Belfast Telegraph

Fake breath test reports unacceptable - Garda Commissioner

The Garda Commissioner has said the findings of a damning report on the scale of fake breath test reports by gardai are completely unacceptable.

An internal audit into the gross exaggeration found 1,458,221 bogus drink and drug-driving checks from 2009 to 2016, prompting calls for Noirin O'Sullivan to be sacked.

The report revealed 3,498,400 tests were recorded on the Garda's internal Pulse computer system, but only 2,040,179 were carried out.

The Commissioner said this showed failures in the systems, processes, oversight, supervision and management of the force.

" These failures are completely unacceptable and all of us in An Garda Siochana must now take responsibility for ensuring this cannot happen again," she said.

Amid demands across opposition parties for the Commissioner's sacking, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he would move when oversight chiefs in the Policing Authority file their report on the unprecedented scandal in the coming weeks.

"I will take all appropriate action when this report is submitted to me," Mr Flanagan said.

Both the Commissioner and the minister said the force has already taken steps to improve data collection and recording.

Ms O'Sullivan said the widespread falsely reporting and inaccurate recording of roadside checks on drivers reflect poorly on the professionalism of An Garda Siochana and damage public confidence.

"We are committed to ensuring the required cultural, behavioural and systems changes are made," she said.

The internal Garda audit, by Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan, blamed three factors for the gross exaggeration of statistics - r ecording issues; s uspected inflation of numbers; and estimation of numerical data .

He said he could not determine how much each one of those distorted the data but warned many of the procedural issues identified could have been easily resolved by appropriate training.

The internal audit said 2,131 checkpoint incidents were found to have potentially 69,644 bogus breath tests.

No criminality has been found but information on the false records is being passed on to regional Garda offices for further investigation and sanction where appropriate, Mr Flanagan said.

The audit took a random sample and found that between 3% and 9% of checkpoints recorded on Pulse have made-up figures on breath tests.

Assistant Commissioner O'Sullivan's report said the issue of inadequate technology was "constant" during his audit.

He also addressed claims that Garda management set the rank-and-file " overly ambitious" targets for breath-testing drivers.

He said the top brass of the force " appeared" to be focused on the "persistent detection of intoxicated drivers and saving lives". But he warned that resources were not constantly reviewed.

Assistant Commissioner O'Sullivan said there is no evidence o f any tangible benefit for officers making-up breathalyser numbers or promotions or " other obvious rewards".

It said there were "communication and recording anomalies" for officers calling the GISC offices which resulted in more than six million breath tests recorded this year alone.

The audit highlighted Garda budget cuts from 2008-2013. It said no senior positions were filled in the Garda traffic corps, individual officers had increased workloads and management were asked to do more with less.

"When supervision is absent, poor practices will inevitably develop and continue to deteriorate if left unchecked. Unfortunately this was evident throughout this examination," the Assistant Commissioner's report said.

It is not the first time Garda records have been found to be worthless.

The Central Statistics Office previously raised concerns about crime data and said almost a fifth of all crime reported is still not recorded on the Garda's systems.

In June this year, Garda IT specialists admitted scores more people have been killed in Ireland than official Garda figures have claimed over the past decade and a half.

The breath test scandal, on the back of a catalogue of controversies to have dogged the force, not least the treatment of whistleblowers, prompted the Government to promise a "Patten"-style commission to review management, training, recruitment, culture and oversight of the Garda.

Chaired by former Garda Inspectorate chief Kathleen O'Toole, it has begun its work.

A second report examined revelations that 146,000 people were taken to court and 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences because of issues with the fixed-charge notice system of fines and penalty points used by gardai.

Some of those had not paid fines for driving without an NCT certificate but were prosecuted even though they had not received the notice in the post. Others were taken to court even though they had received the penalty and paid a fine.

The first appeals came before the courts in the summer.

The review found the issues were down to changes in IT and the "piecemeal" upgrading of the fixed charge systems.

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