Hundreds of drug-driving prosecutions could be quashed after problems with evidence samples were discovered in labs, according to police.
Some evidence handled by forensic testing company Synlab Laboratory Services Limited is “no longer reliable”, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has said.
Some 831 samples have been identified, of which 588 relate to concluded cases, where the “test result from Synlab can no longer be relied on”, the policing body warned.
Synlab “identified issues with its analysis of drug-driving samples” in December and an investigation found quality control criteria used to verify analytical results was “not always applied consistently”, a NPCC spokesman said.
The findings raise the prospect that hundreds of convictions could be quashed, with the potential for many defendants being wrongfully convicted, or that other live cases may have to be abandoned – which police chiefs have described as a “cause for concern”.
The Crown Prosecution Service is contacting defence lawyers in these cases but the NPCC stressed there may have been other evidence which led to a conviction.
James Vaughan, who leads the NPCC’s work on forensics, said: “Any case where an individual has been convicted on evidence that is no longer reliable is a huge regret.
“My thoughts go out to those who have been affected by this and we are contacting the relevant lawyers and teams to ensure they are made aware of the findings.
“While the majority of cases are unaffected and results can be relied upon, we acknowledge that this issue will have a knock-on effect for some people.
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“It’s absolutely vital that we maintain a robust forensic testing system that provides reliable evidence to the courts.”
According to the NPCC a total of 4,255 samples have been reviewed.
Of these, 2,462 samples either remained negative, the case was discontinued prior to going to trial, or the trial resulted in a not guilty outcome.
Some 709 samples, where the level of a drug was found to be above the prescribed limit, have been through the court system and the review found no grounds to question the outcome.
There are 253 samples relating to cases currently within the court system where the review of the data has confirmed the result as reliable.
The problems have been reported to the United Kingdom Accreditation Service as well as the Forensic Science Regulator, and Synlab voluntarily suspended its accreditation.
Darryl Preston, who leads the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ work on forensics and is the Cambridgeshire police and crime commissioner (PCC), said: “Road safety is a key priority for many PCCs, and forensics play a key role in identifying drink and drug-driving offenders.
“That anyone who was driving under the influence of drink or drugs may have a conviction quashed, or that someone has been wrongfully convicted, is a cause for concern.
“Longer term, this episode has shone a light on the need to ensure the very highest standards of forensic science provision to the criminal justice system and that policing… must access efficient and reliable forensics services providers to ensure justice can be served.”
PCCs would be “especially concerned if a driver who caused a death or serious injury on our roads was allowed to walk free because vital forensic evidence was no longer valid”, he said, but added: “Thankfully, no such case has yet come to light.”