worryingly, the report revealed an organisation still riven by inter-bureaux disputes over the McKie case and a deep division between management and staff.  The Committee considers that SFS senior management must tackle the issues raised by staff as a matter of urgency if the organisation is to move forward.

Sickness absence levels

717. Given the serious stress levels among SFS staff highlighted in the ICAS report, the Committee felt it was important also to understand what impact this was having on sickness absence.

718. In oral evidence, Ewan Innes reported the recent sickness absence trends within the SFS—

“The Glasgow Bureau, as a whole, had a high absence level of 11 per cent last year.  Within that, the absence level among fingerprint experts was running at about 5 to 6 per cent…..Within the other, smaller bureaux, however, the average absence level is 3 to 4 per cent.  In the Glasgow Bureau, from April 2005 to April 2006, sickness absence among the fingerprint experts was running at about 5 per cent.  That figure started to climb in November and December, and in January and February we were recording a level of 20 per cent among the experts.”452

719. In oral evidence given in September 2006, David Mulhern reported that sickness absence levels remained high, particularly in Glasgow.453  He went on to state that the absence rate was 20 per cent.454

Action Plan for Excellence – addressing existing weaknesses

720. The Committee believes that the reports prepared by Sir David O’Dowd and ICAS clearly demonstrate that there are a series of problems which remain to be addressed within the Scottish Fingerprint Service.  The Committee has considered the terms of the Action Plan in the context of these existing weaknesses.

721. The Committee believes that the Action Plan can only be considered to be fit for purpose if it can be demonstrated that the difficulties which continue to affect the work of the Scottish Fingerprint Service will be directly addressed by the terms of the Action Plan.

722. In this part of the report, the Committee presents an overview of the Action Plan, the context for its implementation and a commentary on several of the measures proposed. To do so, this part of the report has been grouped into five general headings—

  • Structure of fingerprint services in Scotland
  • Leadership and management
  • Human resources
  • Procedures
  • Quality Assurance

Structure of fingerprint services in Scotland

723. Several of the recommendations for structural reform of fingerprint services made by HMIC in 2000 were predicated on a change to the legislative basis for the provision of common police services in Scotland.  Despite a statement made on 14 September 2000 by the then Justice Minister, Mr Jim Wallace, accepting the need for a fundamental overhaul of SCRO and common police services more generally, the Scottish Parliament passed the necessary legislation only in June 2006.

Scottish Police Services Authority

724. Section 1 of the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006455 establishes the Scottish Police Services Authority (the SPSA).  The SPSA is a new statutory body to “establish and maintain” the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (the SCDEA) and “provide the police support services” which are currently delivered by the Scottish Police College, the Scottish Criminal Record Office and the Scottish Police Information Strategy.

Scottish Police Services Authority [To be established 1 April 2007] [PDF]

725. Section 3 of the Act sets out the proposed police support services.  These include training, provision and support of national data and information technology systems and development of a national forensic science service (incorporating the fingerprint service).

726. Schedule 1 of the Act makes provision for the constitution and membership of the Scottish Police Services Authority.  Members of the SPSA will be appointed by Scottish Ministers and will normally comprise a lay Convener and up to nine other members.  The members of the SPSA must come from one of three categories: police force (senior police officers), police authority members (conveners of police authorities or joint boards) and lay members.  There must be at least two members from each of these three categories (in addition to the lay Convener).

727. The Committee notes that on 18 December 2006, the Minister for Justice appointed Mervyn Rolfe as Convener of the SPSA and David Mulhern as its Chief Executive.456

728. From 1 April 2007, when the SPSA will become operational, all staff of the various police support services will become employees of the SPSA rather than individual police forces.

729. Commenting on the forthcoming governance arrangements for the SPSA, Mr Mulhern told the Committee that this would, for the first time, create a structure whereby directors of operation for each of the common police services would be line managed by an identifiable individual (the chief executive) and held to account by the board of the SPSA.  Mr Mulhern considered that the establishment of definite lines of governance would allow management in each of the directorates to be held to account.457

730. The Minister for Justice also commented on this new structure—

“There will be a new environment around the SPSA and there are new methods of governance.  Much critical comment in past reports was about the lack of clear lines of accountability in the former SCRO and the fingerprint bureaux….The new SPSA will have a convener and a board that will involve lay people as well as people with a professional background.  That is a considerable improvement and will enable people to have oversight.”458

Integration of Scottish Fingerprint Service within Scottish Forensic Science Service

731. The Committee received evidence, principally from David Mulhern, about the planned integration of the Scottish Fingerprint Service within the Scottish Forensic Science Service.  The SFSS is expected to become operational from 1 April 2007.  It will comprise the four forensic laboratories and four fingerprint bureaux and may incorporate scenes of crime examiners.  Chapter 4 of the Action Plan focuses on the potential synergies between the work of the forensic laboratories and the fingerprint service. 

732. In oral evidence, David Mulhern set out for the Committee the challenges of the integration process—

“As I see it, the first priority must be to get the Scottish Fingerprint Service to recognise itself as an organisation.  Until that happens, it will not be able to merge with anything else because it does not yet exist as an organisation other than in name.  Thereafter, we will need to achieve the integration of the Scottish Fingerprint Service into the Scottish Forensic Science Service.”459

He continued—

“As members will know, the Scottish Forensic Science Service will not come into being until April 2007, but much work has been on-going on that over the past two years.  Coincidentally, the forensic science service will comprise four laboratories in the same four locations that are used by the current fingerprint service—Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Logistically, integration will make sense and the geographical locations of the two services will not present us with a problem.”460

733. A meeting between lead personnel from the fingerprint service and forensic science service took place on 19 September 2006 to examine how the services would integrate and merge, including such elements as their values and business plans.  In oral evidence, Mr Mulhern had expressed his hope that things would move quite quickly following that meeting.461

734. However, Mr Mulhern acknowledged that establishing the structure of the new organisation presented “real challenges”.  These include shaping the senior management structure and appointing a permanent director.462

735. When asked whether a risk management assessment had been carried out in relation to the process, Mr Mulhern conceded that no risk register currently existed.  He suggested that he expected such a document to be produced following discussions between the organisations, in order not only to identify the work streams required but the risks in delivering them.463

736. The Committee is concerned by the relatively short timescale for the planned integration of the Scottish Fingerprint Service within the Scottish Forensic Science Service when it is clear that the SFS has yet to achieve full integration of the four fingerprint bureaux into a genuinely national service. 

737. The Committee considers that further structural change will not, by itself, address the integration issues which continue to afflict the SFS. The Committee believes that it is vital that David Mulhern and SFS senior management set out clearly to all SFS staff the practical benefits which they believe will accrue from the merger between the SFS and the forensic laboratories. The objective should be to secure the buy-in of staff to the plans for the merger.

Leadership and Management

738. The Committee considered the evolving management structure of SCRO, the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau and the wider Scottish Fingerprint Service in the previous part of this report. 

739. The Committee has expressed its concern at the frequent turnover of staff occupying senior management positions and the destabilising effect that this must have had on the organisation.

740. The Committee notes with some concern the extremely short tenure of the last Director of SCRO, Mr John McLean, who served only 13 months in post before leaving the organisation in May 2006.

Interim strategic management arrangements

741. In view of the impending merger of the Scottish Fingerprint Service with the forensic laboratories into the new Scottish Forensic Science Service, the Committee welcomes the fact that David Mulhern, in his capacity as Chief Executive of the SPSA, has assumed direct management responsibility for the service in the crucial period prior to merger.  This will provide an essential degree of continuity for both the SFS and laboratory staff. 

742. It is quite obvious to the Committee that the Glasgow Fingerprint Bureau has suffered from a lack of continuity in its leadership in the past.  The Committee considers that there is a need for a period of stability at the senior management level with careful planning for future succession in key roles.  This issue has been discussed at greater length in section 3 of this report at paragraphs 429 to 432.  

743. The Committee notes the appointment, on 10 January 2007, of Tom Nelson as Director of the Scottish Forensic Science Service.  Mr Nelson was Head of the Lothian and Borders Police Forensic Laboratory before leading the work to establish the Scottish Forensic Science Service. 

