09:41, November 21 58 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-21 09:41:03
Forensics 'manipulation': 10,000 cases in England and Wales reviewed

Policing chiefs say confidence in the criminal justice system has been rocked by the alleged manipulation of data at a forensics laboratory that has led to the review of 10,000 cases across England and Wales.

Police said so far two cases involving road deaths had been referred to the court of appeal. About 50 cases of drug-driving have been discontinued.

Concerns came to light about the potential manipulation of results at a Manchester lab operated by a forensic provider called Randox in January and a criminal investigation was launched.

Concerns have also been raised about the reliability of forensic results at a separate facility, Trimega Laboratories, also in Manchester, which effected child protection and family court cases, but not criminal cases. The link between the two facilities is that some of those under criminal investigation over the allegations at Randox had previously worked for Trimega.

Julia Mulligan, who leads on transparency and integrity for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which oversees police forces in England and Wales, said: “The impact of the police investigation into data manipulation at Randox Testing Services is profound.

“Understandably, confidence in the criminal justice system will be rocked, but I am confident that chief constables and the CPS in particular are doing everything they can to deal with this unforeseeable challenge, affecting both live and historic cases.”

Police said three-quarters of the cases, were traffic offences such as drug-driving. The rest include violent crime, sexual offences and unexplained deaths, with no effect so far found in the most serious cases.

The NPCC said retesting was either complete or under way for around 70% of samples. It is a huge undertaking, being paid for by Randox and creating extra work for forensic scientists and may take up to three years to complete.

Problems include samples no longer being available or having degraded over time. Police point out that the forensic tests, effecting toxicology covering the level of drink or drugs in someone’s blood, is unlikely to be the main evidence against them in the most serious cases in doubt.

Police said two people had been arrested and five more were interviewed under caution. All worked at Randox, some had previously worked at Trimega, said the NPCC’s James Vaughan, who is overseeing the police response.

Gillian Tully, the forensic services regulator, said: “In terms of the number of cases, it is certainly the biggest thing I am aware of in this country.”

Forensics are supplied to police and the criminal justice system by independent companies. Tully said companies had been asked to make sure they may not have the same problems as at Randox, and so far the checks have delivered a clean bill of health.

“If there was large-scale manipulation going on across the board I do expect it would have been found during that audit,” Tully said but added: “If you have someone who is extremely determined and extremely skilled, then no quality system in the world could guarantee to stop this from happening again.”

The alleged manipulation emerged earlier this year when a data anomaly in a drug-driving case was reported to Randox.

Vaughan said: “Early results from retesting have identified no impact on crime cases such as sexual offences, violence or homicide. So far, fewer than 10% of retests have resulted in drug driving cases being discontinued. Two road deaths have been referred to the court of appeal.”

The road death cases had been investigated by the Hampshire and Greater Manchester forces.

Nick Hurd, the policing minister, said: “The government recognises the seriousness of this issue and the potential impact on public confidence in the use of forensic science within the justice system.

“The senior judiciary are aware and government officials are working with the police to monitor the scale of the issue, as information emerges.”