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Tags forensics , Griess test , IRA cases , mass spectrometry , police misconduct charges , UK cases , wrongful convictions

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Old 2nd December 2020, 01:29 PM   #1
Chris_Halkides
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The IRA bombing cases of the 1970s

I would like to start a discussion of at least four related cases: Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, and Judith Ward. There may be others that I missed. My main focus will be on the problems in the forensics, including issues of recording and disclosing data. I will add comments as time permits. However, any aspect of the investigation is on topic for this thread, as far as I am concerned. These aspects include but are not limited to false confessions and police misconduct.

Let me start not with the forensics, however, but rather with an issue that often comes up in cases of possible wrongful convictions. One of the people who looked deeply into the Birmingham Six case was Chris Mullin. He wrote, "A long procession of police officers ranging in rank from detective constable to chief superintendent gave evidence that no one had laid a finger on the suspects. In his summing up the judge outlined, in tones of incredulity, the scale of the conspiracy the police would have to have engaged in if the defendants were telling the truth. We now know that a conspiracy on this scale is essentially what did occur."

The question of whether or not the defendants' claim require one to believe in a broad conspiracy came up in the early Knox/Sollecito threads as well. The same may be true of the Avery/Dassey threads, but I do not recall clearly.
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Old 2nd December 2020, 02:16 PM   #2
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What I remember about the cases was the issues over forensics, summary here;

http://netk.net.au/UK/Schurr.pdf

"In all the trials, the evidence presented by the prosecution consisted of alleged admissions made by the accused, supported by scientific evidence that the accused had recently handled explosives.In summary, the appeals were allowed on the basis of:
(a)Guildford Four: R v Richardson & Ors, The Times, 20.10.89:33:
Evidence that the police witnesses had lied to the court about "contemporaneous" notes that they claimed to have made during the interrogation and "confessions" of the appellants. Fresh evidence by document examiners found that these records were made at times and in ways other than that claimed by the police. The May inquiry was appointed to inquire into concerns about the scientific evidence of testing for nitroglycerine.
(b)Birmingham Six: R v McIlkenny & Ors (1991) 93 Cr.App.R. 287
Both the scientific evidence of contamination by nitroglycerine and the documents said to set out the confessions obtained by the police were found to be unreliable following the admission of fresh evidence.
(c)Maguire Seven: R v Maguire & Ors (1992) 94 Cr.App.R. 133
The prosecution's common law duty of disclosure to the accused extended to forensic scientists, and their failure to disclose relevant test results in this case was a material irregularity in the course of the trial.
(d)Judith Ward: R v Ward (1993) 96 Cr.App.R.1
The suppression and misrepresentation of test results by the forensic scientists, fresh evidence on the unreliability of the scientific tests, the failure of treating
psychiatrists to reveal the appellant's true mental condition, fresh evidence on her personality disorder, and the suppression and misrepresentation of evidence by prosecution lawyers caused a miscarriage of justice. Detailed consideration of the common law duty of disclosure."

The general standard of police investigations and jury understanding of the fallibility of forensics was poor.
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Old 2nd December 2020, 02:34 PM   #3
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modified Griess test for certain types of explosives

The article by Beverly Schurr is a good one. One thing that drew me into this case was that the modified Griess test was used on swabs of people's hands. In the modified Griess test, esters of nitrate are hydrolyzed back to inorganic nitrate ions and an alcohol, and the nitrate is reduced nitrite ions. The problem with it is that even in the 1970s, many regarded it as a presumptive test for explosives such as nitroglycerine. Yet Frank Skuse, one of the forensic scientists most closely associated with these cases, claimed to be 99% certain that a positive result indicated that the person had handled nitroglycerine. Testing in the 1980s showed that handling playing cards coated with nitrocellulose could produce a positive result (a pink color) in a modified Griess test. IIUC Dr. Skuse thought that he could differentiate between nitroglycerin versus other nitrate esters by lowering the concentration of sodium hydroxide in the step which hydrolyzed the nitrate esters. I do not think that anyone has published a kinetic study on this subject, but I am still reviewing the literature.

