Foren­sics mis­takes in drug-drive con­vic­tions

Huddersfield Daily Examiner - - FRONT PAGE -

THE Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice (SFO) has been dealt a ma­jor blow after two former Tesco di­rec­tors were ac­quit­ted over a £250 mil­lion fraud and false ac­count­ing scan­dal in 2014.

Chris Bush, ex-UK man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, and John Scouler, the then UK food com­mer­cial di­rec­tor, were ac­cused of be­ing aware that in­come was wrongly in­cluded in the com­pany’s fi­nan­cial records to meet tar­gets and make Tesco look fi­nan­cially health­ier than it was.

But yes­ter­day at South­wark Crown Court, the jury was told that they were ac­quit­ted at the Court of Ap­peal on Wed­nes­day.

The ac­quit­tal came after MORE than 40 peo­ple have had crim­i­nal con­vic­tions quashed fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged data tam­per­ing at a foren­sics lab, the Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs’ Coun­cil (NPCC) has said.

The NPCC’s foren­sics lead, Chief Con­sta­ble James Vaughan, said yes­ter­day the drug-driv­ing prose­cu­tions had been re­versed fol­low­ing fresh test­ing.

So far some 2,700 cases have been re-an­a­lysed out more than 10,500 iden­ti­fied as po­ten­tially be­ing af­fected by data ma­nip­u­la­tion at Ran­dox Test­ing Ser­vices (RTS).

Forty peo­ple who had ei­ther pleaded guilty or been con­victed of drug-driv­ing had their prose­cu­tions over­turned fol­low­ing the re­anal­y­sis, Mr Vaughan said.

One other had a con­vic­tion quashed at the Court of Ap­peal after a le­gal bat­tle.

The of­fi­cer added more than 50 fur­ther drug-driv­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions were dropped be­fore prose­cu­tions were won, with this num­ber likely to rise.

The re­sults of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion were de­scribed as a “na­tional scan­dal” with a “dev­as­tat­ing im­pact” by a lawyer seek­ing dam­ages for 35 of the 40.

“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,” added An­drew Pether­bridge, of Hudgell So­lic­i­tors.

One of those is Luke Pear­son, a scaf­folder from Manch­ester who lost his job when he ac­cepted a 12-month driv­ing ban and a fine be­fore hav­ing his case over­turned in Fe­bru­ary, trial judge Sir John Royce dis­missed the case brought by the SFO, bring­ing the trial to a halt after the prose­cu­tion pre­sented its case.

The SFO went to the Court of Ap­peal over the dis­missal, but its ap­peal was dis­missed and the men were cleared by Court of Ap­peal judges.

Mr Scouler, 50, of The Park, ac­cord­ing to the firm.

“I think it is dis­gust­ing that this has been able to hap­pen to so many peo­ple, and it was dev­as­tat­ing to me,” the 26-year-old said.

“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.”

The re-in­ves­ti­ga­tion of cases since 2014 was launched in Jan­uary last year after al­le­ga­tions emerged that sci­en­tists had ma­nip­u­lated foren­sics data at an RTS site in Manch­ester.

Two men, aged 31 and 47, were ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice by Greater Manch­ester Po­lice and have been bailed un­til Jan­uary.

Six more peo­ple have been in­ter­viewed un­der po­lice cau­tion with one re­main­ing un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The lab­o­ra­tory was used by 42 of the UK’s 43 forces.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found around 3% of cases re­anal­ysed have been dropped or over­turned. All of these were brought over drug-driv­ing al­le­ga­tions.

A fur­ther case re­ferred to the ap­peals court saw a sen­tence re­duced, one ap­peal un­suc­cess­ful with a fourth pend­ing, Mr Vaughan said.

He be­lieves the botched re­sults are due to the ma­nip­u­la­tion of test re­sults rather than sam­ples be­ing tam­pered with – but was un­able to guar­an­tee sam­ples’ fidelity at this stage.

“We can’t be fully sure, that’s part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ran­dox,” he said. St Al­bans, and Mr Bush, 52, of Four Acres, Green End Road, Rad­nage, High Wy­combe, were each cleared of one count of fraud and an­other of false ac­count­ing.

A third man, former UK fi­nance di­rec­tor Carl Rog­berg, is charged with iden­ti­cal of­fences but was not well enough to stand trial.

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