Miscarriages of Justice The Case of Judith Ward

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The justice system used throughout the world may differ between countries but the ultimate goals are still the same; to achieve justice, apprehend criminals and provide a secure and safe society. However, more often than nought, miscarriages of justice do occur where an individual or group is wrongly convicted, jailed and sometimes killed. The ethical practices behind the persons involved in a case are crucial towards a just decision. A prime example of a miscarriage of justice involves Judith Ward and the forensic scientists involved in the case. Judith Teresa Ward, born January 10th 1949 was a British woman who was convicted and jailed for causing explosions and committing multiple accounts of murder. Ward was born in Stockport England and lived an arguably modest lifestyle. On September 10th 1973 a bomb went off at Euston Railway Station in London near a snack bar, 8 commuters were injured and no suspect was at hand. On February 4th 1974 another bomb went off in a passenger car driving on the M62 motorway in England carrying off-duty British armed forces and their family members. 12 people were killed in the incident. The bomb was later identified as the type used by the Provisional Irish Republic Army, dubbed IRA. The bomb consisted of 11kg of high explosives, which was placed inside a luggage locker on the coach. The coach was traveling from Manchester to bases at Catterick and Darlington. Nearing a Motorway Service, at around Midnight, the bomb went off and effectively halted the vehicle. The explosion outright killed eleven people and injured many more. The dead including nine soldiers; two from the Royal Artillery, three from Royal Corp Signals and four form the 2nd battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Of the battalion regiment Corporal Hougton and his family, wife and 2 sons, also died. The reaction was immediate, media and politicians quickly wanted repercussions and justice. The immediate blame fell on the IRA for having the obvious affiliation with the bomb and uncanny timing, to which the IRA was situated in Britain for an armed campaign. An investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendant George Oldfield lead to charges against the mentally unstable Judith Ward. Her conviction in November 1974 was based on lack of evidence towards her and her testimony which consisted of many gaps. She admitted to her crimes at her hearing however she retracted these statements later on. The key pieces of evidence against her were swabs taken from Mrs Ward that contained nitro-glycerine, an active ingredient in explosives. A combination of her confessions obtained by police at her arrest and forensic evidence through tested NG samples led to Wards conviction and confinement for 17 years on charges of bombing and life imprisonment on multiple accounts of murder.

The miscarriage of justice was the wrongful conviction of Judith Ward causing her incarceration of 17 years on falsified evidence. The samples obtained by police from Wards fingernail, baggage and caravan were tested for the presence of explosive materiel. These tests were performed by Dr Skuse, and a combination of crown scientists. These crown scientists mislead the court by not disclosing the accurate results to the defence. Dr Skuse was involved in many cases before dealing with flawed conclusions eventually leading to unwarranted convictions. Skuse was a forensic scientist at the North West Forensic Laboratories in Chorley Lancashire. On the case of Ward, Skuse was presented samples obtained from Wards fingernails, both left and right hand. These samples were then placed into a Griess mixture to determine the contents. A Griess test is a chemical process that detects the presence of organic nitrites. When nitrites such as nitro-glycerine are present the color spot changes from white to pink, indicating the presence of nitrites. The test consists of two parts where the nitro-glycerine is broken down into nitrites and placed into sodium hydroxide, if the solution turns pink then a positive indication of nitrites is present however the test is only conclusive after adding the solution to a sample of Griess reagent causing the solution to turn clear. The overall procedure involving Griess reagent is considered a preliminary step, followed up with a more sensitive procedure, thin layer chromatography. Thin layer chromatography is another common technique used by forensic scientists to separate compounds in a mixture, more specifically to determine the identity of compounds in a mixture. The TLC test is compared with numerous spots to obtain an accurate reading. TLC is a common follow up procedure used to positively indentify nitrites in a mixture obtained after a Griess test. These samples are then further tested by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry for further identification. The Griess test performed by Dr Skuse resulted in the faint presence of nitrites and the TLC test showed one positive, nitrite, spot. The subsequent samples sent to the Home Office Research Establishment at Aldermaston for GCMS testing were rejected. The samples were such that the results obtained from GCMS would not be helpful towards the case. The nature of the miscarriage begins with Skuse claiming that the samples gave positive results off a "faint trace". Skuse relied on one TLC spot as evidence towards the presence of NG. He further erred by concluding that Ward did have NG present underneath her fingernails. This incorrect assessment led fellow forensic scientists; Higgs, Elliot Berryman to justify that Ward did have explosives on her through subjective conformational bias. Their objectivity during the case was clouded by Skuse's claim. Judith Wards case was one of many that later showed Skuse's flawed conclusions. His competence went under scrutiny and he was eventually fired in 1982 due to limited effectiveness.