The problems with treating the results of a presumptive test almost as if they were from a confirmatory test comes up in the forensic identification of blood and of seized drugs such as cocaine. I hope to address questions surrounding confirmatory tests in these cases in future comments.
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Old 3rd December 2020, 08:12 AM   #4
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Forensic Chemistry in the Dock

In the 15 July 1995 New Scientist article "Forensic chemistry in the dock," Bernard Knight reviewed Paddy Joe Hill's book Forever Lost, Forever Gone, which was written with Gerard Hunt. Dr. Knight wrote, "In Skuse’s adaptation of Griess’s two-step spot test, the sample from Hill’s left hand was negative. But that from his right turned pink within ten seconds, and Skuse recorded this as a positive for nitroglycerine, stating later that he was “99 per cent certain”. Later testing on the same sample using more sophisticated methods in a laboratory, however, was negative."

Dr. Knight continued, "The plot thickened when she [Janet Drayton] admitted that several pages of her laboratory notebook has been ripped out, covering those [GCMS] tests and especially the purging of the apparatus to ensure that no nitroglycerine standards still contaminated the apparatus. The printout of the GCMS was also missing, as Skuse admitted at the first trial. In spite of all this, the appeal was dismissed."

He quoted defense attorney Mike Mansfield as saying: “The Griess test, even in 1974, was regarded by most decent scientists asnothing more than a screening test. But the flawed scientific ‘evidence’ had blinded everyone involved. Police, lawyers, the judge and jury had been contaminated by the certainty of Dr Skuse’s conclusions that two of the men had handled explosives.”

My initial thoughts: First, there was no basis in fact for claiming 99% certainty, and screening (presumptive tests) are designed to minimize false negatives, not false positives. Dr. Knight mentions that adhesive tape can produce a false positive in a Griess test, and he also mentions cigarette smoke (A quick Google search turned this up) and certain foodstuffs. Some work in the 1980s showed that handling playing cards also could yield a false positive.

Second, the fact that pages were removed alone would make me want to dismiss the charges on the basis that this is a violation of basic good practice in keeping laboratory notebooks. The fact that the pages that are missing may bear on the question of contamination is a point to which I will return later. I am reading Mr. Hill's autobiography, as told to Mr. Hunt.
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Old 5th December 2020, 07:04 AM   #5
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Ghosts in the Machine

The following paragraph may be pertinent to the discussion of gas chromatography/mass spectrometry results in these cases. In gas chromatography and in liquid chromatography, one records retention times, the period it takes for a sample to traverse the length of a column of stationary phase. One sometimes observes "ghost peaks," which are signals that are observed when no sample was injected. The phenomenon of ghost peaks may result from contamination of the equipment or the chemicals (a.k.a. reagents) used in the chromatographic experiment, among other causes.

In the 18 May 1991 New Scientist article "Faulty forensic testing convicted Maguire Seven," Mick Hamer discussed contamination with respect to this case: "...the court was told that in 1977 a chance review of test kits by Home Office scientists had discovered that some kits had been contaminated with explosives." The volatile solvent diethyl ether is thought to have been contaminated. Mr. Hamer wrote, "The scientist who conducted the original tests on the Maguire Seven has since died. The 1976 trial was told he may
have used ether from a different source in his control experiment."

Mr. Hamer continued, "[Brian] Caddy explained that even a small amount of contamination in the ether was likely to show up in the test, because the ether is evaporated to a small volume, as little as 50 micro litres, concentrating the explosive."

Another source of ghost peaks is carryover from one sample to the next, as discussed in the links above. Whether or not a gas chromatographic instrument has properly cleaned may have been something that was covered in the ripped pages from a laboratory notebook, mentioned in a previous comment about a related case.
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Old 6th December 2020, 06:00 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post
I would like to start a discussion of at least four related cases: Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, and Judith Ward. There may be others that I missed. My main focus will be on the problems in the forensics, including issues of recording and disclosing data. I will add comments as time permits. However, any aspect of the investigation is on topic for this thread, as far as I am concerned. These aspects include but are not limited to false confessions and police misconduct.

Let me start not with the forensics, however, but rather with an issue that often comes up in cases of possible wrongful convictions. One of the people who looked deeply into the Birmingham Six case was Chris Mullin. He wrote, "A long procession of police officers ranging in rank from detective constable to chief superintendent gave evidence that no one had laid a finger on the suspects. In his summing up the judge outlined, in tones of incredulity, the scale of the conspiracy the police would have to have engaged in if the defendants were telling the truth. We now know that a conspiracy on this scale is essentially what did occur."

The question of whether or not the defendants' claim require one to believe in a broad conspiracy came up in the early Knox/Sollecito threads as well. The same may be true of the Avery/Dassey threads, but I do not recall clearly.


