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.