Solicitors acting on behalf of more than 30 people who have had convictions for drug driving overturned because of unsafe forensic test results today say it is ‘a scandal that has a devastating impact on many lives’.
More than 10,500 cases opened since 2014 have had to be retested after allegations of manipulation of forensic results at Randox Testing Services (RTS) – a Manchester company used by 42 police forces across the UK.
Today the National Police Chiefs’ Council revealed that the criminal convictions of more than 40 people have subsequently been quashed following an investigation into alleged data tampering at a forensics lab.
James Vaughan, the NPCC’s lead on forensics who headed the inquiry, said it was ‘the most serious breach of forensic science standards in my living memory’
Civil Liberties specialists Hudgell Solicitors confirmed they are representing 35 people who have already had their convictions quashed, and others who are now pursing civil cases to seek damages for the impact it has had on their lives.
The firm says many have lost their jobs as a result of unlawful convictions, whilst others have been unable to see their families as their driving licences have been taken from them.
“This is a national scandal which has had a devastating impact on the lives of the many people we are representing,” said Andrew Petherbridge, Head of Civil Liberties at Hudgell Solicitors.
“People have lost their driving licences, and as a result lost their employment, struggled to pay bills such as mortgages and rents, and some have been unable to travel to see their families and children.
“They have been faced with a situation where forensic testing has put them in a position where they have simply had to accept these convictions, as forensics are seen as safe and unquestionable. Sadly, due to what appears to have happened at this laboratory, that is not the case.
“In terms of national justice and public confidence in our legal system and policing, this case is hugely damaging. It is almost unthinkable to imagine the same situation, where tests are unsafe, relating to allegations of much more serious crimes which carry long-term prison sentences.
“Given there are still thousands of samples to be retested well into next year, we expect that there will be many more people affected than the current number. It is a completely unacceptable situation and serious lessons must be learned.”
Scaffolder Luke Pearson, 26, of Manchester, described being banned from driving in January 2017 as ‘devastating’ to his life. He had been breathalysed and performed a road side drugs test for Greater Manchester Police after an accident in November 2016.
He tested positive for being over the drug drive limit, and being an occasional cannabis user, accepted a 12 month ban and a fine of £480.
His conviction was overturned in February of this year in light of the Randox investigation, but he says that over the 12 month period in which he was unable to drive, his life was significantly affected.
“I think it is disgusting that this has been able to happen to so many people, and it was devastating to me,” he said.
“I needed to travel to sites as part of my job as a scaffolder as we worked across the country, so as a result of me being banned I lost my job. I’d even been offered a job as a foreman for a company, and they were provided to give me a company car to travel around sites, but of course that opportunity was lost when I was banned.
“I was out of work for around two months as I had to find scaffolding work where I could travel on public transport. It all put a strain on life, and on my relationship with my girlfriend as I was the main earner and we struggled with bills and rent.
“I was only an occasional, light cannabis user but when the police tell you that science says you are guilty you can’t argue. You trust the police and the legal system to look after you and do the right thing, so how this can be allowed to happen at a company responsible for testing samples I do not know. It takes away that trust.”
Last year Billal Hartford, 21, of North Yorkshire, became one of the first people to have his conviction overturned as a result of the scandal.
He lost his employment as a chef, as he could no longer travel to and from work, and said his conviction effectively robbed him of his ‘freedom’, as he lived in a remote area.
He said: “I think it’s shocking how something like this can happen to people,” said Mr Hartford.
“There is supposed to be an official legal system in place and I simply can’t believe how peoples’ lives can be ruined by being wrongly convicted of crimes. Forensic results are seen as being the undisputed evidence – but it is not the case now.”
Mr Petherbridge says his firm is now looking for legal redress on behalf of almost 40 individuals.
“Each of these people deserve damages for what they have been through as they have all been unlawfully convicted as a result of an unsafe testing process. These convictions have had an impact on mental health, prevented many from their hobbies and restricted their social life and of course caused significant reputational damage.”
It has been revealed team of 12 detectives have so far interviewed eight suspects over the alleged forensic data manipulation which dates back to 2014. Two men, aged 31 and 47, arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice by Greater Manchester Police have been bailed until January.