Across all of these cases - and several more which turned out to be wrongful convictions* - a pattern of institutionalised police misconduct emerged. In essence, the police adopted an "ends justify the means" strategy: if the prevailing view among the police investigating a given case was that they'd arrested the true perpetrator(s), then they reasoned that it could be viewed (through a warped lens, of course) as being in the interests of justice that they (the police) *helped* things along a bit by whatever means they deemed appropriate.

The most common area of police malpractice (leaving aside the issue of forensics, as you outlined) was in the treatment of suspects and the extraction of confessions. The police "reasoned" that it couldn't really be a bad thing if the person in their custody was *encouraged* to confess and/or implicate others. And this sort of misconduct consisted of two main areas: 1) the physical and psychological maltreatment of the suspect, and 2) the full- or semi-fabrication of statements. The first is pretty self-explanatory. The second usually involved either a) a police officer simply writing out a full confession, attributing it to the suspect, and *encouraging* the suspect to sign it; or b) the police inserting additional, self-incriminating pages into the suspect's statement after the suspect had signed it.

By the 1970's, there's plenty of evidence that this sort of behaviour had become deeply ingrained and institutionalised within most UK police forces. As I said, they didn't even feel that what they were doing was wrong per se: they just saw it as a way of helping guilty people get convicted. Incidentally, there's very little proper evidence to suggest that any significant degree of "framing" took place in those days (and by "framing", I mean the entrapment of someone whom the investigating police either thought or knew to be innocent of the crime in uestion). Furthermore, as this sort of malpractice grew more commonplace, the officers concerned saw these sorts of techniques as a "win-win": they were helping the courts to convict the villains, and if any of their acts were brought out by the defence at trial, all they had to do is effectively say to the court: "Who are you going to believe - the suspect who's trying every trick in the book to wriggle free, or us fine upstanding police officers?"

As I said, this sort of stuff had become an embedded part of the "toolbox" within most (if not all) UK police forces by the 1970s. And even when cases of this type of malpractice were occasionally shown to be true at trial or appeal, they were treated as total outliers by a tiny number of overzealous or rogue officers.

It was only when police misconduct was truly held up to the light - in the high-profile cases you mentioned in the OP - that it became clear that this was far more of a problem than simple "a small number of overzealous officers". And that's what led primarily to the Police And Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984, which forced police into a position of near-total accountability and invigilation.

As bad as things were in the UK in the pre-PACE days, I wouldn't mind betting that these sorts of behaviours were endemic in police forces across the world. And of course the irony is that unless/until legislators in any given jurisdiction impose PACE-like conditions onto their police forces, it's likely that those police forces will be able to be viewed from the outside as having little or no malpractice/misconduct.



* And that's without mentioning the (probably very significant) amount of other cases in which the defendants were justly convicted, in which police misconduct may have occurred but was never revealed.
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Old 7th December 2020, 11:09 AM   #7
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Judith Ward, false confessions, and TLC results

"After 2 1/2 days of questioning, she [25-year old Judith Ward] confessed. Her statement read: 'I walked over to the bus station. I was shaking like a leaf. The boot was open.'
But further investigations showed she could not have planted the bomb. She was found to have been drinking with half a dozen people in the Blue Boar, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, 100 miles from the bus station at the time....Michael Farrell, the Irish journalist-turned-lawyer and author of The Orange State, investigated the case for the magazine, Magill, in 1988 and spoke to an IRA woman who claimed to have planted the M62 bomb.
'She gave convincing detail about it and said Judith Ward had no connection whatsoever with it,' he said. Mr Farrell said he remained convinced of Miss Ward's innocence." Guardian

"Thin layer chromatography and the Griess test were used to establish the presence of nitroglycerine. However, later evidence showed that positive results using these methods could be obtained with materials innocently picked up from shoe polish and that several of the forensic scientists involved had either withheld evidence or exaggerated its importance’ (INNOCENT, 2010)." Link

I am still trying to get to the bottom of the thin layer chromatography results. This technique separates compounds, usually on the basis of polarity. Typically the stationary phase is silica and the mobile phase is an organic solvent. Various ompounds move up the plate at different rates. There are potentially several ways to detect the compounds on the TLC plates, of which the modified Griess test is one. In theory, results from TLC should be more discriminating than simply from swabbing hands and testing directly. However, I would raise two caveats at this point. One is that whether or not TLC can discriminate between nitroglycerine and another explosive material, PETN, depends upon the choice of solvent used to develop the TLC plate, and IIRC toluene is a solvent that would not allow one to make this differentiation. Two is that I have read that "discrepant" TLC results were not always reported to the defense.