744. The Committee considers it vital that, as an early action, Mr Nelson should review the management structures in place across the Scottish Fingerprint Service and specifically address the issue of succession planning to ensure continuity and stability in the senior management structure – this is an issue which the Committee considers to have been a long-running area of weakness.

Leadership issues

745. The Action Plan states that the prospects for its success are inextricably linked to the quality of the leadership that exists and can be developed within the SFS.464

746. Senior managers are expected to “demonstrate the capacity and capability to drive and guide the Scottish Fingerprint Service through significant change.”465  The attributes which the Head of the Scottish Fingerprint Service must demonstrate are given particular prominence in the Action Plan.  It is stated that the Head of Service must be able to—

  • represent the views of the service in the change agenda
  • lead the cultural change required to eradicate lack of corporacy
  • bring consistency of good practice to the operation of the Scottish Fingerprint Service
  • work collaboratively with key stakeholders to ensure successful implementation of the Action Plan.466

747. In relation to the role of the Head of Service, the Action Plan concludes that—

  • “Most crucially, the Head of the Scottish Fingerprint Service must lead the organisation so as to secure and retain the confidence of its staff, partners and stakeholders.  The Head of Service must have the capability to lead, inspire and represent the four bureaux as one successful team, able to deliver excellence in all areas and command public confidence and esteem.”467

748. When she appeared before the Committee in September, SFS Training Manager Joanne Tierney conveyed the feelings of staff about future management arrangements—

“Each bureau has is own issues and concerns about what the service as a whole has been through, but they are all unanimous in their desire for clear, strong leadership, for a position to be taken that people can sign up to and to know where they are going in future.”

She continued—

“What staff are crying out for and what the action plan will give us is an opportunity to consider the leadership structure that we need and a competency framework that will inspire people to sign up to and be allies of that structure.”468

749. One issue relating to the skills and attributes of senior managers within the SFS which has been raised with the Committee is whether the head of each fingerprint bureau should be required to have fingerprint expertise.  In its report in 2000, the CMRT had suggested that the Head of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau /Head of the Scottish Fingerprint Service should be a manager with experience as a fingerprint expert or a forensic scientist. 469 

750. It has been suggested that a trained fingerprint expert would more fully appreciate and understand the nature of the work carried out within a fingerprint bureau and would, therefore, be more likely to manage it effectively.

751. When asked whether she considered that there was a need for technical expertise among the managers of the service, the Minister for Justice expressed the view that it would be the role of the Director of Forensic Science to ensure that the highest scientific standards are maintained and that—

“…although it is important to have people in management positions who have some understanding and knowledge of the work that is being done, it is equally important to have people in such positions who understand how to manage and oversee organisations and processes to ensure that the work of the organisation is done in the best possible way.  We need to balance the two things.”470

752. The Committee acknowledges the opinion of the Minister. If the organisation is to maintain the highest scientific standards, the Committee considers that there should be a balance among the senior managers of the SFS between those individuals with technical knowledge and expertise and those with general management experience. 

753. The Committee recommends that as part of succession planning, the Director of the SFSS reviews the skills and attributes required by the Head of Service and the heads of each of the fingerprint bureaux including consideration of whether experience as a fingerprint expert or a forensic scientist would be advantageous in these roles.

Human Resources

754. In 2004, the SFS commissioned an internal report to establish the appropriate number of fingerprint officers required in each of the four bureaux.471  This was followed by a further report which proposed the necessary resourcing plan for the SFS for the next five years.472 

755. The report on resourcing requirements set out a recruitment plan to enable each bureaux to reach the proposed establishment levels over a five year period.  Initial pressure for recruitment of additional staff was focussed on the Glasgow Bureau where numbers of fingerprint experts had declined significantly. 

756. On the basis of assumptions contained in the report, it was projected that full establishment would be reached in Aberdeen during 2009 with Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow reaching full establishment early in 2010.

757. The Action Plan provides the actual establishment levels in each bureaux at the end of March 2006—

 

Glasgow* Aberdeen* Dundee* Edinburgh*
Head/ Deputy head of Bureau 2 1 1 1
Quality Assurance Officer 1 1 1 1
Principal Fingerprint Officer 5 1    
Senior Fingerprint Officer 6.5   2 1
Training Manager 1      
Training Officer 0473      
Training Coordinator 1      
Experts / Trainees 22.8 / 6 5 / 4 5474 / 2 5 / 2
SUB-TOTAL 45.3 12 11 10
Senior Tenprint Ident Officer475 5      
Tenprint Ident Officer 15      
Fingerprint Clerk 17.3      
Administrative Assistant 3 1 1 1
IDENT 1 Project 2      
TOTAL 87.6 13 12 11

* actual establishment as of end March 2006

758. In March 2006 the number of fingerprint officers in the Glasgow Bureau actually exceeded the establishment figure of 27. It is important to note that the figures above do not take into account sickness absence levels. However, the Dundee and Edinburgh Bureaux were still below their agreed establishment level of nine experts. 

759. In oral evidence, Mr Mulhern sought to reassure the Committee that progress was being made towards the targets.  However, he expressed concern that the service should not be overpopulated by trainees because there was the risk of not having enough experts to act as mentors.  Joanne Tierney commented that, in the smaller bureaux, one or two trainees was the maximum number that should be going through the programme.476

760. Mr Mulhern reported that, in relation to the Aberdeen Bureau, he had recently taken the view that it would not be appropriate to take on another trainee and instead an advertisement would be placed outside of Scotland to recruit a qualified expert.477 

761. The Committee notes with some concern that the Dundee and Edinburgh Bureaux remain below establishment level and it is not anticipated that they will reach the full complement of fingerprint experts until 2010.  The Committee is also concerned that the ratio of trainees to experts in Aberdeen is considerably higher than recommended.  Given comments made by David Mulhern and Joanne Tierney, the Committee supports the decision taken by Mr Mulhern to seek to recruit a qualified expert from outside Scotland to augment the staff of the Aberdeen Bureau. 

762. In light of the fact that the Dundee and Edinburgh Bureaux also remain below establishment levels and given the length of time required to train fingerprint experts, the Committee recommends that SFS management consider opening a recruitment exercise in order to fill existing vacancies in Dundee and Edinburgh.

Staff support and attendance policy

763. One element of the Action Plan designed to provide staff with additional support and an ability to discuss issues on a confidential basis is the establishment of a ‘safeline’.478  The Committee notes that the service was introduced in September 2006.

764. The Committee notes that all Glasgow SCRO employees and their families also have access to a confidential counselling service provided by ICAS through its Employee Assistance Programme.  The ICAS facilitator reported that many participants in the focus groups were unaware that they had immediate access, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to a counsellor and an extensive information service.  The facilitator provided information to participants at the end of each focus group session but suggested that it would also be useful to provide longer briefings or access to information on CD ROM, so that all staff fully understand the extent of the service.479

765. Mr Mulhern explained that a new attendance policy, based upon that of Central Scotland Police, would be introduced in the near future.  He suggested that managers must apply the attendance policy both robustly and supportively.  Mr Mulhern stressed that when, as Deputy Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police, he had introduced the policy to that force, within a year self-certificated absence was reduced by more than 50 per cent.480

766. In his second progress report, Mr Mulhern explained that it was now proposed that a single attendance management policy be developed for use across the whole of the SPSA.  In recognition of the proximity to the establishment of the SPSA on 1 April 2007, the report stated that “existing attendance policies will be maintained.  In the meantime, dialogue is continuing with the forces involved to ensure that local procedures are being applied and adhered to.”481

767. The Committee has serious concerns about the exceptionally high rate of sickness absence among staff in the Glasgow Fingerprint Bureau.  Evidence received by the Committee suggests that although levels have fluctuated, this has been a continuous problem since the mid-1990s.  The Committee is shocked that this situation has been allowed to continue for so long without being addressed by management.  The Committee considers this to be completely unacceptable.

768. The Committee believes that the combination of constant workload pressures exacerbated by insufficient resources, ineffective management and leadership and an almost constant level of intense external scrutiny has been the root cause of the historically high sickness absence rates in the Glasgow Fingerprint Bureau.

