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Got a court case looming?
Need an expert witness who'll help you hide the truth, for money?
I have, yes.
We hire a handwriting expert prepared to turn a blind eye
to unhelpful evidence.
Caught on camera?
We ask a CCTV expert for help.
We meet the animal expert who advises us to lie.
If expert evidence can't be relied on in court,
where does that leave justice?
The breaches of duty are,
had they been carried through into the court process, very serious.
Tonight on Panorama,
we ask - is justice for sale?
POLICE SIRENS ECHO
Expert witnesses are a vital part of our legal system.
From fingerprints to voice identification,
medical matters to CCTV,
there are thousands of experts being paid to give evidence in court
and yet, as an industry, they are almost entirely unregulated.
Some of the most notorious miscarriages of justice
have had suspect expert evidence at their heart.
'A mother serving a life sentence for murdering her two baby sons
'has walked free from court after her conviction was overturned...'
Two well-known cases are those of Angela Cannings
and Sally Clark, both wrongfully convicted of murdering
their children on the strength of dubious expert evidence.
But the problem doesn't stop there.
I think there should be a healthy scepticism about experts,
because if a jury relies on what is, in fact, unreliable evidence,
but which is dressed up as science,
that's a classic case for a miscarriage of justice.
So, unreliable evidence being presented in court
can send the wrong people to jail.
But what about the experts themselves?
How much should we trust them?
Expert witnesses are bound by ethical duties
and legal rules designed to ensure their impartiality.
But are they sticking to them?
Unfortunately, there are people looking for a payday
and they will say what they are expected to say
and history has shown that many of the miscarriages of justice
involving expert evidence has been where a witness has become
too partisan for one side or indeed the other.
Now I'm going to put their integrity to the test.
I'm going to approach a number of expert witnesses
in a variety of disciplines
and do the one thing that most clients don't do - confess my guilt.
I'm starting with Professor Barry Peachey, an animal scientist.
One of his specialities is these animals, badgers.
Badger campaigner Monica Ward
is one person who's crossed swords with him.
In badger cases, he's often called to give expert evidence
because of, you know, he's got a good reputation of getting them off.
Monica Ward was called by the police to attend a sett
several years ago, where three men with dogs had been caught digging.
They said that they had just been out walking the dog
and ran into a sett, which is ludicrous.
In fact, they shouldn't have been there. There's no footpath there.
Barry Peachey wrote a report saying it was a disused sett,
which helped clear the defendants.
It really swung the case. Because of Mr Peachey's evidence,
we can't prove that it was an active badger sett.
I want to meet Professor Peachey myself,
so I am going undercover, using the name Geoff Atkinson.
I found a sett which I know badgers use, because I filmed them.
I've already told the professor that I have deliberately
let a dog into this sett in pursuit of a badger,
an offence that could get me six months in jail.
I've also told him that I think
I've been filmed by a passer-by and fear prosecution.
We meet at the sett.
So there's no chance of arguing that the sett isn't active.
That doesn't sound good for my defence.
But even though there may be a witness, Barry is a man with a plan.
So he's advising me to say it was an accident,
even though that would be a lie.
So, Barry Peachey, the man who has just made up a false defence for me,
has agreed to write an expert report that I can use in court.
The question is, what will it say?
The resourceful professor doesn't come cheap.
Barry Peachey's fee is £1,000 upfront,
with another £1,223 to follow.
Professor Peachey's behaviour seems anything but appropriate.
But what will one of the most senior QCs around
and an expert in legal ethics think about it?
What Mr Peachey is doing here
is effectively acting as advisor to you and advocate
and the role of an expert is not to be advocate or advisor
and it is most certainly not to create for you a defence
in circumstances where you have factually told him
that such a defence wouldn't operate.
So he's coming up with a lie, effectively?
Well, he's coming up with something which he shouldn't be doing
and if you persist in it, you would be running a false defence.
I want to find out if Professor Peachey is a one-off.
I'm going to look at some other experts,
starting with handwriting analysts.
If you need to find out who really wrote something,
these are the people you turn to.
I've written a letter which sounds a bit threatening
and I'm going to say it's part of an ongoing dispute with my neighbour.
I'll say that I've tried to disguise my handwriting
but he still thinks it's me, and he's going to sue.
Again, I'm going to test the integrity of the experts
by asking for their help while confessing I'm guilty.
I contact Simone Tennant,
a graphologist of 20 years' experience.
By the time I meet her
I have already told her my story over the phone.
I tell her I'd really like a court report which casts doubt on me
being the author of the letter.
Handwriting experts work
by comparing examples of your own writing
with the disputed document.
I've brought along half a dozen examples of my real handwriting,
including some crosswords.
Having sifted the evidence in my favour,
Simone Tennant gives me her verdict.
So Simone Tennant agrees to prepare a court report which will say
the authorship of the letter is inconclusive
even though I've told her it's me.