Frank Skuse was the forensic scientist who tested her hands, and he was also involved in the Birmingham Six case. There are reasons to believe, both from this report and others, that Ms. Ward was a fabulist and was mentally ill. From what I can gather she attempted suicide while in custody. Ms. Ward wrote a book about her experiences, called Ambushed--My Story.

Paul Foot covered her story in the London Review of Books. "Who decided not to give Ward’s lawyers the crucial evidence which might have got her off? The West Yorkshire Police, for a start. They had taken 1700 statements of evidence. Only 225 were passed to the defence." Mr. Foot made it clear that these omissions were consequential. He also quoted the court of appeal concerning the scientific evidence:

"Three senior RARDE scientists took the law into their own hands, and concealed from the prosecution, the defence and the court matters which might have changed the course of the trial. The catalogue of lamentable omissions included failures to reveal actual test results, the failure to reveal discrepant values, the suppression of boot polish experimental data, the misrepresentation of the first firing test cell results, the concealment of subsequent positive firing cell test results, economical witness statements calculated to obstruct inquiry by the defence and, most important of all, oral evidence at the trial in the course of which senior RARDE scientists placed a false and distorted scientific picture before the jury. It is in our judgment also a necessary inference that the three senior RARDE forensics scientists acted in concert in withholding material evidence."
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Old 7th December 2020, 03:55 PM   #8
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More on the TLC in the Judith Ward case

The following come from the Appeal Judgement in the Ward case via a thesis.

"Dr Skuse’s statement is dated February 25, 1974...A positive colour reaction for a substance similar to nitroglycerine has been obtainedfrom each ofthe swabs FS3 and FS4 [fingernail scrapings] and item 47 [the ring]. No confirmatory test for nitroglycerine was obtained from these swabs...Dr Skuse’s evidence was along the lines ofhis witness statement. He insisted that his Griess test results showed that Miss Ward had probably been in contact with a commercial explosive. He also testified that a T.L.C. test of a swab taken under the left fingernail reinforced his view despite the fact that the suspect spot did not turn pink or anything like it...The scientific evidence before us further shows that the interval ofsome 57 hours between the alleged handling of explosives at Latimer and the taking of samples by Dr Skuse rendered unlikely the suggestion ofthepresence ofexplosives on Miss Ward’s hands as a result ofplanting explosive devices."

It is not wholly clear in the first portion of the passage above which confirmatory test was being referenced, TLC or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). However, one or two interesting points are addressed. There was a failure of the spots to turn pink [a positive Griess test is typically a pink color], yet neither Dr. Skuse nor the jury interpreted this to mean that nitroglycerine could not be confirmed. The lack of seeing the correct color change after TLC might be was was meant by "discrepant" values in a passage that I quoted earlier today. However, it could also mean that the standards provided different Rf values versus the unknowns. Rf values are the ratio of the distance that the spot moved to the distance that the organic solvent moved.
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Old 8th December 2020, 09:23 AM   #9
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Gareth Peirce's look back

An attorney in the Birmingham Six case, Gareth Peirce wrote a retrospective article for The Guardian, entitled "The Birmingham Six: Have we learned from our disgraceful past?" She said, "By 1991, the year of their release, 18 senior judges in turn had relied on the mantra that the original decision of the jury must be given deference, yet themselves listened to new evidence piecemeal before rejecting it outright, substituting themselves for the jury as the fact-finding body rather than order a retrial. Two retired law lords, Devlin and Scarman, fired broadsides at so seismic a constitutional shift. Nevertheless, the appeal ordered by the home secretary in 1987 was expected, finally, to ensure the men's release, hearing as it did weeks of dramatic new evidence...When the court rejected the appeal, commenting "the longer this hearing has gone on, the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct", the men's expectations of immediate release were in smithereens, but so too was the reputation of British justice."

The question of judges taking on the function of a jury is an important point that stretches beyond the Birmingham Six case and certainly is pertinent to the case of Mark Lundy, the subject of a separate thread here. The failure of appeals comes up regularly in this sub-forum.
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Old 8th December 2020, 04:53 PM   #10
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Gareth Peirce was a common factor

"It was Peirce who acted for Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four in the 1989 appeal that led to the quashing of the group's 15-year-old conviction for bombings in Guildford and Woolwich. In the 1993 film about the case, In the Name of the Father, Peirce was portrayed by Emma Thompson.

