Owen Paterson lobbying row: Criminal investigation continuing into alleged mass data manipulation at Randox lab

Police are continuing to investigate alleged mass data manipulation affecting thousands of criminal cases at a laboratory run by the company at the heart of a growing lobbying row involving Tory MP Owen Paterson.
North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson.North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson.
North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson.

A vote is due to take place this afternoon in the House of Commons in an attempt by Tory MPs to save Mr Paterson from a six-week suspension from Parliament after an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

One of the companies is clinical diagnostics firm Randox Laboratories, whose business arms include Randox Testing Services.

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RTS was employed by police forces across the country, including in Yorkshire, to provide tests to identify potential drug use.

Greater Manchester Police today confirmed that a long-running investigation into alleged data manipulation is still ongoing.

In January 2017, RTS reported ‘irregularities’ at its lab in Manchester to the police and two men were subsequently arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

In December 2018, the National Police Chiefs’ Council issued an update to say more than 10,500 cases involving 42 different forces had been identified as potentially being affected by the issue.

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The majority of the cases involved drug-driving, but other cases including sex offences, road deaths and family court hearings have also been affected.

The NPCC said in December 2018 that 40 road traffic convictions had already been overturned and 50 similar cases discontinued by the CPS after 2,700 cases were revisited.

The alleged activity occurred between 2011 and 2017 at the Hexagon Tower testing centre, which was first run by the now-defunct Trimega Laboratories before RTS took over the site from 2014.

In June this year, a High Court application by Greater Manchester Police revealed 27,000 cases appeared to have been affected. Randox said today the number of samples potentially affected within their laboratory and subject to review was approximately 10,500, as stated by the NPCC in December 2018.

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A judgement on the application, relating to access to materials connected to the criminal investigation, said: “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.

“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.”

The judgement said it was alleged data manipulation practices had occurred “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”.

It added: “The object was therefore to raise the value of the company by gaining a larger market share.

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“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.”

It added that RTS had “cooperated throughout” with the GMP investigation after issues came to light when prosecution evidence using the company’s results was challenged in court.

The judgement said: “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.”

It added: “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.

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“It concerns miscarriages of justice which may have occurred in reliance on what are now known to be erroneous drugs testing results.”

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police said today: “We can confirm that this High Court ruling is part of the same investigation as the 2017 case into Randox workers, who were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in relation to toxicology lab test samples.

"This is still an ongoing investigation and for this reason we cannot currently go into any further detail.”

Randox said in December 2018 that it had acted “with absolute integrity in this matter” after immediately reporting issues when they came to light. It said it was also meeting the retesting costs.

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“By acting as the whistle-blower RTS have set in train a process to review and improve forensic processes across the UK,” the company said at the time.

Randox did not wish to comment further when contacted by The Yorkshire Post.

It comes as Downing Street backed an overhaul of the disciplinary process for MPs as Tories try to prevent the suspension of Mr Paterson after he was found to have breached lobbying rules.

Number 10 indicated it could support an amendment seeking to reform the standards process and send the Conservative former minister’s case for a review ahead of votes on Wednesday.

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The Commons will vote on whether to approve a six-week ban from Parliament for the North Shropshire MP.

Downing Street urged MPs to seek “cross-party agreement on a new appeals process” as Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle selected an amendment tabled by Dame Andrea Leadsom on the matter.

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