Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

How DNA from his victim's fingernails snared murderer Samuel Dunwoody

Samuel Dunwoody
Samuel Dunwoody

Almost a quarter of a century after murdering a pensioner in north Belfast, Samuel Dunwoody was enjoying the new life he had set up for himself in England.

But cutting-edge forensic science resulted in him finally being put behind bars for a crime he believed he had escaped justice for.

When Margaret Telford was murdered in her north Belfast home in February 1988, detectives were unable to draw on DNA evidence for assistance in tracking the killer.

Conventional police investigative techniques of the time proved fruitless.

However, officers involved in the initial inquiry catalogued and preserved material from the crime scene, including scrapings from underneath the fingernails of Mrs Telford, known as Peggy to her family and friends.

Given the passage of time and subsequent advances in forensic techniques, notably the use of DNA, that evidence ultimately lead to the conviction of Mrs Telford's killer, albeit 25 years later.

Yesterday Judge Corinne Philpott QC told Dunwoody: "You killed someone who did you no harm and offered you kindness and you thought you got away with it."

During the review of the investigation in 2011, modern forensic techniques quickly identified Dunwoody as the prime suspect. He was living in Birmingham at the time. Dunwoody was well-known to police having been convicted of a string of violent crimes in the past.

Among his convictions was those for assault, causing actual bodily harm and battery, including attacking the same woman three times, on various dates between March 1982 and June 2009.

The judge said the use of DNA evidence which led to Dunwoody finally being detained by police was not available to investigators until the year following Ms Telford's death.

"You have lived as a free man in the community for 25 years," said Judge Philpott.

Ms Telford's son Peter and granddaughter Christine sat just yards away from the dock in which Dunwoody appeared yesterday.

They listened as a defence lawyer said Dunwoody was "a lonely man".

"I believe deep in his heart he is ashamed," added defence QC Terence McDonald who said his client had a dysfunctional upbringing. Dunwoody, who made his way to the dock with the aid of a walking stick, sat slouched with his arms folded throughout the hearing.

Nobody was seen entering of leaving Mrs Telford's home prior to the death, the court was told.

Forensic materials provided no clues as to who was responsible. The case was selected for review more than two decades later given the forensic material stored by the original investigators.

Swabs taken from under the fingernails of Mrs Telford's right hand were studied by scientists using the latest technology and the DNA profile uncovered checked against individuals already on the police's database.

It showed a match with serial offender Dunwoody who was detained by police in England and he was returned to Northern Ireland to stand trial. In June this year, a Belfast Crown Court jury took just two hours to unanimously convict Dunwoody of the murder.

During the course of the week-long trial the jury was shown a video of the murder scene taken by the RUC.

A post-mortem on the body of Mrs Telford revealed she had been choked with a ligature and had injuries to her face and head.

It wasn't until after his trial Dunwoody finally admitted killing Mrs Telford, a woman who had shown him kindness in the past, providing his family with clothing and money.

A belt was found hanging over a banister in Ms Telford's home and a phone wire had been pulled from the wall. Either could have been used to strangle the 68-year-old.

Speaking after Dunwoody was told he would spend at least 19 years in prison for the murder, PSNI Detective Inspector Peter Montgomery praised the team behind the review which led to justice being achieved for Ms Telford's family.

He said: "Today justice has been served for Peggy and serves as a reminder that although a large passage of time has elapsed police will regularly review cases and where there are new opportunities presented we will pursue them vigorously."

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