"Two years later, Peirce acted for five of the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. Peirce also took on the case of the so-called M62 bomber, Judith Ward, whose murder conviction relating to 12 deaths in the 1974 bombing of an army coach near Leeds was overturned in 1992. The Winchester Three? Gareth Peirce. The Maguire Seven? Peirce again." HeraldScotland

I was unaware that Ms. Peirce was involved in all of the cases I mentioned in my opening post.
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Old 11th December 2020, 03:18 PM   #11
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Another New Scientist article from Mick Hamer

In the New Scientist from 21 July 1990 Mick Hamer wrote, "The forensic scientist maintained at the Maguire trial that confirmatory tests were not necessary or practicable. When the inquiry looked at the scientists’ notebooks they found that confirmatory tests had been carried out, looking for nitrotoluenes, which are always found in nitroglycerine. These tests were negative.

However, the central criticism revolves around the inability of the standard tests of the time (TLC/toluene) to distinguish between nitroglycerine and another explosive, PETN [pentaerythritol tetranitrate]. In his evidence to the inquiry Higgs said that PETN, ‘was never raised in any of the previous trials as being in conflict with NG (nitroglycerine)’. However, May says that, ‘only when the notebooks became available to the inquiry did the extent of RARDE’s interest in PETN become apparent.’

At the original court hearing, Higgs wrote a note for the prosecution counsel saying that nitro-esters (including PETN) could be distinguished from nitroglycerine on a thin layer chromatograph by three criteria. May says: ‘PETN is not in fact distinguishable from NG by any of these three criteria and the failure of Mr Higgs and Mr Elliott (a colleague) to mention it to counsel . . . is simply inexplicable.’" Link to New Scientist article.

When one uses toluene as the TLC solvent, one cannot distinguish PETN from nitroglycerine, meaning that they have the same Rf values. They can be distinguished, a point establish by the results in the article I cited below. Because both are esters of nitrate, both will react in the Griess test. One might ask why it is important to distinguish between them, Inasmuch as both are explosives. Yet if the indictment specifically says nitroglycerin, then it takes on greater importance, as noted by RW Hiley (Journal of Forensic Sciences 1993 38(4):864-873). In addition, one still has to contend with the issue of false positives. Hiley's article points out that the rate of pink color development is faster with nitroglycerine than with PETN under some conditions, but that the method described in his paper is the more reliable method of distinguishing them. Hiley does not mention how quickly other nitrate esters produce color.

The first paragraph is challenging to understand. In nitrotoluenes, (TNT is one member of this family of compounds) the nitrogen of the nitro-group forms a bond to carbon (not to oxygen as in esters of nitrate). These compounds should not produce a positive result in the Griess test, but the passage above indicates that nitrotoluenes are found as contaminants in nitroglycerine. If so, then it is possible that their existence would constitute a confirmatory test, subject to demonstration and agreement within the relevant scientific community. RW Hiley wrote, "These substances [mono- and di-nitrotoluene] are present together with NG [nitroglycerine] in some gelignite explosives."
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Old 12th December 2020, 09:17 AM   #12
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More information on Judith Ward

In an article linked above ("Expert Witnesses and the Duty of Disclosure & Impartiality: The Lessons of the IRA Cases in England") Beverly Schurr quoted the Court of Appeals, who wrote, "Dr Lawson admitted that he had not told the appellant's family, let alone her [Judith Ward's] solicitor, of the acute psychosis which he had diagnosed...both doctors must have succeeded in persuading themselves that it (the second suicide attempt) was of no significance. Its non-disclosure nonetheless amounts to material irregularity. If it had been disclosed together with other information contained in the reports of Dr Lawson and Dr Mather it was evidence which established beyond doubt that the defence required the assistance of psychiatric advice."

One article I read criticized the defense for not calling a psychiatric witness, but the fault lay with the authorities. It would seem that subsequent to her release that Ms. Ward had at some point regained mental equilibrium. Paul Foot's closing paragraph in one of his articles may be consulted.
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Old 14th December 2020, 07:10 PM   #13
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contamination at the RARDE laboratory

Solicitor Alastair Logan wrote, "The test results recorded showed massive concentrations of positives in the first two samples tested which then declined in positivity until the swabs of the hands of Anne Maguire and her son John showed no positives at all." The explanation offered by some independent forensic scientists is plausible but IMO speculative. However, the rest of the article fleshed out a problem that I had previously seen mentioned, namely contamination. One source I found indicated that RARDE produced kits for field tests that were thought to be contaminated.

