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Malcolm Fairley – Case

The case of Malcolm Fairley refers to a notable forensic-related case in which paint analysis played an integral part. The use of paint evidence has become an important aspect in different cases, for instance, in hit-and-run accidents where painted tools are used against victims and even when paint is left on the victim’s clothing (Shaler, 2011). In the 1984 case of Malcolm Fairley, paint played a central role in providing incriminating evidence that led to the arrest and sentencing of a burglar and a rapist (Watford Observer, 2004). In recent time, the value of forensic evidence has become indispensable in crime scene investigations, while the case of Fairley proves the need to improve efforts aimed at applying forensic evidence in investigation cases.

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In 1984, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire areas of the United Kingdom experienced a series of exceedingly violent sex attacks and break-ins. Interviews of victims led to the disclosure that the suspect had a Northern accent, wore a hood, and was armed with a sawn-off shotgun. He was also perceived to be left-handed. The offender of this crime was dubbed “The Fox”; his era of terror persisted in other towns such as in Milton Keynes, Cheddington, and Tring (Watford Observer, 2004). In August of 1984, the offender committed a similar crime in Brampton, Yorkshire, when he broke into a couple’s house in the early morning and raped the woman while she was held tied up. The offender attempted to clear any evidence by disposing of the bed sheet, but other evidence of tire tracks, footprints, and small spots of yellow paint, which was on a tree branch, were found. The flake of yellow paint helped investigators identify the model of the vehicle. This new information assisted the police in interviewing and eliminating suspects. In September, in North London officers arrived to interview a suspect and found a young man cleaning a yellow Austin Allegro vehicle with scratch marks outside of the premise. To confirm their suspicions, they asked the man to put on his watch; he wore it on his left hand (Watford Observer, 2004). This man’s name was Malcolm Fairley and he was arrested. Examination of his car confirmed that the paint matched the one found at the crime scene. In 1985, Fairley was tried in court and found guilty of several counts of sexual assault, rape, and burglary, which led to a sentence of six lifetimes in prison (Watford Observer, 2004).

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Description and Analysis of the Case


Malcolm Fairley was a master of concealment and this was one of the reasons why it took so long to find evidence against him. The offender always covered his face to avoid identification. The description of the Fox was a 20-30-year-old man, 5’ 8” tall, and of slim build, but was not very helpful to the police though the fact that he had a Northern accent was important (Watford Observer, 2004). Fairley’s accent was one of the most distinctive things about him. The offender always buried his tools. Fairley’s poor attempt to conceal evidence by covering his gun, mask, and gloves with leaves also led to his capture as it enabled the police to confirm the connection between the crimes in Yorkshire and those down South (Watford Observer, 2004).



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There were numerous evidences that could have been used against Fairley in the court of law. Firstly, he was left-handed and wore a watch on his right wrist. Secondly, he owned a pair of trousers that had been cut to form a mask during the incident when he had to improvise. Another piece of evidence included the gun, mask, and gloves discovered to have been hidden in the forest. Fairley’s noticeable Northern accent that had been mentioned by many victims was another form of evidence (Watford Observer, 2004). However, all these things could not lead to his capture, which illustrates the relevance of the paint evidence in Fairley’s case.

The Use of Paint Evidence and Analysis

The use of paint as a technique of crime scene investigation has become more common due to the extensive use of paint that is used functionally and esthetically for cars, buildings, tools, and clothing. The Scientific Working Group on Materials Analysis (SWGMAT) provides methods of forensic analysis of paint; in crime scene investigation, the composition of paint is not as important as its forensic value (Shaler, 2011). There are several aspects of paint that allow it to be considered as evidence. Firstly, paint links objects such as weapons, tools, and vehicles to the crime scene or to the victim. Fragments of car paint were also an important factor contributing to the success of the investigation. The specific color was “harvest yellow” produced by the British Leyland company; there were however thousands of similar registered cars in Britain (Watford Observer, 2004). Secondly, the investigator can make physical matches between paint chips and a damaged surface, which is strong evidence pointing at the original source of the paint (Shaler, 2011). This is present in Fairley’s case, whereby the flake of yellow paint left on a tree from his car provided the crime scene investigators with usable evidence to find Fairley (Watford Observer, 2004). Thirdly, by analyzing the OEM paint, which was left on an object, can lead to identification of the model, make, and year of a motor vehicle. In the case of Fairley, fragments of yellow paint became of increasing interest to investigators and after analysis it was discovered that this was a car paint specifically used by the British Leyland company for the 1973 – 1975 Austin Allegro model (“Malcolm Fairley”, 2016). Lastly, by analyzing the layers of paint it is possible to determine the original source of the evidence. This aspect was however not used in Fairley’s case.

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It is essential to collect paint evidence from the scene of a crime being investigated. This is because it can in some cases be evidence of attribution or critically associative. Paint can chip; this aspect of paint makes it suitable for determining physical matches (Bowen & Schneider, 2007). In case paint is a flake, it is possible for a microscopic analysis to show the existence of layers; a high number of layers indicates a higher discriminating paint chip. Instrumental analysis combined with chemical analysis leads to a stronger subsequent attribution (Lee & Pagliaro, 2013). Despite paint being visible, it is in the category of trace evidence; however, it is used in cases where there is the lack of DNA evidence. Instrumentation for the paint analysis purposes is a very sophisticated and scientific means. Paint evidence can be used in investigation of crimes such as hit-and-run accidents, homicides, and burglaries (Shaler, 2011).

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Malcolm Fairley’s case is the case about an offender who terrorized residents of different towns in England through burglary, sexual assault, and even rape. He did not leave behind any evidence and this led to the delay in his capture. In one particular instance that occurred in August of 1984, there was discovered evidence in the form of flakes of yellow paint, which led to Fairley’s capture. The use of paint as forensic evidence is essential and effective for many reasons. This is because paint evidence can link an object such as a car or a tool to the crime scene, as in Fairley’s case, or to a victim. Physical matches between paint chips and scratched surfaces can also be made by an investigator, which was observed in the case. Besides, analyzing the OEM paint can lead to the determination of the model, make, and year of a vehicle, which is also an aspect of the Fairley’s case. Thus, paint is a significant component of forensic evidence in any investigation.

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