In the 19th century, Europe was characterized by so many criminals. Since crime was growing at a very high rate, people could just disappear and take new identities that the policing methods and surveillance of that time could not detect. At that time, nobody had come up with an effective method of identifying people. The methods that were being used were inadequate and unreliable (Imprint of the Raj, nd). The science of finger printing was therefore of great use in this area. Today, this science is widely used to apprehend criminals though hundred years ago, it was mainly used as a revolutionary concept.
When it was first used in the legal fraternity, it was supposed to implement sentence policies, which were new at that time, every time a guilty verdict was passed and nobody had ever thought that it would be used to collect evidence. In 1902, the first successful conviction based on fingerprints evidence took place; the convict being Harry Jackson (Beavan, nd). This essay is aimed at showing how Harry Jackson’s successful conviction brought a revolution to the science of finger printing in evidence conviction. Harry Jackson was not aware that his stealing action would make him a historical figure in regards to law enforcement.
He was the first Briton to be convicted as a criminal based on fingerprints evidence. At that time, the Metropolitan Fingerprint Bureau had just come into session and in fact it was less than a year old. The people who were working in this bureau were being led by Sir Edward Henry and they are the ones who investigated the case. Sir Edward had just invented a classification system of fingerprints while working in India which was under British then. He came to discover that every human being has unique fingerprints and he thus realized that this could be a potential way of fighting crime (BBC, 2001).
Before the first conviction based on fingerprint evidence took place, Sir Henry, who was at the time a member of civil service of India, did some experiments with thump prints in 1896. At the end, he was successful in facilitating the process of fingerprint- taking from convicted criminals. Eventually, he was able to come up with a classification system. He also managed to convince the Indian government to take up the practice (Graham, 2010). At this time, there were so many outcries in Britain due to mistaken identities and convictions that were being carried out wrongly.
This was followed by a committee of experts that was set up for the purpose of looking into the issue of personal identification especially by the police. The committee looked into the fingerprint system and the anthropometric one and at the end; they found out that the fingerprint system was more reliable. On July 12th 1897, the old system of identification referred to as Bertillion was discontinued in Britain and that of fingerprint took over. In 1899, India passed a special act to allow for the system to take over in regard to forensic science (Graham, 2010).
It can be said that Henry was the one who introduced the system to Britain. Subsequently, it was introduced into the Scotland Yard which was new at that time. Sir Henry was recalled to be promoted to be the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and this facilitated the fingerprint system to be adopted in the entire Europe and commonwealth countries. This was followed by the first successful conviction based on the system (Glamorgan County Police Station, nd). In the year 1902, on June 27, a burglary took place in a particular house at Denmark Hill, London.
The burglary ended up with billiard balls being stolen. The officer, who was investigating the case, discovered few fingerprints at the crime scene, specifically on a windowsill that had been freshly painted. This was the place where the burglar had made his entry. On the discovery, he immediately contacted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau prompting Charles Stockley Collin, who was detective sergeant at that time, to go to the crime scene. The first thing that he did upon his arrival was to examine the marks and he realized that the clearest impression of the print was made by the left thumb.
After some few examinations of the crime scene, he was sure that the fingerprints were made by the burglar and not anybody else and thus he went ahead with taking their photographs (Mary, 2007). On his return to the bureau, together with his colleagues, they decided to do a search for files that contained names of known criminals whose fingers may have had the same print patterns just like the ones he had taken at the crime scene. From the files, they discovered that the person who had the same fingerprints was a 41 years’ old man and a laborer going by the name, Harry Jackson.
The files also indicated that he had been sentenced some time back on burglary charges and had served a prison sentence. After the discovery, they decided to arrest him again and fingerprinted him one more time just for safety’s sake. The fingerprints marched those that had been photographed from the crime scene (Mary, 2007). A jury trial was later to follow taking place in the Old Bailey since this was a burglary case. Edward Henry, the assistant commissioner of crime in the Metropolitan police service who was also the criminal investigation department’s head, was well up to the task and was determined to make the case a success.
Since he was the man behind the Henry system of fingerprint classification and the one who came up with the fingerprint bureau, he knew that he had to find a crown prosecutor who will be able to convince English judges who were somehow conservative as well as the skeptical jury who did not have faith on the fingerprint science (Mary, 2007). As a result, he decided to look for Richard Muir, who was known for his exacting nature and thoroughness when it came to work. Later, Henry decided to send Collins to prosecutor Muir with the aim of briefing him on the technique of fingerprinting which would take only four days.
