Belfast Telegraph

No checks on fingerprint expert's work, Kingsmill inquest hears

No quality checks were put in place to monitor the work of a fingerprint expert who made errors in at least a dozen historical enquiries into Troubles deaths, a coroner's court has been told.

Dennis Thompson was the sole fingerprint expert who worked in the police's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) between 2006 and 2013 investigating evidence from "cold cases" from the conflict.

In 2016, an inquest into the Kingsmill massacre stalled after it was revealed that Mr Thompson had on two separate occasions failed to match fingerprints connecting a suspect to an alleged getaway vehicle used in the murders.

Subsequently, a random sample was undertaken of Mr Thompson's work for quality testing, which found errors in at least a dozen cases he worked on.

The 1976 outrage outside the village of Kingsmill in South Armagh saw 10 Protestant workmen murdered by republican paramilitaries. No one has ever been held to account for the killings.

Giving evidence to an inquest into the Kingsmill shootings at Belfast Coroner's Court, Mr Thompson said no formal mechanisms were in place at the HET to check the quality of his work.

Representing next of kin bereaved by the atrocity, barrister Fiona Doherty QC asked Mr Thompson: "Were there no formal quality assurance protocols in place?"

He told the court: "If you were an expert in status, it was expected that if you had a query you could take it to someone else for a second opinion, but it was unwritten. It was up to the individual."

Mr Thompson told the court that he did report to a line manager within the organisation, but that the manager was not an expert in fingerprint work.

He also said he had access to PSNI fingerprint experts within his building to ask a second opinion on an informal basis, but no official mechanisms were in place for experts to assess his work.

Asked why he had made errors in at least a dozen historical enquiries, Mr Thompson said: "I'm not aware of that. That's the first time I've heard of that. I'm not aware of any of that at all. It comes as a surprise."

Asked by Ms Doherty if he accepted that he had made a "catalogue of errors", Mr Thompson said: "Yes. There's no reason for it other than that I've made a terrible mistake.

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

Last year, the inquest into the Kingsmill massacre was halted after questions were raised about how fingerprint evidence had been handled by Mr Thompson.

The inquest is set to continue on Thursday.

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