769. In this context, the Committee considers it unacceptable that SCRO management persistently failed over many years to treat this problem with the degree of seriousness it has so clearly required.  It was not until 2006 that the initiative was taken to involve an external agency to assess the underlying issues by consulting staff.  The Committee welcomes the fact that SCRO management finally took this step in response to the problem of sickness absence and recommends that this consultation with staff continue during the course of the merger of the SFS with the Forensic Science Service and beyond.

770. The Committee notes the intention to introduce a new attendance management policy for the SPSA as a whole.  The Committee considers that in order to address the persistent problem of sickness absence in the SFS Glasgow Fingerprint Bureau, this policy will need to be carefully and sensitively managed particularly during the introductory phase if it is to succeed.

771. To this end, the Committee also considers that it would be beneficial if a mechanism can be found which allows truly anonymised feedback from the safeline and counselling service to be given to SFS management on a regular basis to ensure that they are kept aware of key issues of concern to the staff.

Training and professional development

772. The internal training capacity of the Scottish Fingerprint Service has been significantly increased since 2000.  At present there are six dedicated training staff in the Scottish Fingerprint Service, three based in the Glasgow Bureau and one in each of the other three bureaux.  At a national level, the training staff comprises a Training Manager, who co-ordinates, manages and develops the training function across the four bureaux, and a Training Co-ordinator, who collates and maintains personal training records for all staff and provides administrative support.  In each of the four bureaux there is a Training Officer who delivers practical, skills based training locally and also informs national training policy and design.  In the Glasgow Bureau, the Training Officer is a dedicated post.  In the three remaining bureaux the Training Officer also acts as the Quality Assurance Officer.482

773. The Action Plan states that since September 2003 a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Programme focusing on refresher training has been in place for all experts within the Scottish Fingerprint Service.  This includes training on skills development in terms of practical comparison skills, law and legislation updates and court skills.  According to the Action Plan, the week-long CPD Programme is held annually and every fingerprint expert attends such a course at least once every 3 years.483

774. However, there has been no formal evaluation of this CPD training since its introduction.  Action Point 3, therefore, proposes a formal evaluation of both initial and refresher training delivered to SFS fingerprint experts.

775. In the second progress report on the Action Plan, it was confirmed that the assistance of the Scottish Police College (SPC) had been secured to carry out this work.  The workplace training programme (which takes an individual from trainee through to expert status) along with the revised CPD programme will be evaluated by the SPC.  A report from the SPC is expected by the end of February 2007.  This will be followed by consideration of the findings to determine any required actions.484

776. Action Point 19 in the Action Plan proposes the development of an appropriate career framework for SFS staff.  When he appeared before the Committee in September 2006 Mr Mulhern explained that the intention was for the service to look at how it could develop its fingerprint experts into managers and leaders of the service for the future.  He told the Committee that Joanne Tierney, SFS Training Manager, was examining the programme of continuous professional development for fingerprint experts which would, he hoped, enhance the opportunities for staff to advance in the service up to managerial level.485

777. The second progress report on the Action Plan confirms that through the CPD programme and other academic courses, the SFS Training Manager is endeavouring to enhance the managerial skills of fingerprint officers to enable them to advance in the service.  A career framework linked to the SFSS and SPSA and an overarching Performance and Development Review system is being explored, including the potential for the establishment of an SVQ qualification leading to enhanced opportunities for SFS staff.486

778. The Committee notes the significantly increased commitment given by the SFS to training of fingerprint officers including their continuing professional development.  The Committee supports the formal evaluation of this training and development to ensure that it meets the future needs of the service.

779. The Committee welcomes Mr Mulhern’s intention to provide opportunities for SFS fingerprint officers to develop their careers, and the commitment to staff development which the CPD Programme and associated training represents.

Court presentation skills training

780. The Committee considered in the previous section of this report the acknowledged weaknesses displayed by fingerprint officers when required to give evidence in court.  The Committee also received evidence about the increased importance of court presentation skills for fingerprint officers when asked to present evidence under the non-numeric standard. 

781. The Committee was concerned that the Action Plan contains no specific reference to training for court presentation.  It explored the issue with Joanne Tierney to establish how an expert’s presentation might differ under a numeric and non-numeric standard—

“Over time, the courts came to accept that if 16 points of comparison were visible, experts would not be called on to explain fully how they arrived at their conclusions.  Although experts would have been aware of the reasons for their identifications, they were not given an opportunity to provide great explanations. Experts in countries that did not operate the 16-point standard would have had more practical experience of explaining how identifications were made, whereas in the United Kingdom as a whole, not just in Scotland, it was taken for granted that if one went to court and the 16-point standard had been met, that would be sufficient.

Since the 1990s, the fingerprint community has addressed that issue by seeking to move towards a non-numeric standard.  Under a non-numeric standard, the comparison process is exactly the same—the fingerprint expert uses the same practical methodology—but there is greater awareness of the unique principles that support fingerprint identification and more informed and robust explanations are provided.  That has been a fundamental aspect of all training in the Scottish fingerprint service since 2000 and it is part and parcel of training at UK level.  Students must successfully demonstrate their ability to provide explanations that can be fully and readily understood before they can qualify as a fingerprint expert.”487

782. In subsequent oral evidence, David Mulhern explained the deficiencies he saw in the existing approach to training for presenting evidence in court—

“To put into context the presentation of evidence in court, I should point out that over the past 12 months and despite the thousands of identifications that have been made only 11 experts from the Scottish fingerprint service have given court evidence.  We put an extraordinary amount of effort into training our people to prepare for court.  Mainly, experts from elsewhere come and ask our people the most contrived, complicated and difficult questions about fingerprints—and, basically, terrify them.  As I said, they do not normally go to court, but when they do, they find themselves being questioned by someone who knows even less about fingerprints than I do—and I do not know very much.  The experience is entirely different.”488

783. Mr Mulhern considered that the service must look again at how fingerprint officers are prepared for the occasions when they have to present evidence in court.  Rather than heighten their anxiety about an already stressful event, Mr Mulhern considered that training for court appearance ought to allay their concerns about the process and improve their performance.

784. In oral evidence, Jim Brisbane, Deputy Crown Agent, commented that the Crown Office frequently offers to contribute to training for professionals such as doctors and expressed some surprise that it had not contributed more to training in the fingerprint world.  However, he reported that David Mulhern had raised concerns that current training did not focus clearly enough on Scottish criminal law procedure and the Crown’s expectations of witnesses.  In light of this, Mr Brisbane had confirmed that Crown Office would be more than happy to contribute to any further court training for fingerprint experts that is organised.489

785. The Committee notes the commitment made by the Crown Office to assist with training provision as long ago as 1999 at the time of the CMRT review.  It is, therefore, a matter of concern that this does not appear to have happened in practice.

786. The Committee is of the opinion that further work may be required in order to ensure that fingerprint officers are properly prepared to give evidence under the new non-numeric standard.  The Committee welcomes the most recent offer made by the Crown Office to assist in this process and recommends that the Scottish Fingerprint Service urgently considers how the Crown Office input can best be made use of as part of a revised training programme for fingerprint officers.

Procedures

Introduction of the non-numeric standard

787. In section 2 of this report the Committee considered issues surrounding the application of the 16-point standard for fingerprint identification.  The Committee noted that the Scottish Fingerprint Service had recently changed from the 16-point standard to a non-numeric standard.

788. The Action Plan states that the only remaining issue prior to introduction of the non-numeric standard is that of communication of the change to stakeholders in the criminal justice community.  To this end, SFS has produced a presentation setting out the rationale for and implications of the change and circulated it to stakeholders on CD ROM.  The presentation was also made available via the SFS website.

789. The Scottish Fingerprint Service formally introduced the non-numeric standard on Monday 4 September 2006.  The change was endorsed by the Crown Office and ACPOS.

