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Something rotten in the state of hair strand testing?

There’s a decision reported on Bailii which was decided by the President of the Family Division.

Greater Manchester Police v Zuniga & Ors [2021] EWHC 1572 (Fam) (10 June 2021) (bailii.org)

It sounds very technical and dull – it was about what happens to evidence gathered in the family Courts if it is capable of being DNA tested (such as hair samples) when it goes to the police – who have various duties and responsibilities about this.

But far more importantly, it is about a lab based in Manchester who are under police investigation for falsifying the results of tests for alcohol and drugs – and that some 27,000 tests are under suspicion. A lot of this relates to criminal law cases. The suspicion is that in order to get commercial advantage and gain contracts with the police for their drug and alcohol testing, the lab cut corners – falsifying results and cutting and pasting results from one case into others.

The criminal investigation is ongoing, so we must be careful not to make conclusions that these allegations are proven, but one of the defendants has made admissions of a cover-up during two cases involving family Court where concerns arose and the Court was trying to get to the bottom of anomalous cases.

  1. The background to the case is an investigation begun in 2017 and led by GMP into data manipulation by the seven Respondents, who are the suspects in the case, at a forensic laboratory which, via two different companies consecutively operating at the laboratory, provided services to police forces for the purposes of identifying drug use. The forensics analysed hair, blood, and urine for quantities of illegal substances, and the results provided, some of which were falsified, were used in in criminal, family, coronial or employment cases.
  2. The investigation has uncovered 27,000 reports which appear to have been affected, and therefore the potential injustices which have occurred as a result of the data manipulation are many and serious. It is worth recording that an investigation of this scale, complexity, and irregularity is difficult and skilled work, which necessarily takes time.
  3. The alleged activity occurred between 2011 and 2017 at the same Manchester testing centre, the Hexagon Tower. Two companies were primarily involved, and the Defendants span both: Trimega Laboratories (“TL”) operated at the Hexagon Tower from 2009, and continued under that name (after the Ingemino Group bought TL in 2012) until they ceased trading in April 2014 and the company was liquidated by KPMG; Randox Testing Services (“RTS”), bought the equipment and methodology from TL upon its liquidation and operated at the Hexagon Tower from 2014 onwards.
  4. The Respondents are said to have engaged in data manipulation practices for the purposes of ensuring rapid accreditation by the regulator, UKAS, by which the company could provide its forensics services to the police forces, thereby gaining commercial advantage over competitors. The object was therefore the raise the value of the company by gaining a larger market share.
  5. This data manipulation dates back almost a decade and takes a variety of forms, including copying results and quality assurance data from one sample and pasting it into another, as well as manipulating quality controls and suitability tests, and falsifying identification of drugs and validation data.
  6. Against this background, the seven suspects have been served as Respondents in the case on the basis that they are affected by the order, following the Criminal Procedure Rules Part 47. None has chosen to appear to oppose the application.
  7. The alleged data manipulation first came to light in January 2017, when RTS contacted GMP following their discovery of data manipulation at Hexagon Tower. Both RTS and GMP began concurrent investigations, and RTS cooperated with GMP throughout. RTS discovered the erroneous results in the forensic data during a trial of a person accused of driving under the influence of drugs, in which the prosecution’s expert evidence was challenged and, upon the defence instructing an expert, the two experts were unable to agree due to data anomalies which undermined the reliability of the report from RTS. RTS investigated this and found that the anomalies were data duplication that could only have been carried out by a laboratory assistant with extensive knowledge of the system. Their investigation uncovered that the data manipulation had been ongoing since before they purchased the laboratory and equipment in 2014.
  8. GMP’s investigation also involves the cover up of data anomalies relating in particular to two family court cases. These cases are “the Welch case” and Bristol City Council v A & A and Others (2012): in Welch a woman contested the results from TL of hair testing for drugs, and the another forensic provider was employed to test her hair; in Bristol City Council, TL’s drugs testing was challenged by a woman whose children had been removed from her care on the basis of drugs use. In both cases TL’s tests were contradicted by newly instructed forensics providers, and TL acted defensively, possibly for the purposes of competition with the alternative forensic providers used in those cases. Bayliss admitted in police interview to involvement in a cover-up during these two cases. The anomalies in these cases were discovered at the same time as the sale of TL to Ingemino. If disclosed, the fact of the anomalies would have dramatically reduced the value of the sale. There is also investigation into what the senior management of TL knew of these cases at the time.

I wrote about the Bristol case at the time.

Hair we go again – or blip versus tip | suesspiciousminds

I’ve written before also about how unsatisfactory it is, given the huge amount of public money spent on drug and alcohol testing and the huge decisions that can be made as a result of the results, that we simply can’t get a straight answer on how reliable these tests are.

Help, it’s the care-hair bunch! | suesspiciousminds

(goddamn it, that piece was nine years ago – I’ve been yeeting on about this for nine years)

The decision of the President in this case is twofold – firstly all of the material held about the testing in the family cases under suspicion is going to go to the police and secondly, the family members involved are entitled to ask for that from the police and also get evidence from the police about what the concerns are that led to their tests being considered suspicious.

It isn’t clear to me whether the police will be contacting the alleged victims of these suspicious tests or whether it is for the victims themselves to chase this up. But if you did have drug tests conducted by Trimega using the Manchester labs between 2007 and 2017 you may want to contact your solicitors and see if anything can be done.

I’d really welcome this whole topic being properly cleaned up – we can’t have rival labs hiding behind commercial advantage and competition as a rationale for not being properly transparent about how accurate these tests are.

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

One response

  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    Per the President of the Family Division:
    “15. This is a unique case. Once GMP have directed the case towards a prosecution, much of the material concerned would not then be able to be held under s. 22. It is not hard to imagine the circumstances where this data would be sought by an individual concerned, given the size of the affected data, and the nature of the proceedings in which it was involved. There are likely to be criminal, family, coronial and employment cases, previously decided, which parties may wish to revisit on the basis of faulty data. The importance of this is hard to overstate. It concerns miscarriages of justice which may have occurred in reliance on what are now known to be erroneous drugs testing results. It is instructive that where material has been handed to GMP by RTS, RTS has approached the parties involved for their consent and it has not been refused in any such case.”
    Getting any information from the police is so exasperating it’s easier extracting blood out of a stone. Craven capitalism with its commensurate parent and child commodification is lamentable for often causing a mad rush to judgment by little more than false consensus, even lemming logic. Pity the poor families let down by this – as more corporate foxes run the henhouse,the victims Quest for justice will doubtless continue …

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