Court overturns soldier's discharge
A soldier who tested positive for cocaine during a random drug test carried out for the Defence Forces, but who provided urine samples later that day that a hospital tested negative for cocaine, has won a High Court order overturning his discharge.
Pte Daniel Somers, who was attached to Finner Camp in Donegal, siad he had never taken drugs, that his drink might have been “spiked” during a night out before the test or he could have come into contact with cocaine from toilets in bars or from handling currency. He had been a blood donor for years and this was inconsistent with drug use, he said.
The case arose after urine samples were taken from him during a random drug test on February 5th 2008. Sample A, whichwas sent to London for analysis, was found to contain a level of 183ng/ml of cocaine metabolite, Benzoylecgonine, and a certificate recorded that exceeded the cut-off level of 150ng/ml. The finding was confirmed after the B sample was analysed by a Derry firm.
Also on February 5th 2008, Pte Somers attended his GP to have samples taken which were analysed on February 7th at Beaumont Hospital’s toxicology department. That urine sample returned negative for cocaine.
After army officers recommended his discharge, his application to an appeals officer was rejected. In his report, the appeals officer referred to the absence of “a chain of custody” for the samples tested at Beaumont.
In his reserved judgment, Mr Justice Daniel Herbert quashed the discharge after finding the soldier had not been afforded fair procedures in how that decision was reached. The appeals officer was materially influenced by criticisms of the validity of the tests carried out at Beaumont, the judge said.
Those criticisms, made by the Officer Commanding (OC) the Defence Forces drug testing team, were key elements in the appeals officer’s conclusion that Pte Somers had used a controlled drug during his Army service, the judge said. Fair procedures had not been not afforded because letters sent from the OC of the drug-testing team to the appeals officer had not been provided to Pte Somers, who therefore had no opportunity to respond to the criticisms, the judge said. This was particularly important given the gravity of the matter from Pte Somers’s point of view.