Analysis of Issues Related to Role and Responsibility of Forensic Science and Forensic Scientist

Forensic science is heavily linked with the court room. The evidence analysed by forensic scientists are key towards judging and convicting an accused. The forensic scientist is used as a means of not only analysing evidence but also presenting this information in a way that the court room can understand and in essence provide a substantial part in swaying decisions. The ethical practices of these scientists are crucial towards decision making. Dr Skuse's job was to provide an objective analysis that is thorough and careful. Following protocol is vital for both security and quality assurance. The TLC test performed by Skuse provided little proof that NG was present however he continued on and mislead the court with his statements that NG was positively identified and present. He then further stated that Ms Ward conclusively had NG present under her fingernails. Because of Skuse's statements and his unsatisfactory assessment and presentation, objectivity of the case was at jeopardy. It is evident that Skuse's presented his results in a bias fashion. He strived to support his own view of the case. While Skuse was at the heart of the problem, other forensic scientists contributed to the miscarriage. Higgs, Elliot and Berryman were the government assigned forensic scientists to the case. Elliot began the downward spiral of ethical problems. When presenting the results for the NG samples collected from Wards fingernails, Elliot stated that all 3 samples tested positive for the presence of NG when in fact each of Wards samples were determined to have a faint presence. He also neglected to differentiate Diamonds, Gatleys and Wards samples. Diamond and Gatley were the two other suspects in the case. Higgs, when analysing the caravan for the presence of explosives, purposely states that tests were positive for explosives when the data gathered presented a faint presence. Both of these scientists mislead the court to further push the defence from questioning the evidence. All 3, including Berryman, performed control tests to determine whether the presence of NG could be mimicked by a different compound during TLC migration. A significant factor providing the defence with grounds to question the results obtained for contamination. In 1973 Elliot performed these tests on black shoe polish. The report showed that the dye could interfere with the explosives in both the Rf value and spot color. Higgs, whom worked under Elliot at the time, lied at the stand and agreed that no compounds could provide the same results as NG. Disclosure is paramount in court cases and the defence is entitled to all evidence, fresh or new surmounting the case. By not providing all the evidence the scientists breached their responsibilities and caused the miscarriage to occur. All three of these forensic scientists withheld information and effectively hindered the case. A key responsibility of forensic scientists is to be neutral and assist impartially towards crime investigations.