790. When the Minister for Justice, Cathy Jamieson MSP, appeared before the Committee she reflected on the change—

“From my point of view, it was important to ensure that the new system was introduced properly, that people were involved in appropriate training and that any discussions that were necessary took place with the Crown Office….The material that has been produced for staff has been well received and there has been wider recognition that we have made the right move and that it will have a positive effect.”490

791. The Minister gave a commitment that progress would be monitored to ensure that the transition goes smoothly.

792. The Committee also received evidence from William Taylor on the merits of the non-numeric standard.  Prior to his appointment as HM Chief Inspector Of Constabulary for Scotland, Mr Taylor was Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan Police and had been involved in planning for the introduction of the non-numeric standard in England and Wales.  In his view, the change to the non-numeric standard was a significant development—

“I think that the switch to the non-numeric standard will bring improvements throughout. It will ensure that there are standards and processes, and that the audit trail is there.  It requires a much greater discipline than the 16-point procedure.  Under that system, once 16 points have been identified, there is no need to explain or to go any further.  The change of process marks an enormous step forward.  It is right. It is in the best interests of criminal justice as a whole. It is in the best interests of the public in terms of outcomes in detecting crime.  It is in the best interests of experts, who will be able to show their expertise and defend themselves against challenge.”491

793. Mike Thompson explained how the non-numeric process operated in England and Wales—

“We look for 100 per cent of the information to be correct on the crime scene mark and on the tenprint form.  We start by establishing, for example, that it is a loop; then we say that it is a loop to the right; then we say that the count is the same. We also say that our target group is in agreement. However, it is also crucial to be able to say, ‘none in disagreement.’  The relationship between ridge endings and bifurcations on a crime scene mark has to fall within the same set of parameters on the tenprint form—unless a difference can be explained……We no longer stop at 16 points; we look at all the information.  We start from the pattern and then, if necessary, go on to the next level of detail and consider the outline of ridges and the positioning of sweat pores—which is also unique.”492

794. Joanne Tierney explained to the Committee the way in which the introduction of the non-numeric standard would change SFS working processes—

“The change simplifies and streamlines the process by allowing people to carry out analysis, comparison and evaluation and to decide whether a mark is identified, not identified or of insufficient quality for a conclusion to be reached.”

795. Joanne Tierney also confirmed that the SFS was prepared for the change—

“The move to the non-numeric standard is seen as a positive development across the service.  For some time, we have been waiting for it, moving towards it and getting the necessary processes in place.  We are now ready and the change has been made. It is a very significant step and shows that the service is moving forward.  This is the way of the future, and we are coming into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.”

796. The second progress report on the Action Plan states that a review group has been established to monitor all aspects of the introduction of the non-numeric standard to ensure that any difficulties encountered are properly dealt with in conjunction with COPFS and other stakeholders.493

797. Commenting on the impact of the non-numeric standard in its most recent review inspection report in December 2006, HMIC declared itself satisfied with progress made in this area.  HMIC commented that the introduction of the standard had attracted no adverse comments from those involved.494

798. The Committee considers that there existed a clear consensus among fingerprint experts and other professionals in the Scottish criminal justice system that the time was right to move to the non-numeric standard. 

799. The Committee considers that it was vital that the introduction of the non-numeric standard was underpinned by a new approach to training and competency testing for fingerprint experts in order to change the process by which marks are examined and identified.  The Committee welcomes the change and recognises the extent of preparation made by the SFS and other stakeholders prior to introduction.

Identification procedures

800. Action Point 8 of the Action Plan for Excellence states that “the verification process in use in the bureaux will be reviewed to bring about a consistent identification system throughout Scotland.  This process will draw on expertise from outwith Scotland.” 

801. To the lay person, the procedures set out in the SFS manuals may appear comprehensive and rigorous.  In 2003, HMIC had recommended that an expert from another Bureau examine the procedures manual by way of independent validation.  The Head of the Scottish Fingerprint Service had agreed to have this undertaken at the earliest opportunity. 

802. In oral evidence to the Committee, Bruce Grant, of the Metropolitan Police, suggested that he would like to “benchmark the Action Plan against the processes that are already in place, not only in the SCRO, but possibly the other fingerprint bureaux in the UK and in the Metropolitan police, to see whether we can learn from that and bring possible further improvements to the Scottish Fingerprint Service.”495

803. As the O’Dowd Report made clear, despite the creation of a national procedures manual, there remained differences in the identification and verification processes implemented in different bureaux.  The differences were principally attributed to the practical difficulties associated with implementing a completely anonymous verification process in the smaller bureaux where there are fewer staff. 

804. In its December 2006 review inspection report, HMIC noted that the Aberdeen Bureau had now adopted a similar comparison process to that utilised in the Edinburgh and Dundee bureaux.  Nonetheless, HMIC noted that the identification and verification processes had been identified in the Action Plan as being central to delivering a world class service and would be the subject of further, more detailed review.496

805. The second progress report on the Action Plan states that, following work carried out by an external consultant, “suggested proposals to provide a consistent, open and transparent verification process will be brought forward.”  The stated objective is—

“To have benchmarked the SFS verification process and have identified any steps required to standardise it across the bureaux and secure ‘best in class’ standards.”497

806. The Committee supports the review of identification and verification processes.  The Committee recommends that consistent processes should be implemented across all four SFS bureaux. 

807. The Committee also recommends that the processes utilised by the SFS should form part of a regular benchmarking exercise with fingerprint bureaux outside Scotland in order to ensure that the SFS remains at the leading edge of fingerprint identification.

Elimination procedures

808. In the previous section of this report the Committee raised concerns about apparently contradictory evidence it had received regarding the standard to which marks are identified if considered as part of an elimination process.  Some evidence suggested that, under the 16 point standard, a lower standard of identification and verification was applied by fingerprint officers to elimination marks including a requirement for fewer experts to verify an identification.  Other evidence suggested that all identifications and verifications were made to the same standard.

809. The fingerprint procedures contained in the Quality Procedures Manual recently published by the SFS makes no distinction between the procedure for identification of the two categories of marks.

810. Notwithstanding the existence of this manual, the Committee notes that it received contradictory evidence from a wide range of witnesses and documentary sources regarding the application of identification procedures under the 16 point standard.  The Committee was unable to establish with certainty whether a different standard applied to the identification and verification of elimination marks.

811. The Committee acknowledges that the SFS has now introduced the non-numeric standard for fingerprint identification. 

812. The Committee considers that absolute clarity regarding elimination procedures is vital if confidence in fingerprint services in Scotland is to be restored.  The Committee, therefore, calls upon the SFS to put on record the current procedure under the non-numeric standard for identification and verification of elimination marks and to put on record whether this differs from the identification and verification procedure for suspect marks.

Consistency of SFS procedures across the four bureaux

813. The Action Plan acknowledges that, since 2000, the SFS had reviewed its entire operating practice, procedures and training.  These are now underpinned by a series of manuals and policies. 

814. During the course of the inquiry the SFS has published the following documents on its website498

Procedures Manual details the procedures applied within the four bureaux
Quality Assurance Manual defines the policies in relation to ISO 9001
Quality Procedures Manual defines the style of quality procedures and controls their issue and amendment
Common Training Policy details the training process and roles of training staff as regards the Common Training Programme
Common Training Programme outlines the four-stage programme of development from the induction of a trainee examiner to authorisation as a fingerprint expert.

815. These documents are intended to form the foundation for operations across all four SFS bureaux.  However, the Committee has discovered that there are still inconsistencies in terminology and differences in practices between the four SFS fingerprint bureaux.

816. During the course of this inquiry the Committee has been made aware of a number of other identifications made by fingerprint officers from the SCRO/Glasgow Fingerprint Bureau which have been the subject of challenges from external sources.  Some of these challenges related to marks in the Marion Ross murder case other than mark Y7, while others come from more recent cases.  The Committee considers it appropriate to set out within this report what it has learned in relation to these identifications.

Mark QI2

817. Mark QI2 was found on a Marks & Spencer biscuit tin recovered by police from David Asbury’s home. Mark QI2 was identified by SCRO fingerprint officers as having been made by Marion Ross.  Following David Asbury’s conviction for murder the identification was subsequently challenged by independent fingerprint experts.  David Asbury lodged an appeal against his conviction in 2000.  In light of the new fingerprint evidence, the Crown’s view was that David Asbury’s conviction could no longer be sustained.  Accordingly the Criminal Appeal Court quashed the conviction.  The Crown did not seek a retrial.499

818. As previously stated in this report, the status of mark QI2 is relevant to an ongoing civil action and, as such, remains sub judice.  Accordingly, the Committee is unable to comment further on this mark.

