Wednesday 22 November 2017

Wexford Garda station clocks up fewest 'fake' breath tests

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Mark Condren
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Mark Condren
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Wexford is the only Garda division that did not inflate its breath test figures by double or treble digits, according to an internal "fact-finding" investigation.

The discrepancy between the numbers of breath tests gardai claimed to have carried out and those accurately recorded on the breathalyser machine was 5pc in Wexford, compared with more than 400pc in some divisions. It appears that the exaggeration of breath test figures ran to double or treble digits at every other Garda station, according to an informed source.

The same source said there is now a growing acceptance that gardai deliberately entered false information on breath tests on to the Pulse system. Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has publicly acknowledged only that this "may well be" the case and has been unable to explain why the Pulse database recorded 1,995,369 completed breath tests in four years when only 1,058,157 were carried out.

The scandal, along with the force's admission that 14,700 motorists received wrongful convictions, triggered a renewed crisis in the force and led to calls for the Commissioner to stand aside.

The Policing Authority announced last Friday that it had commissioned independent audits of the scandals.

An internal investigation led by Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan is examining whether many of the inflated breath test readings were caused by gardai inputting false breath tests for cancelled checkpoints.

More than half of the Mandatory Alcohol Test checkpoints scheduled to take place were cancelled, often because of weather or because gardai were called to more serious crimes. Gardai should have invalidated the MAT tests on Pulse but an informed source said internal investigators are examining whether instead, they remained in the system and false breath test data was inputted for them.

The source said: "You are supposed to go into the Pulse and wipe it off the system. I do not know the scale of it. I do not know the level of it... That is one of the many factors the investigation is looking at."

Asked whether false breath test returns were logged for checkpoints that had been cancelled, the Garda press office said there is "no evidence to indicate that this was the case, at this stage".

Other explanations being reported up the line include an apparently common practice of gardai counting "breathalysed" motorists they waved through checkpoints; gardai estimating the number of breath tests they carried out at checkpoints after the event, and grossly exaggerating their work; there have also been claims of pressure being applied on rank and file officers to turn in breath test figures.

In an embarrassing development for the force, the EU's road safety organisation is removing the Garda's data from its statistics on alcohol testing. The European Transport Safety Council used the Garda's breath test data in a special report it published last year on police enforcement of traffic offences. The council is now in the process of removing the data, after it was informed by the Road Safety Authority that the figures were "inaccurate" and "subject to public inquiry", a spokesman said.

Sunday Independent

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