The case of Harry Jackson is renowned as being the first criminal trial in the United Kingdom in which an individual was convicted based on fingerprint evidence.
On 27th June 1902, a number of billiard balls were stolen from a house in Denmark Hill, South London during a burglary. During the investigation of the scene, a police officer discovered fingerprints on a recently-painted windowsill. With suspicions that the burglar had entered the premises through this window, the Fingerprint Branch of Scotland Yard was contacted.
Detective Sergeant Collins attended the scene and photographed the fingerprints, particularly a clear left thumbprint. After ensuring the prints had not been left by anyone in the household nor any member of law enforcement who had visited the scene, he returned to Scotland Yard to identify the owner of the print. The laborious task of sifting through the fingerprints of known criminals was conducted until a similar print was found. The scene prints were compared and it was concluded that they were a match.
The fingerprint belonged to 41-year-old Harry Jackson. Jackson, who worked as a labourer, had previously served time in prison for burglary, further supporting the case against him. Jackson was arrested and, at that time, was in possession of stolen goods from a different burglary. The Assistant Crime Commissioner at the time was Edward Henry, the man who had produced the Henry System of Fingerprint Classification and founded the Fingerprint Bureau. Unfortunately fingerprinting in forensic science was a relatively new concept and had never been successfully used as evidence in courts. Prosecutor Richard Muir was brought in to help. DS Collins acted as an expert witness, providing information on fingerprinting and presenting the court with enlarged images of the crime scene thumbprint and the suspect’s thumb print, detailing the similarities between the two. After much deliberation the prosecution managed to successfully convince the jury of the reliability of fingerprint evidence.
In September 1902, Harry Jackson was found guilty and sentenced in the Central Criminal Court to seven years imprisonment.
Black, S. Thompson, T. 2007. Forensic Human Identification: An Introduction. Florida: CRC Press.