Mr. Logan also wrote, "What they showed was that the laboratory at RARDE had a serious ongoing problem with contamination by nitroglycerine and over a long period of time.

"Swabbing carried out in the laboratory found it in the toilets, in the canteen, on the back of chairs, on notice boards and in a variety of other places. All of that had been transferred from the hands of scientists who had been handling material contaminated by nitroglycerine."

He concluded, "RARDE knew they had a problem with contamination, just as they knew that the TLC test was not specific for nitroglycerine. They were happy to lie their way out of any criticism and to commit perjury on an industrial scale...And the sentence Guiseppe Conlon received killed him."
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Old 17th December 2020, 07:43 AM   #14
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the lack of traces elsewhere

Here is a little more from Mick Hamer's 21 July 1990 New Scientist article Science carries the can for the Maguire Seven Convictions: "The evidence was given, even though a police search of the house the family lived in with an electronic ‘sniffer’ had failed to find any trace of nitroglycerine."

I am looking into exactly what a sniffer is (there is a more recent mass spectrometry technique called DART, but I don't believe that it was around in the 1970s). Other commentators on the case of the Birmingham Six have mentioned the lack of traces on clothing of the accused. A previous comment of mine noted the existence of traces of nitroglycerine around the RARDE laboratory. If professionals cannot avoid spreading NG around, how is it possible that amateurs could effect such a perfect clean-up?
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Old 18th December 2020, 04:20 AM   #15
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more on contamination

In the book Science and the Detective, Brian H. Kaye wrote, "The scientists who prepared these test kits had not only made the test kits but also made explosives at the same establishment...[Mick] Hamer concludes that Annie Maguire spent 11 years in prison with the most probable explanation being a contaminated test kit.13 Hamer points out that we will never know for sure whether or not the police were using contaminated test kits."
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Old 19th December 2020, 10:30 AM   #16
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Lots of interesting material here, thanks for posting. I'll have a look through over Christmas and see if I can use anything in the criminal justice module I'll be teaching again next term. The one I'm most familiar with is the Birmingham Six, which I've used before in relation to false confessions.

One issue I'm interested in is identifying how many of the underlying issues could still occur, as opposed to those that might be prevented or made less likely by subsequent legislation or procedural changes.
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Old 20th December 2020, 07:19 AM   #17
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interim summary

Hi Elaedith,

My interim impressions are as follows: One problem in this case is in mistaking a less discriminating test (the Griess test) for a more discriminating test. GC/MS is more information-rich. It is likely to provide fewer false positives, but I have not tried to document this in detail. This problem also shows up in seized drugs and identification of body fluids. For example luminol is a presumptive test for blood, but before one can conclude whether or not blood is actually present, one must run a confirmatory test, such as the RSID test for the protein Glycophorin A. Papers and book chapters that come from more recent times generally describe the Griess test in ways that stress its preliminary nature.

A second problem is a forensic scientist coming up with numbers (Dr. Skuse said he was 99% certain based on the results of the Griess test) that do not appear to me to have any basis in fact. This has plagued many branches of forensics. A third problem is the lack of corroborating evidence (either scientific or other) that people seemed to discount at the time. A fourth problem, related to the third, is that the confessions did not match the facts of the case.
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Old 24th December 2020, 05:25 AM   #18
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electrostatic document analysis

On . 246 of Paddy Joe Hill's book Forever Lost, Forever Gone h, there is some information on the documents that the police altered in regards to the interrogations of the Birmingham Six. From what I can gather, when this was made public, it was one of the two things that brought the case down, the other being the finding of additional substances that produced false positives in the Griess test.

"A process called ESDA (Electrostatic Document Analysis) had been used on the notes that Richard, and it had been proved beyond doubt that great chunks had been written in later, that pages had been swopped around, and other versions of pages had been prepared. An examination of the ink showed parts had been written out of sequence.

