UK Drug Lab Misconduct Calls 10,000 Convictions And Prosecutions Into Question

from the limited-oversight,-unlimited-damage dept

UK prosecutors are looking at the possibility of having a whole bunch of convictions overturned, thanks to misconduct by a lab service contracted by the government. Malfeasance at Randox Testing Service, which handles toxicology tests for UK law enforcement, first came to light earlier this year when two of its employees were arrested.

Hundreds of cases could be reviewed after two men who work at a laboratory used by police to test drug samples were arrested.

Randox Testing Services (RTS) is used by forces across the UK to analyse samples used in prosecutions.

Police chiefs said it had been told 484 cases handled by the firm since November 2015 may have been affected.

The men, 47 and 31, were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and bailed, police said.

At the time, Randox offered to re-run tests handled by the two employees and provided law enforcement with a list of cases affected. The bogus tests affected far more than run of the mill driving under the influence charges. In a few cases, convictions for vehicular homicide were placed under review.

About 50 prosecutions have so far been dropped in what BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw described as “the biggest forensic science scandal in the UK for decades”.

Matthew Bravender is appealing against his conviction after pleading guilty to causing death by careless driving while over the legal limit for a prescribed drug.

[…]

Also challenging his conviction is Anderson Ward, 39, who was jailed for causing the death of his girlfriend in a crash while he was high on drugs.

Since then, the estimate of affected cases has skyrocketed. The original estimate of 484 cases is now 10,000 and prosecutors have begun dropping prosecutions rather than go toe-to-toe with judges unsympathetic to their requests for extensions. It’s now apparent the retests won’t be completed until sometime in 2018. To make matters worse, some of the tainted tests can’t be retested because the samples have been destroyed or are no longer viable.

And it’s no longer just about driving under the influence charges. Randox, which has since seen its contracts with UK police forces suspended, also handled rape kits and investigations of suspicious deaths.

To make matters worse, another government contractor is being investigated for similar misconduct.

Potential data manipulation at a different facility, Trimega Laboratories, is also being investigated by Greater Manchester Police, said the NPCC.

In these incidents, child protection and family court cases could be affected.

Nick Hurd, the minister for policing, fire and criminal justice, said all tests carried out by Trimega between 2010 and 2014 were currently being treated as “potentially unreliable”.

He also said due to “poor record-keeping practices”, it may not be possible to identify all the customers affected.

This is far more than problematic. It’s devastating. It mirrors multiple forensic lab issues uncovered here in the United States. Obviously, law enforcement agencies don’t have the manpower to handle testing in-house. So, these are turned over to third parties. This wouldn’t be an issue if there were any direct oversight. But there doesn’t appear to be anything like that in place. When misconduct is finally uncovered, it has taken place for years and tainted thousands of cases.

If government agencies are sincere in their expressed concerns for public safety, these failures to head off problems before they affect 10,000-20,000 cases are inexplicable. It undermines legitimate convictions, putting criminals back on the street. It dead-ends investigations because lab results are no longer trustworthy.

Worse, it has the potential to land innocent people in jail. Faked results and mishandled tests are used as evidence in criminal trials, “proving” guilt when none exists. This is a problem everywhere, but it seems authorities are more interested in post-debacle damage control than rigorous oversight that could prevent this from happening in the first place.

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Companies: randox testing service

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Comments on “UK Drug Lab Misconduct Calls 10,000 Convictions And Prosecutions Into Question”

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22 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We’ll probably never know, sadly.

Then, there’s the other thought that always disturbs me when this sort of thing happens – how many other crimes were committed by the real guilty party after the police were convinced they had their man? It’s a double issue – not only do you create a victim of the innocent person wrongly convicted, you create victims of further crime that wouldn’t have happened if the right person was locked up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is, sadly, a common situation. It happens with drug tests, it happens with sobriety tests, it happens with rape kits, it happens with all kinds of forensic evidence…because the processes/procedures are far less rigorous than the ones we’d expect a senior chemistry major to understand and follow. But credible, uneducated, and unintelligent juries see/hear SCIENCE! and believe it.