As a result, Muir was so convinced of the technique and the value of the case to the point that he later confessed that if it would have helped Henry’s work to be recognized in Britain and worldwide at large, he would have taken a shakier case (Mary, 2007). The trial of Harry Jackson took place at Old Bailey and Muir did what he was supposed to do best. He was able to convince the jury of how fingerprints can be reliable form of evidence. Since Harry pleaded not guilty, Muir produced the photographs that were taken which had been enlarged, and at the same time tracing the print and the marks (Glamorgan County Police Station, nd).
In the process, the jury found Harry Jackson guilty and on September 13th 1902, he was sentenced to seven years in prison (Mary, 2007). This case set a precedent on the use of fingerprints as evidence though some people were not happy about it. For example, one disgusted magistrate wrote a letter to The Times magazine and stated that Scotland Yard, which by then was one of the best police organizations in the world, would become a laughing stock if it would continue insisting on using rough ridges on people’s fingers to trace criminals (Mary, 2007).
Despite this, the use of the technique spread and it came to be accepted in the courts gradually and in 1905, the technique was used in a murder case, where some people were accused of killing a couple, Ann and Thomas Furrow. This case was dubbed “the shocking tragedy of Deptford” in the newspapers. This time, it also involved burglars who had broken into a shop and killed the owner; Mr. Farrow, whose head had been smashed and his blood soaking the ashes in the hearth. The wife was also brutally beaten and when the police arrived, she was still breathing but unconscious.
The police thought that she would make a good witness but she died later. The case was too difficult to crack but later the investigators landed on a cash box which had some fingerprints (Singh, nd). The case took place in the central criminal court where two brothers were accused. Just like in the Harry Jackson’s case, Richard Muir was the prosecutor. With the same antics he used in the other case; explaining the fingerprint system with an aid of a blackboard and photographs that had been enlarged, he was able to convince the jury that the two brothers, Albert and Alfred Stratton were guilty of the offence.
This is because the right thumb of Alfred was found on the cash box. This case was instrumental in convincing the British on reliability of fingerprints as evidence in murder and other cases. This case and that of Harry Jackson were mile stone cases in regard to fingerprint technique since they were the first convictions in Britain based on the technique (Glamorgan County Police Station, nd). Moreover, the case of Harry Jackson had strengthened the technique but it had not grabbed the public attention as was witnessed in the case the second case.
The latter case greatly captured the public attention and in the process publicizing the technique, making it very popular. The finger print technique became so famous especially after the two trials such that in the year 1905, ‘fingerprint competition’ was introduced by the Daily Express. Later, the fingerprint identification validity had to go through its final battle in 1909 through a castle case where the criminal court of appeal ruled that evidence of fingerprints might be accepted by both the jury and the courts and in that regard, it could only be used for identification (Imprint of the Raj, nd).
In conclusion, since the trial of Harry Jackson was the first successful one to convict some one based on fingerprint evidence, it set a precedent on the usage of the technique. It also strengthened its usage to the point that many felt it was reliable and efficient and subsequently, it could be used in shakier cases like murder, making it to be adopted all over Europe. References BBC News. (2001). Will prints continue to finger? Retrieved from http://news. bbc. co.
uk/2/hi/uk_news/1409114. stm Beavan, C. (nd). Finger prints. Retrieved from http://www. island. lk/2002/02/16/satmag03. html Glamorgan County Police Station. Every contact leaves a trace: A history of finger prints. Retrieved from http://www. southwalespolicemuseum. org. uk/en/content/cms/visit_the_archives/history_of_fingerpri/history_of_fingerpri. aspx Graham, F. (2010). The history of finger prints. SIFS India: Forensic Forum. Retrieved from http://forensicforum.
in/viewtopic. php? f=4&t=3&start=0 Imprint of the Raj. (nd). The true measure of the criminal. Retrieved from http://wiki. phalkefactory. net/images/a/a6/IMPRINT_OF_THE_RAJ. pdf Mary, C. (2007). First UK fingerprint conviction. Retrieved from http://www. ancestryaid. co. uk/boards/history-board/10854-first-uk-fingerprint-conviction. html Singh, S. (nd). How fingers pointed out the criminals. Saturday Magazine. Retrieved from http://www. simonsingh. net/Fingerprints. html