"The scientist who did the work, Dr David Baxendale, gave evidence as to the alterations that he had discovered. Dates when interviews we're said to have taken place had been altered in police notebooks."
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Old 24th December 2020, 05:51 AM   #19
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backsliding

Paul May wrote, "In a particularly witless passage, [Tony] Blair claimed that ‘the biggest miscarriage of justice’ arises if ‘the guilty walk away unpunished.’ Is this a worse injustice than the wrongly convicted Guiseppe Conlon of the Maguire Seven receiving abysmal treatment for tuberculosis and asking his captors with his dying breath how it felt to be killing an innocent man?" He continued, "The fallacy in Blair’s argument was obvious. In most cases where an innocent person is convicted, the guilty remain free to commit further offences. Affording lower priority to avoiding and correcting wrongful convictions isn’t getting ‘tough on crime’ – it positively encourages it." link

He said that successive secretaries of state have treated the Criminal Cases Review Commission with "barely-disguised disdain," and he implied that the CCRC is underfunded. To sum his article up, there has been backsliding in the decades since the convictions of the Birmingham Six and the other subjects of this thread were thrown out.
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Old 27th December 2020, 04:05 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post
Hi Elaedith,

My interim impressions are as follows: One problem in this case is in mistaking a less discriminating test (the Griess test) for a more discriminating test. GC/MS is more information-rich. It is likely to provide fewer false positives, but I have not tried to document this in detail. This problem also shows up in seized drugs and identification of body fluids. For example luminol is a presumptive test for blood, but before one can conclude whether or not blood is actually present, one must run a confirmatory test, such as the RSID test for the protein Glycophorin A. Papers and book chapters that come from more recent times generally describe the Griess test in ways that stress its preliminary nature.

A second problem is a forensic scientist coming up with numbers (Dr. Skuse said he was 99% certain based on the results of the Griess test) that do not appear to me to have any basis in fact. This has plagued many branches of forensics. A third problem is the lack of corroborating evidence (either scientific or other) that people seemed to discount at the time. A fourth problem, related to the third, is that the confessions did not match the facts of the case.
Presumptive or preliminary tests I assume are always intended to reduce false negatives at the possible expense of false positives. I know that false positives/negatives give trouble in general, because there is a tendency to want to put a binary outcome into one of two categories where a positive result must mean the exact opposite of a negative. Juries might misunderstand the preliminary test if not explained properly and if the defence fails to challenge the interpretation. But I assume those using tests do know the distinction between these tests. Im wondering what the underlying reasons are behind this failure to perform a confirmatory test and to what extent it reflects bias (such as only wanting to include evidence consistent with a hypothesis) or actual deception on the part of the examiner.
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Old 28th December 2020, 09:31 AM   #21
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first thoughts on the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry results

Yes, presumptive tests are generally chosen or modified to provide the fewest number of false negatives at the expense of some false positives. There is a general discussion of presumptive vs. confirmatory tests here. I don't know whether or not thin-layer chromatography (TLC) and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) were formally classed as confirmatory tests (with the Griess test being the presumptive test), but clearly some thought along those lines in the mid-1970s. Almog and Zitrin's retrospective analysis of the Birmingham Six case state, "The conclusion is that a positive Griess test on hands cannot constitute evidence of the hands having had contact with explosives. The Griess test should be a presumptive test, to be used only as a preliminary tool for the investigation. Its results should be confirmed in the laboratory before being presented in court...However, it cannot be overemphasized that the test is a preliminary, presumptive test, and its results can be presented in court only after they have been confirmed by generally accepted laboratory methods."

With respect to TLC, either nitrate esters, including nitroglycerin and PETN) and nitrotoluenes might be the substance of interest. I am still not entirely certain what is meant by "discrepant" TLC values.

Some of the GC/MS results were negative, but I am still going through this part of the story. Dr. Frank Skuse attributed a negative result to evaporation of the nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin does not strike me as being volatile; its boiling point has been reported to be 250 C, but this must be an estimate, inasmuch as it decomposes at a lower temperature. It can be distilled under reduced pressure, which is suggestive of a lack of volatility. The solvent that Dr. Skuse used to swab hands, diethyl ether, is volatile.
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Old 7th January 2021, 11:37 AM   #22
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problems noted in the May report

In a 21 July 1990 article Mick Hamer quoted Sir John May's report on the Maguire Seven: "‘The scientists wrongly believed that they could rationalise their exclusion of PETN. They imperfectly understood their duties as forensic scientists and as witnesses . . . that much is demonstrated not only by the manifest inadequacies of their treatment of PETN but also by their failure to report the second test for nitrotoluenes.’" New Scientist link.