This incompetence and negligence is compounded by active criminality on the part of police. In Baltimore, the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) was supposed to be an elite unit pursuing violent criminals. Instead, they’ve turned out to BE violent criminals, engaging in armed robbery, drug dealing, extortion, racketeering, etc. Five of them have pleaded guilty so far and prosecutions are still just getting started. .

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But they are a part of the great machine.
It requires no oversight.
It requires no verification.
The first few times a mistake are found, they are given good faith exceptions.
Eventually the raging fire escapes the news blackout & the public is shocked, just shocked that it happened AGAIN.

There have been way to many cases tainted by the work of a few individuals, perhaps having someone touch 10,000 cases & never drug testing them is a bad idea. Perhaps not demanding that all i’s are dotted & all t’s are crossed is a bad thing. Perhaps piling on charges to force a plea to slightly lesser charges & backing that with evidence that’s been screwed up is a really bad way to run a legal system.

We were supposed to be willing to let 100 bad guys go free rather than a single innocent end up behind bars. What happens when 100 innocents are behind bars & 10,000 bad guys are still free?

Steve says:

Also...

This very problem was predicted when the UK forensic services were being sold off just a few years ago. The services previous to that actually were ‘in house,’ albeit a separate wing of the judiciary. Some of the now fragmented services have also gone through various owners due to their inability to provide services on budget.
This is what happens when you allow your precious ‘free market’ to dictate the course of justice!

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Also...

Similar situations have happened in the US with both public and private labs. One well known case involved over 20,000 cases from a State Police lab in Boston.

The worse though are the “Field Kits” that allow cops to check suspected drugs in the field. These kits end up with a very high rate of false positives yet the courts allow they give reasonable cause.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Also...

I am honestly just as skeptical of this. Personal experience has shown that ‘registered’ does not equal competent or honest. While admittedly anecdotal, I have had personal experience with how unreliable such things can be. Many many years ago I was applying for a job that required a drug test. I went to the predetermined independent lab and gave my sample only to have the results come back several days later for a substance that not only was I not taking, but had never even heard of. When I disputed the results I was assured repeatedly of the accuracy of the test and in fact told that it was so accurate that they could even tell me the last time I fueled my vehicle! Yet when I continued to press them for details of what the substance was or by what means it may have been introduced into my body, all they would say was ‘that it was present’. The potential employer did not hire me, and I never received an explanation.

To this day I still have the utmost mistrust of alleged drug testing.

Anonymous Coward says:

For child welfare, get your own test.

For years, child welfare support groups such as fightcps have suggested that parents get their own substance abuse tests, especially if they miss court-ordered counseling where they are routinely tested. I have personally witnessed an infant being taken by a child welfare worker and 2 policemen because the mother missed her counseling session because she was in the emergency room.

Of course she was getting a prescription drug for stress after being arrested for shop-lifting, but child welfare was more concerned about her missing the counseling appointment. The child has never been returned and has been adopted.

Substance abuse cases are easy pickings for both child welfare and police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: For child welfare, get your own test.

Whenever I read of welfare actions such as this kidnapping, I think I could kill’em’all. Those bastards! They are judging from their high throne, bathing in their sea of ignorance, taking delight in the powerlessness of their victims. It’s a fertile ground for psychopaths.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: For child welfare, get your own test.

Beside these personal motives for malicious welfare behavior it can also be motivated by ideology. Fascists are eager turning the young against unwanted parents and separating them works towards that goal, as happened in nazi Germany for example. And lets not forget commercial interest can also spur half-baked decisions. It’s very similar to law enforcement required to score a certain number of convictions to keep their funding from declining.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: For child welfare, get your own test.

A missed appointment equals a dirty pee test. If the parent knows they will have a dirty pee test, then they miss the appointment.

The mother in this case already had 2 children taken from her, and she was under court supervision for the 3rd child. The only reason she even got to keep the baby in the first place was because she was staying with a responsible person.

She knew the deal. She knew she would have a dirty pee test, so she asked somebody to take her to the emergency room. It didn’t work. When the social worker came looking for her, he didn’t even know about the arrest.

70 percent of child welfare cases involve substance abuse, and taxpayers don’t have any patience with paying to fix the parents, even though taxpayers pay monthly for foster care and monthly for adoption subsidies most of the time until the child is an adult.

So sad.

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