Gardaí ‘exaggerated number of breath tests by 1.45 million’

Discovery of extra 500,000 bogus Garda breath tests ‘deeply disturbing’

 

Gardaí exaggerated the number of breath tests carried out by 1.45 million over a seven-year period, a new report has said.

An internal Garda report released on Wednesday shows the extent of the problem, which spanned from June 2009 to April 2017.

It finds that 3,498,400 breath tests were recorded on the Garda’s Pulse computer system, when only 2,040,179 were recorded on alcohol testing devices.

This represents a discrepancy of 1,458,221 breath tests.

The report by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan investigates the falsification of breath test figures and the wrongful conviction of 14,500 people for motoring offences.

It identifies three areas of fault: systems failures, an inability to understand Garda policy, and governance and oversight failures.

It found that in a significant number of cases the number of breath tests was simply made up.

The report defends senior Garda management and stresses their sole focus was the detection of drink driving. There was no benefit to individuals who inflated the breath test figures and no career advancement or obvious rewards from engaging in this practice, it found.

Second charges

A second report examined revelations that 146,000 people were taken to court and 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences because of issues with the fixed-charge notice system of fines and penalty points used by gardai.

Some of those had not paid fines for driving without an NCT certificate but were prosecuted even though they had not received the notice in the post. Others were taken to court even though they had received the penalty and paid a fine. The first appeals came before the courts in the summer.

The review found the issues were down to changes in IT and the “piecemeal” upgrading of the fixed charge systems.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said the practices identified were “unacceptable”.

She added: “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.”

‘Greatly disturbed’

Earlier, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he was “greatly disturbed” at the extent of the falsification of Garda breath tests following the receipt of an internal garda report into the matter.

The report identified “serious and concerning problems in the operation of both the Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoint system and the Fixed Charge Processing System”, the Minister said.

A further Policing Authority report into the scandal is due in the coming weeks.

“I will take all appropriate action when this report is submitted to me,” Mr Flanagan said.

The report identified a number of areas of fault but found individual gardaí exaggerated the figures and in some cases this was by as much as 300 per cent.

In one circumstance, the report outlines how 61 checkpoints reported 392 negative breath tests. However it was officially recorded as 3,920.

Other factors including data input errors, lack of supervision and the absence of a clear policy in the area were cited as factors for the discrepancies.

Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan said An Garda Síochána’s failure to release accurate breath test data into the public domain reflected poorly on the professionalism of gardaí.

“That the evidence also suggests members of An Garda Síochána were also engaged in inflating this data, whether intentional or unintentional, is even more damaging to public confidence.”

However the Assistant Commissioner insists he did not identify any behaviour which would merit criminal investigation.

The Irish Times first reported earlier this year how the breath test figures had been exaggerated significantly.

It has now emerged through the reports between three and nine per cent of all checkpoints on Pulse contained inflated tests. The exaggerations range from 106,177 and 318,530 at the checkpoints.

A breakdown of Garda divisions finds the discrepancy in the Dublin region was 47 per cent, 104 per cent in the eastern region, 74 per cent in the Northern region, 142 per cent in the South Eastern region, 46 per cent in southern region and 69 per cent in the western region.

The report defends the role of senior Garda management and insists their sole focus was the detection of drink driving.

However it suggests the reduction in the Inspector, Sergeant and Garda rank had a direct impact on the organisation’s capacity to maintain governance structures.

It says the dipping in and out of critical areas by senior management carries significant risks to the oversight of busy portfolios.

“When supervision is absent poor practices will inevitably develop and continue to deteriorate if left unchecked. Unfortunately this was evident through this examination.”

Absence of clear policy and procedure in relation to the breath test data was an also cited as an issue and the report claimed this resulted in weak corporate governance structures.

Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan said the policy documents were difficult to locate and consisted of hundreds of pages.

Such directives were not well communicated to frontline officers allowing for individuals to have their own interpretation of the policy, the report adds.

The report insists there was no benefit to individuals who inflated the breath test figures and there was no career advancement or obvious rewards from engaging in this practice.

Mr Flanagan said he was greatly disturbed by findings indicating that between 3 per cent and 9 per cent of the Pulse records relating to checkpoints were 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.

“Enormous responsibility and great trust is vested in An Garda Síochána and it is therefore vital that members of the force discharge their duties with professionalism and integrity.”

He said the report “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 under way to remedy the situation where drivers were incorrectly issued with summons arising from these failures and I acknowledge the impact on drivers affected.”

Resignation call

Earlier, Fianna Fáil called on Commissioner O’Sullivan to resign after the latest report. If the Commissioner does not resign the Government must take the necessary steps, the party added.

Earlier, Tánaiste and former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald said the emergence of the extra half a million false Garda breath tests was “deeply disturbing”.

Labour party leader Brendan Howlin said the latest revelations were “depressing”.

He said the figures came to light because they “couldn’t be hidden any longer”, despite being hidden for years. “The discrepancy. . . is so fundamentally shattering in our confidence in policing,” he said.

Distribution of blame

Mr Howlin rejected the distribution of blame on issues like “individual guards” or the “system” and said the immediate resignation of those responsible would be the “norm” in other jurisdictions.

He said “things have fundamentally changed” since Labour supported the appointment of Nóirín O’Sullivan as the Garda Commissioner and he now believed she “patently” needed to be removed.

The former minister for public expenditure also rejected the notion that he was part of a government that had an effect on the depletion of Garda resources.

“You think guards need to be trained not to make up false breath tests?” he said.