What about the fact she's handing me back a piece of evidence
saying that it's going to be unhelpful to my case?
She is clearly causing to be omitted a material fact
and she knows it's material because it doesn't help
the thesis which she is going for, namely, this is inconclusive.
Near the top of the tree in the world of handwriting analysis
is Michael Ansell, a forensic document examiner.
A former deputy head of the Metropolitan Police's document section,
he now combines his work as an expert witness
with university teaching.
I've sent an undercover colleague to present him
with the same nasty neighbour scenario I gave to Simone Tennant.
Thank you for seeing me.
And this handwriting expert will go even further than the last one
and say there's strong evidence
our reporter didn't write the letter,
despite being told that he had.
So far, we've met three experts
and all have indicated they'll ignore our guilt.
An expert owes his or her duty to the court
and must be independent.
The expert mustn't descend into the fray and start selecting facts
to suit a case or omitting facts to suit a case
or advising the party retaining them on how to run their case
so as to get the best prospect of a result.
These days, CCTV cameras are watching our every move.
And when a crime happens, it's often captured on film.
But that doesn't always mean it's easy to see what's going on
or who's doing it. And that's where the experts come in.
Time to create some footage of my own.
This clip of film supposedly shows me damaging my neighbour's property.
What will an expert in CCTV analysis make of it?
I contact Neil Millar, a former soldier now making his living
as an expert analyst in CCTV.
I've told him from the outset it's me in the footage
and that my neighbour is threatening to sue.
He says he will prepare a court report for me
but won't lie in court if asked whether I told him it was me.
A lot of the time, experts don't need to appear in court.
Their reports are often evidence enough.
So what they put in them is crucial.
Two days later, I travel to York
to meet with Neil Millar in a hotel bar.
I show him the footage and he gives me his expert opinion.
He confirms that his report will be fully court-worthy.
But he's still uncomfortable with the prospect of being
cross-examined in court.
He goes to great lengths to record my every feature
in order to compare me to the CCTV.
He even videos my way of walking.
The obvious bit is that it's me in the footage, and I've told him that.
Neil Millar has named his price - £1,360.
Now it's just a matter of waiting for his report,
and those of all the other experts I've commissioned.
Chris Dickinson is a solicitor who's had cause to doubt
the integrity of some expert witnesses.
It all started when one of his clients had a car accident.
Three days later, she was out shopping with a friend
and fell into her shopping trolley and had to be helped up.
Now, she remembered nothing of that at all.
Because she couldn't remember,
it suggested she may have suffered a head injury in the earlier crash.
Lawyers for the other driver appointed an expert witness,
a neurologist, to assess her.
Her memory of the shopping trolley incident, or lack of it,
was key to her claim for compensation.
She made it absolutely clear to him
that she didn't remember that event.
But when he wrote his report,
he said that she did remember falling into that shopping trolley.
Fortunately for her, she'd taped the meeting for her records.
The case went to court.
She was claiming compensation for a brain injury
suffered during the car crash.
The defence was fighting her claim based on the expert's evidence.
Because she had made a recording,
she was able to prove that her evidence to him had been accurate.
She was entirely honest.
The expert's evidence had misled the court.
She won her case and was awarded £500,000 in compensation.
There are a few experts that rely quite heavily
on one or two insurers for their income.
Those experts know what generally pleases their insurance client.
For example, a report that says there's nothing wrong with a person.
It's several weeks since I started my investigation.
The expert reports I commissioned for use in court
are ready to be collected.
Remember, I'm the paying client.
So will the reports say what I want them to,
or will they tell the whole truth?
First, Simone Tennant,
the handwriting expert who rejected unhelpful evidence.
Good to her word, her report says it's inconclusive
whether I wrote the letter, even though I told her that I had.
And there's no reference at all to my confession in her report,
which costs me £500.
She says she doubts very much that my case will make it to court.
But what if it does?
What's your opinion on Simone Tennant's report?
The report is clearly not a proper report
for an expert to present.
And she concludes the report by saying,
"The opinions I have expressed represent my true and complete
"professional opinions on the matters to which they refer."
That's clearly incorrect.
Simone Tennant did not reply to our written requests
for her to respond to the findings of our investigation.
Michael Ansell, the forensic document examiner,
also has a report ready.
The important thing is the report's conclusion.
He's saying there's strong evidence that we didn't write it.
But he's been told that we did.
What if he's asked the most awkward question of all?
Michael Ansell charges us £216, including VAT, for his report,
which contains no reference at all to the fact that he's been told
who actually wrote the letter.
What can you say about Michael Ansell's conduct?
Well, in his case, you had told him
several times that you had written the disputed document,
and in his case, the statement of truth is misleading.
And by providing the report to you so that you can use it in court,
he has failed to discharge his duty.
Michael Ansell said he is not a hired gun
and that he hadn't been paid in advance.
