Tuesday 21 November 2017

Breath test controversy: Commissioner says 'failures are completely unacceptable' as further 500,000 tests not carried out

Checkpoint (stock)
Checkpoint (stock)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

An investigation into the recording of false breath tests by An Garda Síochána found that some individual guards were exaggerating figures.

The investigation has discovered records of another 500,000 tests which were not carried out.

RTE news is reporting that an as yet unpublished report by Assistant Garda Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan into the breath test controversy  has found that some gardaí were making up the figures and in some cases were exaggerating them by as much as 300pc.

One incident is highlighted which details an exchange between an operator at the garda contacts centre in Castlebar and a guard who mis making a report following a MAT (Mandatory Alcohol Test) checkpoint.

The report states:

"When asked how many checks he conducted he hesitates and first says 30. He then changes that to 50, before finally telling the operator to ‘put him down for 90’".

Other contributory factors in the recording of the false tests were found to be systems and IT failures, a misinterpretation of policy, and failures of governance and oversight.

The report has also found that the controversy has marred the public's confidence in gardaí and reflects poorly on the professionalism in the organisation.

The report has found that the figure of wrongly recorded breath tests is over 1.4 million, more than half a million more than originally believed. This figure accounts for the period 2009-2016.

Mr O'Sullivan's report did find instances where individual gardaí were found to be making up figures.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he received the reports which are "detailed and technical" and cover a period of several years - from 2006 in relation to FCPS and from 2009 in relation to MATs.

“The reports identify serious and concerning problems in the operation of both the Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoint system and the Fixed Charge Processing System.  Both reports indicate that An Garda Síochána has already put a range of measures in place to address issues around data collection and recording and the operation of both the MATS and FCPS systems.

“I am greatly disturbed by findings that indicate that between three per cent and nine per cent of the PULSE records relating to MAT/MIT checkpoints are estimated to have inflated breath tests.  I note that any potential such cases identified in this report have been referred to the relevant Regional offices for further investigation and sanction where appropriate. This is critically important."

Minister Flanagan also said that the report on the Fixed Charge Processing System identifies technical and training/guidance problems and indicates that the IT solutions to the issues identified have been effective in preventing further occurrences.

"It also proposes solutions to the other issues, which will be examined in detail in conjunction with the Policing Authority report. I welcome the steps underway to remedy the situation where drivers were incorrectly issued with summons arising from these failures and I acknowledge the impact on drivers affected.

“I look forward to receiving the report of the Policing Authority into both of these issues. The Policing Authority is vested with an important oversight role in respect of An Garda Síochána and its independent analyses of these issues will be critical.  This report is due in the coming weeks. I will take all appropriate action when this report is submitted to me.”

Commenting on the reports, the Commissioner said: "Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan’s reports identify failures in our systems, processes, oversight, supervision and management. These failures are completely unacceptable and all of us in An Garda Síochána must now take responsibility for ensuring this cannot happen again.

"Changes have already been introduced and we are committed to ensuring the required cultural, behavioural and systems changes are made. I agree with Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan when he writes that these failures, particularly in relation to breath tests, reflect poorly on the professionalism of the organisation and are damaging to public confidence. It is vital that An Garda Síochána continues to have the public’s confidence and support in order to carry out our work.

"In relation to the fixed charge penalty notice system and people being incorrectly penalised, An Garda Síochána is working with the Courts Service to ensure all wrongful convictions are appealed. In this regard, the first test appeal cases came before the Dublin Circuit Court on 19th July 2017 and were heard by the President of the Circuit Court. All of the cases were successfully appealed and the Court Services are in the process of updating the records of those concerned and returning fines paid."

Following An Garda Síochána’s identification of these matters, the then Minister for Justice asked the Policing Authority to report on its oversight of these issues.

An Garda Síochána said they have been fully assisting Crowe Horwath who were commissioned by the Policing Authority  to review and assess the process employed and the outcomes of each of the investigations conducted by Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan.

"As Crowe Horwath is still conducting its work, it would not be appropriate for An Garda Síochána to comment further on the reports by Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan until that review is concluded, nevertheless we are committed to ensuring that should any additional issues identified over the course of this review they will be comprehensively addressed."

Previously it emerged that gardaí inflated the figures in some cases by accidentally adding "zeros" to the results being inputted to the force's computer system.

The Wexford division was found to have recorded the least number of wrong figures, while Dublin West was the worst.

Copies of the report have also been sent to the Policing Authority, which has commissioned financial auditors Crowe Horwath to carry out a review of the findings.

A separate report has been compiled by Mr O'Sullivan on his examination of the wrongful prosecution of 14,700 people for road traffic offences, which has also found system failures and a lack of understanding among gardaí.

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