Judge frees earprint murder-case man

Andrew Robinson A MAN convicted of murdering a Yorkshire pensioner was yesterday freed by a judge after spending seven years in jail for a crime he did not commit.

Small-time burglar Mark Dallagher, 31, was convicted largely on the basis of an earprint left on a window at the Huddersfield home of 94-year-old Dorothy Wood.

His counsel described the case as a serious miscarriage of justice caused by the unreliability of scientific evidence, and called for a thorough review of the way in which so-called "expert" evidence was used in court.

Dallagher, formerly of Honoria Street, Fartown, Huddersfield, was jailed for life in 1998 after a jury found him guilty of smothering Miss Wood.

Experts said it was "very likely" the earprint was made by Dallagher.

The Crown also relied on an alleged admission made by Dallagher to a fellow prisoner that he had some involvement in the murder in 1996.

A retrial was ordered by the Court of Appeal in 2002 after his conviction was found to be unsafe. A new investigation was launched and yesterday the prosecution offered no evidence against Dallagher. Judge Sir Stephen Mitchell formally found him not guilty.

Dallagher is now expected to seek compensation.

In the new police investigation a genetic sample from the earprint proved it could not have been Dallagher. Yesterday his counsel James Sturman QC said the original conviction was "a grotesque miscarriage of justice".

He added: "This is another example of dangers of police perhaps following science too closely when scientists are building on science, not following a science."

During the original trial the prosecution called expert evidence from Dutch scientist Cornelis van der Lugt. Sir Stephen told the Old Bailey yesterday that the earprint "was the centre point of the evidence" but that "scrutiny and examination of earprints was then at its infancy".

Mr Dallagher's solicitor, Neil O'May, said his client was "very angry about the way he has been prosecuted and the reliance on the discredited expert so-called earprint evidence".

He added: "He wants it known that he has waited seven years for this day.

"For the whole time he was in prison on a life sentence he has protested his innocence. The last six months have been particularly cruel because it has been made plain the case would be dropped and Mark Dallagher exonerated.

"The DNA evidence flatly contradicts the original prosecution case because the DNA found was not his.

"He feels he now has to rebuild his life again and feels strongly that the police should be required to properly investigate this wicked crime so Dorothy Wood's family can have justice.

"Neither he nor the victim's family have had any sort of apology for the seven-year ordeal. He is going to recover now from today – which has been an ordeal in itself – and rebuild his life," Mr O'May said.

After the case, West Yorkshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service pointed out that when the Court of Appeal ordered the retrial it made no criticism of the way the Crown had presented its case at the first trial.

"The appeal was allowed because evidence, which has only recently been obtained by the defence, might have made a difference to the outcome of the original trial."

During the new inquiry, "further scientific work has been undertaken by the Crown using techniques not available in 1996, which had affected the way in which earprint evidence, in isolation, could be viewed by the Crown".

West Yorkshire Police said: "Having re-examined the case, the force has not found any evidence to lead to the prosecution of any other suspects for the murder of Dorothy Wood.

"Therefore we consider the matter closed until any further admissible evidence comes to light."