Mark QD2

819. Another mark from the Marion Ross murder case, known as QD2, has also been the subject of dispute.  Mark QD2 was found on a bank note in the Marks & Spencer biscuit tin and was subsequently identified by SCRO fingerprint officers as having been made by David Asbury.  Following Mr Asbury’s appeal against his conviction for the murder of Marion Ross, in July 2000 the Crown Office asked two senior Danish police fingerprint experts to check the identification.  The Danish experts initially reported that QD2 did not originate from David Asbury. 

820. In 2006, the averments prepared by Shirley McKie’s solicitors in the civil action against Scottish Ministers, alleged that mark QD2 had been misidentified.  This prompted Scottish Ministers to obtain another expert report on mark QD2.  The report prepared by Michael Pass concurred with the SCRO fingerprint officers finding that mark QD2 had been made by David Asbury.  Separately, the Danish experts, prompted by Arie Zeelenberg, revisited their examination and, having been provided with photographs of the mark which they had previously not seen, reversed their opinion.  All parties now agree that mark QD2 was made by David Asbury and the identification is, therefore, no longer disputed.

Other disputed identifications

821. In January 2007, David Mulhern provided the Committee with information on three cases which have occurred since 2000 where an identification made by other SCRO officers had been subject to challenge.  The text of his submission is reproduced in full below—

“Allegations of Fingerprint Misidentification

On 3 April 2006, in responding to Parliamentary Question S2W-23601 from Alex Neil MSP, the Minister for Justice confirmed that there had been “two cases in the last 10 years where the reliability of the identification [made by the SCRO] was such that the evidence was not used in court”.  Towards the end of the following month, there was widespread reporting of a new case in which an identification made by the SCRO had been called into question.  This note summarises the circumstances of each of these three cases, all of which have been subject to some on-going interest500.

Case 1 – not a confirmed misidentification

In 2000, SCRO experts identified a crime scene print as belonging to an individual501, following which a police report was compiled naming that individual as being responsible for the crime.  This report was sent to the Procurator Fiscal.  However, following a subsequent request to prepare evidence for court, the case was allocated to two further SCRO experts, one of whom could not come to a definite conclusion in relation to the print.  The difference of opinion was brought to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal, who subsequently decided to take no proceedings against the individual.

The difference of opinion was internal, coming to light during routine checking; thereafter the evidence did not proceed to court.  This appears to have been an example of internal procedures operating effectively and the case was not referred for external review.

Case 2 – not a confirmed misidentification

In 2003, SCRO experts identified a crime scene print as belonging to Mark Sinclair.  They did not claim to find 16 characteristics, but their report concluded that they had no doubt that Mr Sinclair had made the crime scene mark.  Strathclyde Police reported Mr Sinclair as the person responsible for the crime to the Procurator Fiscal and a prosecution was raised.  The reliability of the identification was later questioned by an expert instructed by the defence, Allan Bayle (although he did not appear to claim that there had been a misidentification).  The difference between the experts could not be reconciled and the Crown decided not to lead the questioned fingerprint evidence in court, but proceeded to trial on the basis of other evidence.  In October 2003, on the basis of that other evidence, Mr Sinclair was convicted of armed robbery; he was sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment.

While the criminal proceedings were underway, following intimation of Mr Bayle’s conclusions, the print was referred to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for review.  In a report of September 2003, on the basis of the limited material made available at that time, PSNI concluded that there appeared to be insufficient detail to make an identification but did not conclude that the mark was not that of the accused.  With the conclusion of the criminal proceedings, the issue ceased to be a live one and PSNI’s involvement drew to a close.  However, in 2006 in light of on-going interest in the case, PSNI was invited to revisit the issue on the basis of fuller material than before.  The outcome of this latest assessment, which involved experts independently examining the print and then the convening of an arbitration panel involving the Quality Manager and Head of Bureau, was that (having excluded material to the left of a line of movement 4mm from the right side of the print) four experts were satisfied that there were seven characteristics in agreement with Mr Sinclair’s left thumb and two others were satisfied that there were ten.  The panel’s consensus was that the mark did not contain enough information to conclusively identify the mark as having been made by Sinclair.  However, the PSNI experts were unanimous that the SCRO’s identification should not be classed as a misidentification.

Case 3 – a confirmed identification

In late 2005, SCRO experts identified a crime scene print as belonging to an individual502 and provided a report of their identification to the Procurator Fiscal.   Allan Bayle was instructed as a defence expert and, after examining the materials, in late May 2006 he declared publicly that this was a clear misidentification.  Mr Bayle then contacted John MacLeod, who considered the material provided to him by Mr Bayle and agreed that there had been a misidentification.  This assessment was supported by Gary Dempster, from the SCRO’s Aberdeen Bureau.  (In the interim, for unrelated reasons, the Crown had determined to take no proceedings against the individual.)

In light of the challenge to the SCRO experts’ identification, arrangements were swiftly put in place for the Metropolitan Police to undertake a review and the relevant material was provided for that purpose in early June.  The Metropolitan Police concluded that the SCRO experts had been correct: the identification was a sound one.  In parallel, experts involved in the challenge to the SCRO’s identification had independently revisited their assessments, concluded that their challenge had been ill-founded and (indirectly) contacted the interim Chief Executive of the SPSA to bring this to his attention and discuss a way forward.  In discussion, it was agreed that a retraction would be volunteered by one of the experts when he appeared that week (on 7 June) to give evidence to the Justice 1 Committee.”503

822. In relation to cases 1 and 2, the Committee was concerned by the use of the term “nota confirmed misidentification”.  The circumstances of the two cases appeared to the Committee to be different but both had resulted in an initial identification not being used as evidence in court.  The Committee wrote to David Mulhern to seek clarification of the meaning of the phrase and also to establish how the SFS defines a ‘misidentification’ and what it would consider to constitute a ‘disputed identification’.

823. In his response, David Mulhern referred the Committee to the language used in the SFS Quality Procedures manual.  He explained that the manual only addresses variations in conclusions between experts coming to light “during the internal verification process and the action to be taken as a consequence.  The manual is currently silent in relation to ‘disputes’ that arise thereafter.”504

824. David Mulhern pointed out that Sir David O’Dowd had previously revealed that there were inconsistencies in terminology between different sections within the Quality Procedures manual which apply to issues around verification as well as other matters. He explained—

“In this regard, the manual refers to “Variations of Results” (Aberdeen and Dundee), “Review” (Glasgow) and “Discrepancies in Independent Verification” (Edinburgh).  The manual goes on to describe the relevant categories as:

  • Minor Variation

Aberdeen, Dundee

  • Significant Variation

Aberdeen, Dundee

  • Possible Erroneous Variation

Aberdeen, Dundee

  • Discrepancies in the Amount of Mintae (sic) Found

Glasgow

  • Accepted Erroneous Identifications

Glasgow

  • Non Agreement

Glasgow

  • Discrepancies in Independent Verification

Edinburgh

  • Unaccepted Erroneous Identification

Edinburgh

825. David Mulhern provided the Committee with the relevant sections of the Quality Procedures manual, explaining the individual categories. 

826. The Committee notes that in the second progress report on the Action Plan, it is stated that there remains a need to review and consolidate the Quality Procedures manual, both to improve the clarity of the information and to better reflect the corporate image of the SFS.505

827. It would appear to the Committee that the SFS has no common procedures or even common terminology for dealing with disputes over identifications between fingerprint officers.  As a single national service in existence for nearly five years, the SFS should by now have established consistent procedures for resolving disputes.  The Committee considers this to be an extremely serious omission.

828. The second progress report on the Action Plan states that there remains a need to review and consolidate the Quality Procedures manual.  The Committee considers that the issue is far more fundamental than mere consolidation.  The SFS needs to establish a common dispute resolution procedure (including the use of common terminology) for all four bureaux.  This needs to be documented and implemented as a matter of utmost urgency.

