Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Perfect storm' over 1.9m bogus breath tests scandal

Checkpoint (stock)
Checkpoint (stock)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Almost 1.9 million breath tests were recorded in an “inaccurate and dishonest” way by large numbers of gardaí for almost a decade.

An independent report into the scandal describes a “perfect storm” of Garda management expecting ever-improving checkpoint numbers amid cuts to resources and a lack of front-line supervision.

The authors, accountancy company Crowe Horwath, found that up to 400,000 additional bogus breath tests could have been recorded, over and above almost 1.5 million identified by An Ggarda Síochána.

The report also found that some scheduled checkpoints were recorded as having taken place when they did not.

Management pressure and expectations were found to be a key driver for falsified data, though no evidence was found of an explicit directive on performance targets from senior officers.

The report, drawn up for the Policing Authority, said breath test statistics rose despite cut-backs to resources – “yet no one at senior management level seemed to say this appears too good to be true”.

A reduction in the number of supervisors and a lack of continuous training for gardaí were identified among a series of deficiencies.

“Feeding the beast” and ensuring the district or division continued to report good performance in relation to checkpoint data were “the main concerns for many gardaí” rather than detecting or tackling drink-drivers.

Crowe Horwath concluded that “significant work” must be done by the Gardaí to provide a “permanent solution” to the problems relating to breath tests and the separate issue of 14,700 wrongful traffic convictions, which were also probed.

Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin said “unacceptable failures” were identified and there’s an acceptance of the “damage this has done to public confidence”. He said the force is determined such failings cannot happen again.

The Policing Authority’s commentary on the report said the behaviours outlined in the document were “endemic and seemingly went unnoticed and unchecked over nearly a decade”. This was said to be “a serious management and governance failure”.

The Policing Authority said there were issues relating to training, supervision or management.

But it added that this does “not absolve the considerable number of Garda members, of varying ranks, across the country who made, or encouraged others to make, inaccurate and dishonest returns in respect of mandatory intoxicant tests.

“Nothing has displaced the truism that no training is required for behaving honestly and ethically,” it added.

Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily (left) said there was “widespread falsification of the figures by a large number of gardaí” and her organisation wanted to see all Garda members and staff embrace the code of ethics. She said she expected Mr Ó Cualáin to consider taking action against any member where there was prima facie evidence of either a criminal offence or disciplinary breach having been committed.

The report noted the difficulty of pursuing members responsible. It said examining more than 500,000 phone calls where breath-test figures were reported to a Garda call centre would be a waste of resources, unless there was firm evidence.

Online Editors

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