ONE of the most interesting conversations one can have is with a forensic document examiner.
A chance meeting with a friend, Patricia McCann, chairperson of the Upper South Coast Art Association, led to me to interviewing Amanzimtoti resident, Mike Irving, a private forensic document examiner, and getting the lowdown on his specialised work.
Irving is the only private forensic document examiner in KZN and one of only nine in South Africa.
We begin the interview with Irving asking me to write my signature three times. He shows me the natural stops in my signature and says that although one’s signature is never the same, these are several characteristics which identify whether the same person signed them.
Irving explains that there is a one in 88 trillion chance that your handwriting will match someone else’s.
Irving is a founder member of The South African Association of Forensic Document Examiners, established in March 2008. While employed as an investigator by a Durban investigative business in 1995, the need for a local document examiner was identified.
Training is not offered locally and Irving undertook a correspondence course, conducted by Andrew Bradley and Associates. Bradley is fully accredited by the U.S., and retired in 2002.
Irving has completed 1 790 cases over the past 20 years, many of which required testifying in court and many of which involved hundreds of documents. His experience as a former Zimbabwean policeman has served him well in giving testimony in court.
Fever reporter TANIA SANDBERG spoke to him about his unique work.
TS: What is a forensic document examiner?
MI: “A forensic document examiner is a person whose training and expertise enables him or her to examine questioned documents, handwriting and signatures, using established methods of examination and comparison with the object of determining their authenticity. This is done by conducting examinations of comparison against documents, handwriting and signatures that are known to be authentic.”
TS: What types of documents do you examine?
MI: “I conduct verification of signatures and handwriting on cheques, last will and testaments, personal and business documents of any nature. I also verify documents for tampering and do identification of authors of handwritten documents. Questioned documents are fully investigated and subjected to critical examination and analysis to ascertain the origin and history thereof.”
TS: What was the most interesting case you have dealt with?
MI: “The Shembe Church case is an interesting high-profile case that has been going on for four years. Four handwriting experts are involved in the case, although three of us all belong to the same association, we never knew of the other’s involvement until meeting in court. All three of us gave the same finding.”
TS: Can a forensic examiner tell a person’s personality by their handwriting?
MI: “No, that is graphology. The term ‘handwriting expert’ instead of ‘forensic examiner’ is frequently used in South African court situations and is misleading as examiners often delve into areas where technical and scientific processes and equipment are required to support examinations that extend beyond ‘handwriting and signature authentication’, such as examinations of inks, paper conditions, rubber stamps, typing, etc. But the majority of examinations are conducted in relation to the authentication of handwriting and signatures.”
TS: What tools does a forensic examiner require?
MI: “I have a specialised computer program that can detect six layers of drawn images. In other words if someone made an imprint on a notepad, we can detect the handwriting as far as six pages below.
I also imported a digital microscope, which is capable of photographing and videoing, from America and is used where extreme magnified identification of pen lines and features on documents is required.”
TS: What is your best advice?
WI: “Safeguard your personal documents such as wills, insurance policies, identity documents or any documents which feature your identity or banking details by locking them up. Identity theft is a huge problem in our country.”
• Documents submitted for examination should be original documents.
• Original documents are three-dimensional, copies are two-
• Comparative documents should be signed or authored around the same time period.
• Cursive handwriting could not be compared to printed handwriting and vice versa.
• Never request anybody to author handwriting or signatures specifically for examination.
• Examinations cannot be conducted using only one signature or a limited portion of handwriting “known to be authentic”.
For further information contact Irving on