No direct order to exaggerate breath tests, report finds

Policing Authority to criticise Garda management on accountability and oversight

Garda statistics indicated almost two million breath tests were carried out between late 2011 and 2016, but breathalyser data indicated the true figure was only half that. Photograph: John Giles/PA

Garda statistics indicated almost two million breath tests were carried out between late 2011 and 2016, but breathalyser data indicated the true figure was only half that. Photograph: John Giles/PA

 

The Policing Authority will strongly criticise Garda management for failing to accept accountability for the exaggeration of breath tests and for its lack of oversight.

The Garda watchdog is expected to publish on Wednesday the findings of its audit into the falsification of breath test figures from 2009 to 2017 and the wrongful conviction of thousands of people for motoring offences.

The report, written by Crowe Horwath, will conclude there is no evidence to suggest senior Garda management explicitly directed members to inflate the breath test figures. However, it will find there was an implicit expectation on individual rank-and-file gardaí to increase the numbers.

The review criticises the lack of adequate supervision, outlining its view that there was no clear line of authority and therefore no overview of the conduct of gardaí.

Garda management should have taken action from 2013 onwards when it became clear there was a significant increase in the number of breath tests being reported, the report concludes.

The watchdog stresses urgent action should have been taken at that juncture but such matters were allowed to continue for years.

Garda culture

The Irish Times understands the Policing Authority will use the report’s findings to outline its ongoing concern about the culture within An Garda Síochána.

It will stress the need for gardaí to give a clear determination to ensure there is no reoccurrence of such falsification of breath tests.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan received the report in recent days and is considering its contents.

Mr Flanagan is expected to make further comment after publication. The Policing Authority received the report last week and considered its findings at a meeting last Thursday.

It was reported in February that the number of tests recorded on the Pulse system did not match the number of motorists checked. The following month, it emerged that breathalyser figures had been grossly exaggerated for years.

Garda statistics had indicated that almost two million breath tests were carried out between late 2011 and 2016, but breathalyser data indicated the true figure was only half that. The authority commissioned its own independent audit in light of the revelations.

Areas of fault

However, the internal Garda audit, carried out by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, discovered the problem was significantly worse than reported and found members of the force wrongly claimed to have checked an extra 1.5 million drivers over a seven-year period.

It identified 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 and in some cases this was inflated 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.

The Policing Authority report accepts the Garda figures and finds no evidence of any additional fake tests as part of its examination.