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Scores of prosecutions dropped over possible data manipulation


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Forensic Science Regulator says in terms of numbers of cases, it is the biggest issue of its kind ever to happen in the UK

Scores of prosecutions dropped over possible data manipulation

Scores of prosecutions have been dropped and several convictions hang in the balance after 10,000 potential cases of data manipulation were identified at a forensics lab.

The National Police Chiefs' Council said forensic tests across 42 police forces, including rapes and murders, were being considered possibly unreliable and needed re-examining.

Three-quarters of the cases were traffic offences such as drug driving - with the rest including violent crime, sexual offences and unexplained deaths, spanning back to 2013.

Toxicology tests are carried out to detect the presence of drugs or alcohol in someone's hair, blood or urine and can be relied on as evidence in court.

As a result of the breach in standards, around 50 drug driving investigations have been discontinued, while two road death convictions have been referred to the Court of Appeal.

Retests have so far found no impact on cases of sexual offence cases, violence or murder, the NPCC said.

The Forensic Science Regulator said in terms of numbers of cases, it was the biggest issue of its kind ever to happen in the UK.

Two men have been arrested and five interviewed under caution by Greater Manchester Police over the alleged manipulation by individuals working at a Randox Testing Services (RTS) site in Manchester

The alleged misconduct emerged earlier this year when a data anomaly in a drug driving case was reported to RTS.

Deputy Chief Constable James Vaughan, the NPCC forensic expert, said: "This is of grave concern to me, it is of great concern to policing and out partners in criminal justice and we are taking it extremely seriously and provided a nationally co-ordinated and very swift, robust response, to understand more detail.

"Forensic science in criminal justice is paramount and vital to confidence in the criminal justice system."

Potential data manipulation at a separate facility, Trimega Laboratories, is also being investigated by GMP - affecting child protection and family court cases, the NPCC said.

It is understood the two suspects arrested in connection with the alleged malpractice also worked for Trimega.

All 50 drug driving offences which were dropped had been due to go on trial, DCC Vaughan said.

Some were discontinued because there was no sample available for retesting, the sample was insufficient in quality or quantity to allow retesting or there had been degradation of evidence.

Not every court was sympathetic to requests for proceedings to be adjourned, leading to further cases to be ditched, he said.

The NPCC revealed retesting was either complete or under way for around 70 per cent of the 900 highest priority cases, with the rest expected to be completed by mid-2018.

These include live investigations approaching or in trial, those convicted but not sentenced, those bailed in advance of trial or sentence and convictions where the defendant is in prison.

DCC Vaughan said: "We have worked at pace to respond to this serious breach of standards and take action in cases where people's lives could have been affected.

"With limited expert capacity with the forensics market, our primary aim is to prioritise the most serious and pressing cases for retesting while ensuring we don't delay urgent and important current cases."

Although no murder and rape cases have yet to be found unreliable, some could be in a lower priority band for testing which have yet to be reanalysed, he added.

Such cases would include finalised court cases which ended in acquittals or police investigations which had no further action.

A total of 275 murders and around 900 rapes are being reappraised.

Around 7,000 of these lower priority cases were road traffic and 2,000 were casework, 850 of which have so far been submitted for re-testing.

It is expected the full retesting process will take two to three years to conclude, with 1,500 samples retested by the end of the year.

No-one has yet to be charged over the alleged manipulation, but DCC Vaughan said: "It is a hugely complex investigation that will take many more months to resolve."

Concerns about the data are believed to centre on the scientific validity of the method used to analyse it, which could be undermined by the quality control samples or background data supporting the method being missing or manipulated.

Gillian Tully, of the Forensic Science Regulator, said: "I'm not going to speculate on any motives because obviously there is an ongoing criminal investigation but we cannot just say it was a minor technical issue."

She added: "In terms of the number of cases affected, it is certainly the biggest thing that I'm aware of to happen in this country."

All major forensic toxicology suppliers had been asked to carry out a detailed audit of a sample of their cases to ensure the issue was not more widespread.

The audits uncovered no such data manipulation.

Dr Tully added: "If there was large-scale manipulation going on across the board, I do expect it would have been found during that audit".

All costs of retesting the samples are being footed by Randox, rather than police or prosecutors, the NPCC said.

RTS's Manchester lab had its accreditation suspended on March 21 and has voluntarily suspended accreditation at its Northern Ireland site.

RTS Toxicology manager Dr Mark Piper said: "We will do all that we can to ensure this situation is resolved and deeply regret the distress that has been caused."

Test results from Trimega may have been tampered with between 2010 and 2014, but it is not clear how many are affected, policing minister Nick Hurd said.

In a written ministerial statement, Mr Hurd said due to poor record-keeping it is not possible to identify how many customers Trimega served.

Samples from the lab cannot be re-tested due to a limited chain of custody records and the degradation of the samples over time.

Mr Hurd 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 Department for Education has asked all local authorities to review whether they commissioned tests from Trimega, but it is unlikely many child welfare cases were determined solely on toxicology test results.

The Welsh Government is asking the same of councils in Wales.

It is thought that no civil cases are affected by the issue, according to the Ministry of Justice

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