829. The Committee does not believe that the SFS can claim to offer a unified national service until it has established common procedures, standards, training and terminology.

830. In relation to the use of the term “not a confirmed misidentification” David Mulhern explained that in his letter of 24 January 2007, he had tried to adopt the terminology used previously by John McLean in his letter of 3 May 2006 on this issue.

831. David Mulhern stated that the HMIC Fingerprint Bureau Primary Inspection 2000 report referred to “Procedures for Dealing with Disputed Identifications, Mistakes and Misidentifications” and went on to describe the verification process then in place.506 

832. David Mulhern also explained that the term ‘disputed identification’ appeared in the ACPOS CMRT report, where it was defined as: “…the situation where fingerprint officers disagree as to whether or not there are sufficient common points between a mark (latent fingerprint) and an individual’s fingerprint in sequence and agreement to positively identify the mark”.507

833. He provided further explanation of his use of the term ‘not a confirmed misidentification’—

“…the term ‘not a confirmed misidentification’ was used to describe two cases with similar circumstances, where the sufficiency of the common points between two prints was in question.  The correctness of the conclusion of identity was not the issue in dispute, but rather the quality and number of characteristics visible in the identified mark.  Under the HMIC definitions above, these circumstances would more clearly be described as ‘disputed identifications’ or ‘significant variations‘ in terms of SFS quality procedures manuals.”

834. The Committee is concerned by the circumstances of the two cases (cases 1 and 2) referred to by David Mulhern as ‘disputed identifications’ or ‘significant variations’.  Although both cases had resulted in an initial identification not ultimately being used as evidence in court, both had been communicated by the SFS as confirmed identifications to the Procurator Fiscal before doubts about the reliability of the identifications were expressed.  The Committee considers examples such as these should be treated very seriously by the SFS and examined to establish whether there was any failure in the procedures implemented by the respective fingerprint officers and what lessons can be learned for the future.

Strategy for responding to challenges to identifications from external sources

835. The Committee considers that one measure by which the effectiveness of the Action Plan may be judged will be to assess how the SFS would manage any future challenge from external sources to an identification made by the SFS.

836. The Committee notes that there is currently no proposal within the Action Plan to directly address this issue.

837. The Committee considers that the apparent paralysis of the organisation when faced with serious and sustained accusations of misconduct appears to have been another direct cause of division between management and staff.  It is clear that management did not have a clear strategy in place to cope with events such as this. 

838. In oral evidence David Mulhern explained that, in future, if an identification made by the SFS is challenged, arrangements will be in place to obtain verification of the accuracy of an allegation or confirmation of the SFS identification.  He expressed the view that this would be a more professional and dignified way to act.508

839. In his letter of 5 February 2007, David Mulhern confirmed that where an external challenge occurs in relation to an identification made by the SFS, he has adopted the approach of sending the case to an external, independent fingerprint bureau for review.509

840. The Committee welcomes the steps taken by Mr Mulhern to establish such a strategy. The Committee considers it essential that there should be robust and defined processes to deal with external challenges which would give the staff confidence in exercising their professional expertise in difficult cases. The Committee therefore believes that the new strategy should be inserted into the Action Plan; and furthermore, recommends that the SFS puts in place a standing arrangement for an independent fingerprint bureau outside Scotland to carry out an independent verification of any disputed identification made by the SFS. 

841. The Committee considers it important that any such verifications need to be carried out using procedures which are common to those used by the SFS.  As important, the Committee considers that it is vital that the terminology used is the same as that used by SFS.  By adopting this type of approach, the Committee considers that the potential for confusion and controversy over the outcome of an independent verification will be much reduced. 

Quality Assurance

842. In section three the Committee considered the quality assurance standards in place in the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000 and concurred with the HMIC’s finding that a renewed focus and importance was required to be placed on the quality assurance process in order to re-establish confidence in the work of the Bureau.

843. The SFS, as an organisation, has been accredited to the ISO 9001 standard since August 2005.  The organisation’s quality management system is overseen by a team of Quality Assurance Officers who audit the processes and procedures in place in the Scottish Fingerprint Service and ensure compliance with the standards laid out in the SFS Quality Procedures Manual.  In Glasgow, there is a dedicated Quality Assurance Officer, while in the other three bureaux the post holder also has responsibility for the delivery of training.  510

844. When asked whether he had any concerns about the focus of quality assurance procedures in the SFS, David Mulhern acknowledged that he had concerns in two areas.  The first centred on the combined quality assurance and bureau trainer role which still exists in the three smaller bureaux.  Mr Mulhern considered that the two roles should not be connected as it is inappropriate to have the same person providing training to staff and quality assuring their work. 

845. Secondly, in relation to the Glasgow Bureau, which has a separate quality assurance unit, Mr Mulhern explained that he wanted to examine the experience and training of staff to carry out that role.  He stated that this would provide him with reassurance that the documented processes, standards and procedures are being applied in practice.511

Quality assurance – ISO accreditation

846. The Committee notes that the SFS quality management system has been independently accredited to the ISO 9001:2000 international quality standard.  The Committee understands that this is a generic management system standard which can be applied to the processes of organisations in a wide variety of industries.  In order to achieve ISO 9001 accreditation, an organisation has to demonstrate that it delivers its product or service in conformance with established or specified requirements.  These requirements must be documented in a quality manual or other documentation.

847. The accreditation process for ISO 9001 requires an independent audit to demonstrate conformance with the documented procedures but, importantly, this does not include an independent assessment of whether the established procedures and standards applied by the organisation are themselves ‘best practice’.  The Committee considers this to be a potential weakness in the system.

848. The Committee has also been made aware that a specific ISO standard for forensic laboratories exists.  ISO 17025:2005 specifies the general requirements for the competence to carry out tests and/or calibrations, including sampling. 

849. The Committee understands that no specific ISO standard currently exists for fingerprint identification but has no information about whether the ISO 17025:2005 standard could potentially be applicable to the fingerprint discipline.

850. The Committee notes that the establishment of quality assurance standards accredited to ISO 9001 within the SFS may not, in fact, provide the level of assurance attributed to it.  ISO 9001 accreditation provides guarantees that processes are being complied with but does not guarantee the outcome from those processes. 

851. The Committee, therefore, considers that SFS needs to regularly benchmark its fingerprint identification procedures with fingerprint bureaux outside Scotland to ensure that they are fit for purpose. 

852. With the impending merger of the forensic laboratories with the fingerprint service, the Committee considers that there exists the potential for a clash of quality standards regimes which will be applied within the integrated Scottish Forensic Science Service. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Forensic Science Service reviews the quality assurance systems to be implemented by both the forensic laboratories and fingerprint bureaux in order to ensure compatibility.

Conclusion on the Action Plan for Excellence

853. The Action Plan for Excellence is intended to review and confirm the extensive change management process which has taken place within the SFS over the last six years and to take the change process further in anticipation of the merger with the forensic laboratories.

854. However, from its scrutiny of the Action Plan for Excellence and other evidence it has received, the Committee believes that the issues it has identified present serious risks for the successful reform and future development of the Scottish Fingerprint Service.  The Committee considers that the Action Plan, as it stands presently, could potentially fall short in some important areas.

Strengthening the Action Plan for Excellence

855. An initial area of concern for the Committee was that few of the actions contained in the published Action Plan had defined timescales for implementation or defined outcomes against which success could be measured. 

856. When asked about this, David Mulhern indicated that a more detailed timetable giving anticipated completion dates had been provided to the Minister for Justice.  On 12 September 2006, when the Minister gave oral evidence, she indicated her desire for the majority of measures to be implemented by 1 April 2007.512

857. The second progress report on the Action Plan which was provided to the Committee by the Minister in January 2007 included a chart showing the extent of progress made against each of the 25 action points contained in the Action Plan.  From the chart it is clear that completion of the vast majority of action points is anticipated by 1 April 2007 when the SPSA will assume responsibility for the SFS.  A small number of action points, including the introduction of a new performance and development review system, will become ongoing management issues.513

858. The Committee acknowledges that significant progress has been made towards implementation of the Action Plan.  However, the Committee remains concerned that the Action Plan is short on detail.  The Committee acknowledges that the Action Plan was originally produced in a relatively short timescale but considers that in its current form it does not represent a robust basis against which to measure the future development of the Scottish Fingerprint Service.  The Committee recommends that the Action Plan be revised and strengthened to incorporate ‘SMART’514 objectives which allow progress to be objectively monitored and assessed over a two year period from 1 April 2007.