Ethical Issue - Effect on Relevant Individuals and Society

Court decisions do not only affect the individual but society as well. Having been incarcerated for 18 years, Ward had adapted a minute living style. During her sentencing her emotions were impassive and her only family present, Jean Ward, wept openly. However Ward, not to be outdone by prison, decided to live life to the fullest when she came out. A common effect of jail on prisoners is the feeling of institutionalization or uniformity. The feeling of repetitive actions leads to monotonous life styles and depression after imprisonment. During her incarceration, Ward did suffer from depression however to not become too institutionalize Ward varied her routine daily. She studied at an open university during her time in jail to better herself for life outside jail. While the miscarriage did affect her mentally, Ward pushed through and is living her life to the best of her abilities. But there are extraneous issues surrounding miscarriages that directly affect Ward. Perhaps the most difficult being the inability to get a job. Ex-convicts, whether guilty or not hold a stigma to their name. These stigmas are detrimental, companies stay clear from convicts because it is perceived that these people will tarnish the name and begrudge society again. Miscarriages often affect society heavily. The justice system is for the people, to aid and provide security towards individuals and society as a whole. When miscarriages occur it tends to affect society because the very backing of security has shown weakness. Wards case is particularly tough because of the nature of how the miscarriage was carried through. The scientists involved withheld, arguably, vital information. The evidence presented by an expert is quite infallible in the eyes of the jurors. Jurors are not experts and when evidence is presented in a systematic and logical way people tend to believe it regardless of whether the limitations are explained. The direct community surrounding Ward at first wanted to have swift judgement on the culprit but when the evidence was regarded again and the truth brought forth the ramifications of what they, society, had collectively done came forth. A prominent effect of Wards case on society is the perception of science and its reliability. By not providing all the evidence and presenting controls and counter measures, Skuse and his fellow scientists, effectively discredited the value of the evidence. People regarded Skuse and his entire laboratory as ineffective and more importantly dangerous. Dangerous because the very evidence that one hopes for help may be incorrectly assessed and lead to a miscarriage. A less serious effect on society is the cost of such cases. Cases on average are expensive but appealing a case and re-analyzing evidence is even more expensive. To add to the costs, miscarriages in particular lead to compensation of the individual. These often monetary compensations can be from 100,000 dollars to 1 million plus. While the money does not make up for the time spent in jail, Ward effectively needs the money not only for emotional reasons, family, but for practical reasons, being jobless. These ramifications can be avoided if cases are analyzed carefully and appropriately.

Ethical Issue - Prevention of Similar Situation

The ultimate goal of justice is not to only apprehend the criminal but to prevent a similar crime from occurring again. There are numerous methods towards prevention of similar crimes form occurring, a key one being education. Educating individuals and experts on how to handle situations is key towards building a secure system. Wards situation is one of many that resulted from faulty expert presentation and non-disclosure. This situation may have been easily avoided had people questioned the integrity of the analytical methods and understood the science and limitations behind procedures. Pertaining to Wards case, TLC is a precise test but there are limitations. These limitations include color, Rf value and solubility, however the biggest limitation by TLC is that it is mostly a qualitative result and not quantitative. One spot on TLC strip does not positively identify a compound. Skuse, Higgs, Berryman and Elliot, rather than presenting accurate data with observed results, falsely lead the court into believing incorrect results. Bias is extremely evident in miscarriages of justice whether from the prosecution, defence, jurors or police department. It is inherently built into our minds and is part of our daily lives. When presenting evidence, bias is detrimental and hinders the objective view towards a case. The main problem lays within the ethical practices that Skuse and his fellow scientists followed that led to the incarceration of Ward. While bias is difficult to battle the best counter measure is to address it. In the case of Ward had the defence counsel addressed the results presented by the experts the experts may have disclosed information. Another common technique to prevent false presentation of opinions is the opinion of other such forensic scientists within the same field. Quality assurance is a preventative measure used towards monitoring and evaluating projects to minimize the chance of errors. This procedure is now practiced worldwide by laboratories to maintain efficient means and obtain the best results. Accreditation of laboratories and scientists is another method used to test standards and competence, credibility and authority of experts within a field in a lab or company. Wards appeal case used this particular method to determine the accuracy of the scientists within Skuse's laboratory. By testing these factors, labs and scientists are scrutinized and assessed to provide a stable and expert level environment. Ultimately the groundwork for a professional forensic scientist lies within the ethics he/she practices. The understanding of what is right and wrong and abiding the notion of objectivity is paramount to a successful expert witness.

Conclusion

Ethics is tightly intertwined with justice and forensic science.

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