The forensic voice analysts who claim a covert MI5 recording of three alleged IRA dissidents provided moderate to strong support they are indeed the suspects, are not “accredited”.
The Belfast Crown Court trial of the trio, 52-year-old Colin Duffy, 51-year-old Henry Fitzsimons and 58-year-old Alex McCrory, also heard that although required by law, this was not noted on any of the analysts’ reports.
This was accepted by Dr Christin Kirchhubel, who also agreed that the analysis of the covert tapes was open to ‘bias’ from the outset as the police transcript of materials contained the names of the accused and the police belief they were the men in the MI5 recordings.
The original analysis was carried out by Prof Peter French and his Forensic Speech Laboratory, her former employer.
Dr Kirchhubel, now in private practice, and working on her own accreditation, however rejected defence suggestions that she would have simply adopted her former boss’ report to back up his findings.
At one stage she told the Diplock style non jury trial that she would not have allowed her duty to Dr French Associates, to outweigh her duty to the court. In turn, trial judge Mr Justice O’Hara told Dr Kirchhubel while her “good faith” was not in question, the court had to consider the degree of risk of bias involved in her report reaching the same conclusions as Prof French.
The doctor accepted that forensic experts were always open to cognitive bias, but that they could deal with the possibility simply by being aware of it. She also agreed that in this case police had provided the names of the defendants on the transcript of the tapes they wanted analysed and compared.
Defence QC Mark Mulholland for Mr Duffy, said because of this it would have presented a higher risk of cognitive bias in the case, since “the bias is there from the very start ... that these three people feature in these conversations”.
Dr Kirchhubel said while experts had to be alive to the potential risk, and being aware of cognitive basis, such bias could be limited by making amends to mitigate them.
Mr Mulholland further suggested that given the “knowledge was there ... in other words the damage was done”, and as such, “the bias is inherent in that police have made up their own mind”.
The doctor agreed: “The knowledge was there. Yes”, adding later that it would have been better if no background information had been included in the police instructions.
However, Dr Kirchhubel said as an expert she was not interested in whether or not the recorded voices were those of the defendants, as named by the police, nor had she any interest in the eventual outcome of the trial in itself.
Later under cross-examination by Barry Macdonald QC for Mr McCrory, the expert accepted she could not give any numeric research to support her findings that his client was one of the men covertly recorded.
The doctor accepted Mr Macdonald’s contention she could not say how many people, whether it be hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands, within the supposed Mid Ulster area, who would share the same speech characteristics as Mr McCrory.
The trio, whose addresses can’t be given at this time, deny preparing and directing terrorism, and membership or professing to be members of the IRA. Fitzsimons and McCrory are also charged with and deny attempting to murder police on December 5, 2013, and possessing of the two AK47 rifles and ammunition used in the attack.
They were allegedly covertly recorded and videoed in an MI5 operation “code name Op Idealistic”, carried out in Demesne Park, Lurgan, owned and operated by Craigavon Council, the day following the gun attack on the police convoy in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast during which two gunmen fired 14 shots at the three vehicle patrol.
The court has already heard that it was these recordings which were compared and analysed against recordings made during press conferences allegedly given by Mr Duffy and Mr McCrory, together with custody records, and in the case of Mr Fitzsimons, from telephone conversations and from recordings made when he was stopped at a vehicle checkpoint.