Barriers to successful implementation of the Action Plan for Excellence 

859. Given the history of the last ten years, the Committee considers that there must be a danger that the recommendations contained in the Action Plan are not fully implemented.  The Committee considers that the SFS management needs to be alert to possible barriers which may prevent or act against the successful implementation of the Action Plan.  Two such obstacles are considered in more detail below.

Merger of fingerprint services with the forensic laboratories

860. The planned integration of the Scottish Fingerprint Service within the Scottish Forensic Science Service is scheduled to take place on 1 April 2007.  The merger of fingerprint services with the forensic laboratories represents a unique opportunity for the SFS to finally close the book on the McKie case and move on.  The Committee considers that closer working between fingerprint officers and forensic scientists will assist in the objective of securing best evidence (whether that be fingerprint identification or DNA analysis) for the criminal justice system.

861. However, the Committee acknowledges that the merger also presents many challenges for the staff and management of the organisation. 

862. The timescale for the merger is extremely short and doubts have been expressed about the readiness of the constituent organisations for this change. 

863. On the one side, the Committee notes the doubts expressed by Sir David O’Dowd about the readiness of the forensic science service for the impending merger with the fingerprint service.   On the other side, the Committee is concerned by the relatively short timescale for the implementation of the Action Plan by the fingerprint service.

864. The Committee supports the forthcoming merger between the SFS and the forensic laboratories to create the Scottish Forensic Science Service.  However, this merger should not be seen as a panacea.

865. Given the extent of the integration issues that are still to be resolved by the SFS, the Committee considers that there is a danger that the merger could even be counterproductive –  potentially exacerbating the existing problems within the SFS – rather than generating momentum for further reform and improvement.  There must be a danger that if people’s energies are concentrated on driving through the merger then focus will be lost on addressing the existing areas of weakness within the fingerprint service.  It is imperative that this does not happen.

866. The Committee considers, therefore, that the Scottish Police Services Authority must be alert to the risks that the merger process may present to maintaining the momentum in the reform and development of the Scottish Fingerprint Service.  The Committee considers that the SPSA must exercise particular care to ensure that these risks do not materialise.

Staff resistance to change

867. Despite the efforts of Mr Mulhern, the gap between management and staff of the SFS does not appear to be closing.  This was demonstrated to the Committee most strikingly when Robert Mackenzie, Deputy Head of the Glasgow Bureau, was questioned about the terms of the Action Plan.  He stated that Mr Mulhern had specifically apologised for the wording he had used in the introduction to the Action Plan, in which he had referred to the ‘misidentification’ of mark Y7.  Mr Mackenzie explained that the use of the word ‘misidentification’ had generated a high degree of anger among staff.515 

868. However, when Mr Mulhern returned to give further evidence to the Committee in September, he was keen to clarify his position.  He confirmed that he had met with Robert Mackenzie and Alan Dunbar on the day of the publication of the Action Plan as there was “real anxiety and concern among those two individuals and the other four experts that were involved in the McKie matter”516 about use of the word "misidentification" in the Action Plan.  He continued—

“I stress that I did not apologise for using the word ‘misidentification’ in the plan—indeed, I stand by that position.  I apologised, rightly—I do not regret having done so—for causing them anxiety and concern.  After all, to do so was not the reason why I had used the word.”517

869. Mr Mulhern confirmed that he accepted that there had been a misidentification of the McKie mark.

870. The Committee has deliberately chosen not to re-open the debate on the status of mark Y7.  It does not consider that it is productive to do so.  The Committee, therefore, considers it unfortunate that when asked to comment on how the Scottish Fingerprint Service could move on, Robert Mackenzie chose to focus, in part, once again on the McKie case.

871. Comments made by Alan Dunbar regarding the status of the Action Plan were also of serious concern to the Committee—

“The plan might have had that number of action points in it at some stage, but no longer: there might be seven or eight things we need to do.  We would always want to take measures that would result in improvements because we like to think that we are a professional organisation that moves forward.  If anyone can give us suggestions, we will consider them and try to incorporate them into best practice.  However, I doubt that there are still 25 points on which we need to take action.  We work to achieve improvements.  I have seen many reports over the years and by the time they are published, we have often met a significant number of the recommendations.  That was the case with the HMIC report.  When the chief inspector of constabulary reported, we had already taken much of the action that he recommended.  That is probably all I can say on the action plan.”518

872. The Committee considers this statement by the quality assurance officer of the Glasgow Bureau and one of the most senior experts in the Scottish Fingerprint Service to be illustrative of the sort of attitude which, if left unchecked, will lead to an erosion of confidence in the standards applied by the SFS.  The Committee also considers that such comments are symptomatic of a division between the staff and senior management of the organisation. 

873. These examples reinforced the Committee’s belief that much more work will be required if trust between management and staff is to be restored. 

874. The Committee is in no doubt that communication and relationships between senior management and staff within the SFS have been ineffective in the past.  The Committee acknowledges that relations have been strained as a result of various actions and statements by staff and management surrounding the McKie case and the response of senior management to these.  The Committee is concerned that a culture of ‘them and us’ has become entrenched within the organisation, a culture which SFS management has not yet tackled effectively.

875. The Committee welcomes the commitment in the Action Plan to improve communication so as to develop a team-based culture.  The Committee supports the initial steps taken by Mr Mulhern to foster this approach.  However, the Committee does not believe that the culture of the organisation will be transformed through the production of strategies and plans alone, but rather through concerted efforts of managers to communicate and engage more effectively with staff on a day-to-day basis.  The Committee urges SFS management to address this issue as a matter of the highest priority.

Committee conclusions on the future of the Scottish Fingerprint Service

Scottish Fingerprint Service – past and present

876. The HMIC Primary Inspection of SCRO in 2004 concluded that the organisation was efficient and effective and discharged the remaining recommendations and suggestions for reform of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau made in its report in 2000. 

877. After initial consideration of the Action Plan for Excellence, the Committee questioned why such a comprehensive plan was required in 2006/07 so soon after HMIC had, in 2004, declared the fingerprint service to be efficient and effective.  Indeed, it was apparent that elements of the Action Plan sought to revisit many of the recommendations HMIC had recently discharged.

878. During the creation of a new national Scottish Fingerprint Service, the working practices of the organisation were subjected to comprehensive review and substantial redesign; operational policies and procedures were formalised under the auspices of an accredited quality assurance regime and additional resources were secured.  The Committee considers that these were all significant and positive developments and demonstrated that stakeholders recognised and responded to the need for change.

879. However, the report prepared by Sir David O’Dowd makes clear that a number of failings identified by HMIC in its Primary Inspection of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau in 2000 had simply not been properly addressed by SCRO management. 

880. The Committee’s own view is that the general public would expect that the existence of a Scottish Fingerprint Service would mean that there is a national service and all that that entails in terms of commonality of approach; national standards; and a sense of mutual co-operation and respect across the offices which together make up the SFS.

881. At the end of its inquiry, the Committee still has major doubts as to whether today’s SFS can truly be recognised as being a national service. The Committee recognises the disparity in size between Glasgow and the other three bureaux and the difficulties that this may have caused.  But, the Committee simply does not believe that this is an adequate explanation for the problems which have bedevilled the SFS since its inception.

882. During the course of its inquiry, the Committee has discovered continuing weaknesses in governance arrangements and management of the service.  Although the majority of the ‘hard’ changes to processes and procedures have been implemented, it is clear that the necessary ‘soft’ changes to organisational culture have not kept pace.  Communication problems and examples of inappropriate management styles have created a serious division between managers and staff.  These failures, coupled with continuing speculation and allegations surrounding the McKie case have continued to undermine confidence both within the SFS and more widely.  The Committee considers this to be a deeply troubling situation.