PETN cannot be distinguished from nitroglycerine (NG) when toluene is the solvent used in thin-layer chromatography. Elsewhere in this article from Mr. Hamer discussed nitrotoluenes as a kind of confirmatory test for the presence of NG (comment #11 upthread).
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Old 7th January 2021, 02:29 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post
In a 21 July 1990 article Mick Hamer quoted Sir John May's report on the Maguire Seven: "The scientists wrongly believed that they could rationalise their exclusion of PETN. They imperfectly understood their duties as forensic scientists and as witnesses . . . that much is demonstrated not only by the manifest inadequacies of their treatment of PETN but also by their failure to report the second test for nitrotoluenes." New Scientist link.

PETN cannot be distinguished from nitroglycerine (NG) when toluene is the solvent used in thin-layer chromatography. Elsewhere in this article from Mr. Hamer discussed nitrotoluenes as a kind of confirmatory test for the presence of NG (comment #11 upthread).
From the link it seems that the forensic scientists knew full well they were omitting evidence that didn't help the prosecution. I wonder if the defence didn't do an adequate job of challenging the evidence related to the test specificity.
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Old 7th January 2021, 08:17 PM   #24
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a sticky problem regarding the Griess test

On the general issue of the lack of disclosure there is much to say. I will start with what is on p. 247 of Paddy Hill's book on the Birmingham Six. "Two salesman gave positive Griess tests on the night of the bombing. The scientist doing the testing believed the result to be a false positive due to adhesive tape. The defense did not know of this until November of 1990."

With respect to the the non-disclosure of the TLC evidence in the Maguire Seven case, I found out a bit more. There is an article by Alastair Logan (who represented the Maguire Seven and Guildford Four), which has appeared in more than one place, Proof and The Justice Gap.

"The scientists had sent a memo to Dr John Yallop, who was the former director at RARDE, and who was advising the Maguire Seven defence teams, telling him that they had discovered this fact sometime in the summer of 1974 (i.e., before the Guildford bombing). The whole case against the Maguire Seven was based on the specificity of the TLC test. The forensic scientists gave evidence in court as to the specificity of the test excluding any other possible substance.
That was a lie – as they knew full well."
SNIP
"The judge, Mr Justice Donaldson, cleverly turned the matter around, arguing that if specificity was being challenged it was for the defence to prove that some substance other than nitroglycerine could produce the same result on the test. The defence were unable to prove that any other substance would prove positive. As the trial drew to a close, and after all evidence had been given, Dr Yallop found the memo.

Again, the judge was clever. He asked the barristers representing the Maguire’s whether they wanted the jury to know that the test was not specific and that another explosive had been discovered which proved positive and indistinguishable from nitroglycerine on the test. The barristers backed down."

Mr. Logan went on to indicate that the defense team had been denied access to the RARDE laboratory notebooks during the trial and one of the appeals.
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Old 7th January 2021, 08:48 PM   #25
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How the police found Paddy Hill

Gerry Hunter, who with four other of the Birmingham Six had been detained for forensic tests, told the police where to find their casual friend Paddy Hill, who was on a ferry. (p. 65 in Forever Lost, Forever Gone)
If one, solitary incident in this whole affair epitomized our innocence, this was surely it. Can anybody believe that a gang of hardened IRA bombers, making their getaway from a horrendous attack, would happily volunteer that another gang member was still free? And tell the police where to find him
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Old 9th January 2021, 08:09 AM   #26
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Appeal of Judith Ward and the TLC results

This link covers Judith Ward's appeal. This is the first good source of information that I have found that covers the forensics of the Ward case, and it will take a while to digest it. However, I can offer some preliminary thoughts. Some of the Rf values in thin-layer chromatography (TLC) of the standard versus the questioned sample were different (discrepant) by as much as 0.05-0.10. Although this is a complex question, in my experience this would be too much for me to declare two compounds to be the same. Depending on the particulars I might or might not conclude that they were different. Some results were recorded as "faint" or "very faint trace." In one instance a spot was described by Dr. Skuse as "a shadow and colourless," yet he testified that the results supported his view that nitroglycerine (NG) was present. No samples were tested by GC/MS unless I am mistaken. There is some discussion of the results of the Griess test by itself, as opposed to its use in conjunction with TLC.

Within this document there is discussion of lack of disclosure, both of the scientific results and of information regarding Ms. Ward's mental state.
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Old 11th January 2021, 10:26 AM   #27
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A Great British Injustice

This link to a review of a documentary about the Maguire Seven in The Guardian came up in another thread. It is a good introduction to the case.
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