Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog condemns Garda which claimed million more breath tests than carried out

One of the country's policing watchdogs has issued a damning indictment of the ethics and integrity of An Garda Siochana after an audit found almost one million fewer breath tests were carried out than the force claimed.

The Policing Authority said the discrepancies raise widespread concern about how gardai go about their work on a daily basis.

The oversight body also warned the scandal erodes confidence in the credibility of data recorded by the Garda.

The review of roadside breath tests for five years to 2016 found the Medical Bureau of Road Safety recorded 1,058,157 tests had been carried out but the Garda recorded 1,995,369.

In a statement, the watchdog said: "The Authority is alarmed at the scale of the discrepancies disclosed between actual alcohol tests administered and the numbers recorded by gardai.

"This is not just an academic statistical matter, it is an ethical one.

"It raises serious questions of integrity for the Garda Siochana organisation and combined with previous issues regarding inflated activity levels, erodes confidence in the credibility of Garda data generally.

"It again raises concerns about management and supervision... In the view of the Authority, the scale of the discrepancy is further evidence of deep cultural problems within the Garda service - a culture in which such behaviour was possible."

The Policing Authority said the Garda had admitted that there are possible wrongful prosecutions and convictions.

Some 830,000 cases have been reviewed by the force and people affected are being contacted but the watchdog said there are potentially thousands of people caught up in the errors.

The Policing Authority said it raised questions about roadside breathing testing statistics and practices in January but was not told a review was taking place.

It said it also has concerns about how decisions are taken on the issuing of a summons and what happens to cases between checkpoint, detection and conviction.

It is not the first time the Garda's record keeping has been called to account.

Last year, official analysis by the Central Statistics Office found a lmost a fifth of crime reported to the force was not recorded on its own system.

It also said the force's success rate in solving crimes is probably 10% lower than claimed.

In 2015, the CSO said almost a fifth of crimes reported to the Garda in 2011 were not recorded on the Pulse database.

That followed a damning audit by the Garda Inspectorate, published in 2014, that exposed massive errors on the Pulse system including poor classification of incidents and under-reporting casting doubt on the country's true crime rates.

The watchdog concluded that it was difficult to determine the scale of unrecorded crime but it could be about a quarter of offences.

Following the review of breath testing, the issuing of fines and summonses, the Garda said 14,700 drivers - mostly for not displaying tax and Insurance discs - have been taken to court without being given an opportunity to pay a penalty.

Those prosecutions are being appealed.

"We will be writing to all of the people affected and explaining what happened and how we propose to rectify the situation. Any fines imposed will be reimbursed and all records involved will be corrected," the Garda press office said.

Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn apologised.

"It is our mistake and we will rectify the matter. The people involved do not have to take any corrective action until they hear from us," he said.

Moyagh Murdock, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, said she was greatly concerned as d rink-driving is a factor in 29% of fatal crashes.

"There is a direct link between the levels of drink-driving enforcement conducted and compliance with drink-driving laws," she said.

"The absence of credible and reliable enforcement metrics such as the numbers of drivers being breath tested, makes it almost impossible to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of road safety interventions.

"This is especially valid in the context of the rise in road deaths over recent years."

Ms Murdock said the scandal may damage the public's faith in the ability of the Garda to effectively enforce life-saving road safety laws.

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