883. Beyond these cultural issues, the Committee considers that the general public will be even more troubled about the lack of common operational standards across the SFS. For example, on an issue as fundamental as the approach to an identification and verification of a fingerprint, there is still not one single system for the whole of Scotland.    Indeed, up until very recently, there were three. Put simply, the Committee considers that this is unacceptable.

Scottish Fingerprint Service – looking to the future 

884. The Committee understands and shares the desire of the Minister for Justice to restore public confidence in the work of the Scottish Fingerprint Service and for it to be acknowledged as being world class through demonstrating “independent oversight, scientific excellence and transparent adherence to standards.”519

885. It is clear that the Scottish Fingerprint Service still faces considerable challenges if it is to become a ‘recognised centre of excellence in its field’520 as everyone would wish it to be.    

886. The Committee supports the measures contained in the Action Plan for Excellence and welcomes the progress towards its implementation.  The Committee has also recommended several measures which it considers will further strengthen the Action Plan.  In particular, the Committee recommends that the Action Plan be revised and strengthened to incorporate ‘SMART’ objectives which allow progress to be objectively monitored and assessed over a two year period from 1 April 2007.  On this basis, the Committee considers that the Action Plan provides a strong platform for the development of the Scottish Fingerprint Service at a crucial point in its existence.

887. The Committee believes that SFS senior management has, in the past, consistently failed to recognise the size of the task it faces in securing meaningful reform of the organisation.  The Committee considers that it must seize this opportunity to tackle the underlying problems within the service.  It is imperative that urgent action is taken to bridge the gap between management and staff, heal the rift between Glasgow and the other bureaux and learn the lessons of the McKie case to ensure that it will not be repeated. 

888. If such change is to be truly meaningful it is vital that all management and staff of the SFS accept that there are lessons to be learned from the McKie case. The Committee considers that management must take action to address fundamental weaknesses which have seriously impaired the efficiency and effectiveness of the SFS.  With this acceptance, the Committee believes that the Scottish Fingerprint Service can finally move on.


Footnotes:

415 Official Report, 22 February 2006, c 23346

416 SFS Action Plan for Excellence Progress Report 1 (July 2006) introduction, page 1

417 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, para 1.2

418 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, Action Point 1

419 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, Action Point 2

420 Correspondence from David Mulhern, 26 October 2006

421 Report by Sir David O’Dowd, March 2006, page 2

422 Report by Sir David O’Dowd, March 2006, page 7

423 Correspondence from David Mulhern, 26 October 2006

424 HMIC Primary Inspection 2000 – SCRO Fingerprint Bureau, recommendation 3

425 HMIC Primary Inspection of SCRO 2004, paras 5.10 – 5.15 and recommendation 4

426 Report by Sir David O’Dowd, March 2006, page 4

427 Ibid

428 Ibid

429 HMIC Primary Inspection 2000 – SCRO Fingerprint Bureau, recommendation 22

430 Report by Sir David O’Dowd, March 2006, page 10

431 Ibid

432 HMIC Review of SCRO Primary Inspection 2004, December 2006

433 HMIC Review of SCRO Primary Inspection 2004, December 2006, para 3.4.3

434 Ibid

435 HMIC Primary Inspection 2000 – SCRO Fingerprint Bureau, recommendation 12

436 Report by Sir David O’Dowd, March 2006, page 7

437 Report by Sir David O’Dowd, March 2006, page 11

438 Ibid

439 Ibid

440 Action Plan for Excellence – Second progress report (January 2007)

441 Ibid; Action Point 2

442 HMIC Third Year Review of SCRO 2000 (2003)

443 Report by Sir David O’Dowd, March 2006, page 3

444 Correspondence from David Mulhern, 26 October 2006

445 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 April 2006, c2879

446 ICAS SFS Employee Consultation Report, June 2006, section 3.0

447 ICAS SFS Employee Consultation Report, June 2006, section 4.1

448 ICAS SFS Employee Consultation Report, June 2006, section 5.1

449 ICAS SFS Employee Consultation Report, June 2006, section 4.3

450 ICAS SFS Employee Consultation Report, June 2006, section 5.1

451 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c 3661

452 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 April 2006; c 2894-95

453 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006; c 3658

454 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006; c 3664

455 The Justice 2 Committee was designated as lead committee for scrutiny of the Bill.  It received Royal Assent on 4 July 2006

456 Scottish Executive News Release, 18 December 2006, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2006/12/18151551

457 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c3665-66

458 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 12 September 2006, c3734

459 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 April 2006, c2882

460 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 April 2006, c2883

461 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c3657

462 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c3662

463 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c3659

464 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, para 5.1

465 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, para 5.2

466 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, para 5.3

467 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, para 5.4

468 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c3667

469 ACPOS Presidential Review Group - CMRT scrutiny report, October 2000, paras 17.3.1 – 17.3.2

470 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 12 September 2006, c3734-35

471 SFS ‘Report to Establish an Appropriate Authorised Bureau Establishment of Fingerprint Experts’, September 2004

472 SFS ‘5 Year Resourcing Plan based on Authorised Bureau Establishment of Fingerprint Experts’, December 2004

473 Vacancy, covered currently by an expert

474 In addition, a fingerprint officer provides cover for 6 hours per week

475 Rows in italics relate to Tenprint, administrative and project related staff

476 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006; c 3675

477 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006; c 3674

478 Action Plan for Excellence, Action Point 22

479 ICAS SFS Employee Consultation Report, June 2006, section 5.2.3.a

480 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006; c 3664

481 Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report, January 2007, action point 20

482 Action Plan for Excellence, paragraph 3.2

483 Action Plan for Excellence, paragraph 3.3

484 Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report, January 2007, action point 3

485 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006; c 3658

486 Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report, January 2007, action point 19

487 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 April 2006; c 2889

488 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006; c 3669

489 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 12 September 2006; c 3696-97

490 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 12 September 2006, c3731-32

491 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c 3625

492 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 June 2006, c3530-3531

493 Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report, January 2007, action point 8

494 HMIC Review of SCRO Primary Inspection 2004, December 2006, para 4.12.1

495 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 April 2006, c2900

496 HMIC Review of SCRO Primary Inspection 2004, December 2006, para 4.11.1

497 Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report, January 2007, action point 8

499 The Criminal Appeal Court made the following Order: "In the Continued Procedural Hearing in the Appeal against Conviction, having heard senior counsel for the appellant and the Advocate Depute, the Court being advised that the Crown could no longer support the conviction Sustained the Appeal and Quashed the conviction; further the Court was advised by the Advocate Depute that no retrial was sought, and Decerned."

500 Footnote from David Mulhern: This note does not cover any cases associated with the death of Marion Ross: one of those cases remains sub judice [mark QI2] and another has been extensively debated and is currently under consideration as part of the Justice 1 Committee’s inquiry into the SCRO and SFS [mark Y7]

501 Footnote from David Mulhern: Name omitted as the case against the individual did not proceed to court.

502 Footnote from David Mulhern: Name omitted as, while the case against the individual did proceed to court, a plea of not guilty was accepted to the charge involving the fingerprint evidence.

503 David Mulhern, written evidence, available in volume 2 of this report

504 David Mulhern, supplementary written evidence

505 Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report, January 2007, action point 4

506 HMIC Primary Inspection 2000 – SCRO Fingerprint Bureau; para 5.20

507 ACPOS Presidential Review Group - CMRT scrutiny report; section 13.12.3

508 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c3677-78

509 David Mulhern, supplementary written evidence

510 Action Plan for Excellence, paragraph 3.5

511 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c 3672

512 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 12 September 2006, c 3731

513 Action Plan for Excellence – second progress report, January 2007, progress chart

514 ‘Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound’

515 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 June 2006, c3601

516 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 6 September 2006, c3659

517 Ibid

518 Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 26 June 2006, c3698-99

519 Official Report, 22 February 2006, c23346

520 SFS Action Plan for Excellence, para 1.2

Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Contents Previous Next