Belfast Telegraph

Convictions quashed after forensics data breach claims

Investigation: NPCC Chief Constable James Vaughan
Investigation: NPCC Chief Constable James Vaughan

By Staff Reporter

More than 40 people have had criminal convictions quashed following an investigation into alleged data tampering at a forensics lab, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) has said.

Co Antrim company Randox said it is covering the costs of retesting thousands of samples from drivers after what a senior police officer described as an unprecedented "serious breach" of forensic science standards.

It will cost Randox an estimated £2.5m.

The NPCC's forensics lead, Chief Constable James Vaughan, said yesterday the drug-driving prosecutions had been reversed following fresh testing.

So far some 2,700 cases have been re-analysed out of more than 10,500 identified as potentially being affected by data manipulation at Randox Testing Services (RTS).

RTS is part of the Randox Laboratories group based in Crumlin, Co Antrim.

Forty people who had either pleaded guilty or been convicted of drug-driving had their prosecutions overturned following the reanalysis, Mr Vaughan said.

One other had a conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal.

The police officer added more than 50 further drug-driving investigations were dropped before prosecutions were won, with this number likely to rise.

Mr Vaughan described the scandal as a "serious breach of integrity" of an unprecedented scale in living memory in UK forensic science.

The reinvestigation of cases since 2014 was launched in January last year after allegations emerged that scientists had manipulated forensics data at an RTS site in Manchester.

Two men, aged 31 and 47, were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice by Greater Manchester Police and have been bailed until January.

The lab was used by 42 of the UK's 43 forces.

The investigation has found around 3% of cases re-analysed have been dropped or overturned. All of these were brought over drug-driving allegations.

Mr Vaughan believes the botched results are due to the manipulation of test results rather than samples being tampered with - but was unable to guarantee samples' fidelity at this stage. "We can't be fully sure, that's part of the investigation into Randox," he said.

Of the 40 cases dropped, all had received driving bans or fines but had not been sent to prison, Mr Vaughan said.

Retesting is expected to continue into December 2019 and has been slower than expected partly due to an existing shortage of forensic testers which has been exacerbated by the scandal.

In a statement, RTS said it had "acted as the whistle blower", reporting the alleged manipulation of data as soon as it was discovered in January 2017.

It added: "RTS are new to the forensic arena and in establishing their capability employed staff with employment history from other accredited laboratories, the Forensic Science Service and UKAS. RTS complied fully with all UKAS accreditation requirements and in numerous inspections by UKAS, when it appears manipulation was underway, nothing untoward was found.

"It now appears that manipulation of data also occurred at a now defunct company, who also had accreditation from UKAS. Some of these staff subsequently moved to RTS and now are subject to active police investigation.

"RTS have acted with absolute integrity in this matter. By acting as the whistle-blower RTS have set in train a process to review and improve forensic processes."

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