He said he heard our undercover reporter say
he wrote the anonymous note, but as he'd already been told
it was a disputed document, he didn't at any point consider
that the reporter meant he had written it.
I've also received a report from Neil Millar, the CCTV expert.
He's only written that the CCTV evidence offers "moderate support"
to me being the person in the footage.
But that's as high as he puts it,
even though I've told him more than once that it is me.
His report even suggests that the person in the footage
could be someone else.
What can you say about Neil Millar's conduct?
One rather significant piece of information was that you had
told him you were the person on the CCTV, which is completely omitted.
So he is in serious breach of duty by giving you a report
which he was prepared to have presented to a court.
Neil Millar told us that he acted entirely properly throughout.
He appropriately limited his report to an analysis of the evidence
and matters within his expertise.
He said he wasn't instructed by solicitors,
that he didn't treat what he was told by us
as part of his instructions, that he never accepts at face value
what clients tell him, and that his report was unbiased.
He said he'd advised us that he would have to truthfully tell
the court what he had been told.
Professor Peachey has also sent me his report.
As expected, it states that the badger sett he examined for me
is large and active.
I meet him at a motorway service station near his home
to pay him the balance of his fee.
His report twice says that it was not at all obvious
to any casual passer-by that there was a badger sett nearby.
Has he included that to help tee up the false defence he suggested,
that the dogs chased a badger by accident?
Now, it seems, we are getting to the heart of Professor Peachey's plan
to help me avoid a conviction for interfering with a badger sett.
And if the police do knock on my door,
Barry Peachey says he'll find me a solicitor.
I'm curious to know how open he thinks I should be with a lawyer.
So there we have it, Professor Peachey's bottom line.
Don't tell the truth, even to your own lawyer.
So if our badger story had been real,
could the professor's behaviour even have put him
on the wrong side of the law?
It's very serious indeed, because by reference to what you had told him,
he knew it wasn't highly likely that this was an accident.
On the contrary, this was, from what you had told him
and as he indicates in the tape, a criminal offence.
Now, in real life, if two people put their heads together in order
to concoct evidence to be placed before the court, which is false,
then that gives rise to the potential criminal offence
of perverting, or attempting to pervert, the course of justice.
Monica Ward is the badger campaigner
who experienced Professor Peachey in court.
'Your defence in this case isn't that...'
-That's away from telling the truth.
He's telling you to lie.
He's telling you to lie in court, isn't he?
That's all he's doing, yeah. To get off, that's all he can do.
Gosh. I'm appalled.
Because it does throw into doubt
his so-called independent evidence, doesn't it?
We asked all the experts we investigated
to respond to what we've found.
Professor Peachey wanted to explain himself in person.
You see, your essential problem with me
is I'm not a crook, and you should be after those who are.
You, on nine separate occasions in the first meeting,
suggested that we "paint it as an accident".
Yes, well, indeed it was, and that's entirely right, because...
But how can that be an accident if I had broken the law
by releasing the dogs off the lead and putting them into the sett?
Because very often I go to cases like this where people tell me
they've broken the law when in fact they haven't.
But you'd agreed that I broke the law.
Well, it's not for me to agree or disagree.
But you did, you did agree.
You said, yes, absolutely, you have broken the law.
Well, it sounds as if you had, certainly.
Given that you are, as you put it,
and I was about to quote you this anyway,
"What is most important is that I am an independent expert.
-"It is not for me to put up your defences."
"The fact that I WILL put up your defences must be unknown
-"to the prosecution."
So how do you reconcile that?
Well, I'm not...
It is not for the prosecution to know that we have had
any sort of discussion at all, because we don't know
what the allegations against you are, at the end of the day.
It clearly won't be me who is putting up your defences,
it will be your solicitor who's putting up your defences.
Professor Peachey told us all his reports are fair and unbiased.
The one he provided to us was truthful and accurate,
and he had no financial incentive not to tell the truth.
He said the facts of the incident hadn't been made clear to him
and that he would never lie in court.
So we've met a CCTV expert who said it could be dodgy for him
in the witness box, but who sold me a helpful court report anyway,
one handwriting expert willing to ignore unfavourable evidence,
another who says he would lie in court,
and an animal expert who's suggested a totally false defence.
Between them, they have produced reports for hundreds of cases.
What's your overall view on what we've shown you?
Every so often, one comes across experts
who may seek to subvert the rules.
My own experience is that that is comparatively rare.
Nevertheless, seeing these four examples is surprising,
and in each of these instances, it seems to me that the breaches of duty
are, had they been carried through into the court process, very serious.
Our investigation is only a snapshot.
But, of the nine experts we contacted,
only one didn't want to get involved once we had confessed our guilt.
The Government says it's tightening the rules
on expert testimony in criminal cases.
But this investigation suggests the industry needs properly regulating
to guarantee the integrity of experts
and ensure that justice can't be bought.