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David Ferguson is innocent

Bob Woffinden, Britain's leading writer on miscarriages of justice, has given us permission to use this article he wrote about Dave's case for the June 2010 issue of Inside Time.

Susan Kent's body was found in the front bedroom of her house at about 4.15 in the afternoon of 24 November 1999.

She worked part-time both as a schools dinner lady and also as a childminder. She had a young son and it was because she had neither arrived at work as normal around midday nor picked her child up from school that the alarm was raised. She had separated acrimoniously from her son's father, and it was her mother who went round to her house on the outskirts of Gillingham, Kent and found the body.

It was a brutal murder. Susan was face down on the bed, wearing just a pair of black stockings, with her hands handcuffed behind her back. She had been stabbed ten times in the chest and her throat was cut. There were, though, two enormous advantages for investigators: the crime was discovered within a few hours (the murder having occurred, prosecutors argued, at about 10.50am); and the bedroom provided a small, self-contained crime scene.

Logically, investigators could expect to recover a significant amount of important evidence in such circumstances. So, indeed, they did. None of it, however, could be associated with David Ferguson, the man who was arrested for the crime three weeks later and subsequently convicted of it.

The first clue was that there was no sign of forced entry or disturbance elsewhere in the house. So the victim must have known her attacker or, at least, was prepared to let him into her house. The circumstances suggested that she may have been interested in bondage or fetishistic sex. Certainly, visitors to her home had noticed the handcuffs.

Ferguson is a fully-qualified machine and hand bookbinder, a trade that still flourishes in Kent and East Anglia. He agreed that he had met Kent at the casino, a local night-club in Rochester. They exchanged telephone numbers and subsequently met on a few occasions, but he insisted that their relationship was never a sexual one. Nor had he seen her for some time before her death. Certainly, there was no evidence that he had ever been inside her house.

The prosecution case was constructed on two main areas of evidence: firstly, a kind of general character assassination, with suggestions that Ferguson himself practised what the tabloid press would doubtless term kinky sex, and that he had researched how to commit a murder on the internet; and secondly, DNA evidence.

The Crown's forensic scientist told the Court that there was only a one in a billion chance that the DNA profile derived from someone other than Ferguson. These were impressive statistics. Were they true? That remains a subject of intense debate. There were only two pieces of forensic evidence. Firstly, bloodstains on one of Ferguson's boots were said to match the victim. However, the scientist had only been able to obtain a profile by combining four different samples−a practice that, amongst others, Sir Alec Jeffreys, the man who created the science of DNA profiling, regards as unscientific. Similarly, anal and vaginal swabs from the victim were said to have produced Ferguson's profile, but again this work is hotly disputed.

Four swabs of the victim had yielded a mere three sperm heads − an astonishingly small number. This suggested that whoever had deposited them was effectively infertile, something that happily does not apply to Ferguson.

What we do know, on the basis of a recent appeal court judgment, is that the judges accepted that the value of DNA evidence could be overstated in court and that, as a result, the claimed scientific results needed to be examined in the context of all the other evidence. In this case, the other evidence was virtually non-existent.

The computer information regarding what contacts Ferguson was making and what details he was seeking is highly dubious. The technological development of PCs has been so rapid over the past decade that anything from 1999 is virtually Neolithic by current standards. A message supposedly sent from Ferguson's computer mentioned an attack on Susan Kent. Leaving aside the question of why anyone intending to murder someone would helpfully send a computer message stating their intentions, it is highly doubtful if this ever was sent from Ferguson's computer. The prosecution had to admit that if the computer had subsequently been used, then the memory would have been overwritten; yet Ferguson's phone bill shows that his computer was in regular use from the time of the murder up until the time of his arrest.

Weighed against that must be all the evidence that exculpates Ferguson. There were cigarette butts at the scene. Ferguson has never smoked, and it seems that the victim did not either. Whatever evidence they provided, it was not evidence that incriminated Ferguson. A footprint was found at the scene; again, not Ferguson's. There were two bloodstained sections of carpet. While some staining fully matches the victim, someone else's blood appears to be there; again, not Ferguson's.

Two DNA profiles were obtained from the handcuffs. One matched the victim. The other, a partial profile, did not match Ferguson.

There was potentially vital evidence from one witness who said he saw a red car parked on Kent's drive that morning. The owner of this car has never been traced. Ferguson did own a red car himself, but the prosecution had to accept that on that day it was immobile.

He actually had an alibi that morning. He was with his father. Family alibis are generally regarded as worthless in a criminal justice context (something which has always baffled me; most of us are with family members much of the time, so it's logical that a significant percentage of alibis will be family alibis), but this is not solely a family alibi. There was a statement from one witness regarding the time that Ferguson's father left a garage (about 10.40-10.45). He then went to his son's house. A lodger heard them leaving at about 11.00. They drove into Chatham, where the father needed to pick up a prescription. That's a reasonable chain of events, and it's one that gives Ferguson a complete alibi.

At the time of the murder, he was suffering health problems. He had had a stent fitted because of a serious kidney complaint. This caused some pain, and he was taking medication which included strong painkillers.

While it may not be unknown for those suffering severe physical discomfort to engage in sex-and-violence romps at eleven o'clock in the morning, one might well conclude that it was certainly highly unlikely. When this is factored in to a scenario in which there is compelling evidence that Ferguson was not at the scene, and also evidence that someone else was, then the impression that he is the victim of a major miscarriage of justice becomes overwhelming.

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