Susan May 1993 murder case print 'was not blood’

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Media captionSusan May said a new fingerprint report into her case was "the best thing that's happened in 21 years"

A woman convicted of murder 20 years ago believes new evidence being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) will clear her name.

Susan May, 68, served 12 years in prison for the murder of her aunt, Hilda Marchbank, at her home in Royton, Greater Manchester, in 1993.

The prosecution's case hinged on a "blood-stained handprint" at the scene.

But a fingerprint expert has said there is "overwhelming evidence" the marks were not made in blood.

Ms May, who was the first person in the UK to be released at her earliest parole date without admitting guilt, has had two failed appeals. Her campaign to clear her name is backed by 100 MPs and peers.

Now the CCRC, set up to review possible miscarriages of justice, has agreed to investigate whether her case should be referred back to the Court of Appeal for a rare third time.

'Almost invisible'

It is looking into a report - commissioned by campaigners - by fingerprint analyst Arie Zeelenberg, former head of the Dutch national police fingerprint service.

He examined high resolution photographs - which were not seen by the jury - of the marks on the wall.

His report concludes: "There is no evidence that the finger marks... attributed to Susan May were placed in blood.

"In fact there is overwhelming evidence that they were not comprised of blood but instead of sweat and a minor residue of another unknown substance."

The original trial jury was told Ms May's fingerprint was found in a "blood-stained hand print". One police officer told the court it was made by "quite a lot" of blood when she allegedly beat her aunt about the face and suffocated her with a pillow.

Image caption The photographs on the left show the wall before it was treated, those on the right are the marks after chemical enhancement

The jury was shown photographs of the bedroom wall after it had been treated with chemicals including iodine.

The pictures examined by Mr Zeelenberg, which came to light when they were requested from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) by the CCRC in the past year, show that prior to treatment they [the prints] were "almost invisible" to the naked eye.

"They are clearly very faint marks, hardly attributable to having been made the night before with hands covered in blood so that it ran down the wall," Friends Of Susan May (FOSM) campaigner Geoff Goodwin said.

Ms May said: "To date there is no [conclusive] scientific proof that the marks were in blood despite prosecution claims.

"I sincerely hope now that the commission will see fit to refer my case back to the Court of Appeal because it undermines the whole prosecution case."

Police inquiry 'anomalies'

Campaigners have also asked the CCRC to consider critical reviews of the police investigation into Mrs Marchbank's murder written by the former deputy head of Hampshire CID, Des Thomas.

In one report, commissioned by the campaign, he states he found "anomalies" in the police inquiry that "may point to an investigation, the principle purpose of which was to prove, by the selective use and non-disclosure of evidence, the hypothesis that Susan May was guilty of murdering her aunt".

The police chief in charge of the original investigation was previously said by the CCRC to have given "inconsistent accounts" and "apparently mistaken recollections", impacting on his credibility.

Evidence the jury never heard includes a witness claiming a red car was outside Mrs Marchbank's house with its engine running at around the time of the murder.

A transcript of the police actions log also shows that an anonymous call was made to police the following morning naming a well-known convicted burglar as the killer.

Ms May said: "All this new evidence points to the fact that my conviction is unsafe. If the jury heard the case as it is now, with some witnesses discredited and without the main plank of their case - the so-called blood marks - they couldn't come to the same conclusion."

The CCRC said it was considering Mr Zeelenberg's report and seeking the opinion of other experts.

A spokesman said: "This is one of a number of lines of enquiry we are pursuing.

"We continue to work as quickly as we can and we are making good progress with the investigation."

A Greater Manchester Police (GMP) spokesman said: "As this appeal is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment."

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