The case of Malcolm Fairley, known as “The Fox”, is a notable British case in which paint analysis played a vital role.
In 1984, a series of break-ins and extremely violent sex attacks occurred throughout Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Through interviewing the victims of these crimes, it was established that the suspect wore a hood, carried a sawn-off shotgun and spoke with a Northern accent. He also wore a watch on his right wrist and was believed to be left-handed. The offender became known as The Fox. He continued to commit a series of break-ins, assaults and robberies in numerous towns including Tring, Cheddington, Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes and others.
On 17th August that year, a similar incident occurred in Brampton, Yorkshire. The offender broke into the house of a couple early in the morning, tied them up and raped the wife. The rapist attempted to clean up after himself, cutting out part of the sheet that had been covered in his semen. Fortunately the attacker did not clean up outside the premises, where various items of evidence were found, including footprints, tyre tracks, a poorly-hidden shotgun, semen-smeared bed linen and small specks of yellow paint on a tree branch.
The yellow paint fragments become of particular interest. Upon analysis it was concluded that the paint was a type of car paint used by the motor vehicle company British Leyland, more specifically on one particular model – the 1973-1975 Austin Allegro. With this new evidence in hand, police began interviewing and eliminating suspects. In September, two offices attended an address in North London to interview a suspect. Upon arrival they met a young man outside the premises cleaning a yellow Austin Allegro car which happened to have various scratches to the paintwork. The officers needed further confirmation that this was the man they were looking for. They asked the suspect to put on his watch, and he did so with his left hand.
The young man, confirmed to be Malcolm Fairley, was arrested. Upon examination of his car it was confirmed that the paint found at the crime scene matched Fairley’s car. In February 1985 he was tried and convicted of numerous counts of burglary, sexual assault and rape and sentenced to six life terms in prison.
Norfolk, G. Payne-James, J. Squires, T. Wyatt, Jonathon., 2011. Oxford Handbook of Forensic Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Malcolm Fairley: The Hunt for the Fox. Watford Observer. [online] Available at: [http://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/nostalgia/crimelibrary/malcolmfairley]