Alleged drug drivers go free for failing to take blood tests

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Nearly 400 motorists suspected of driving under the influence will escape prosecution because they failed to take blood tests, it turned out.

A lack of capacity in the police laboratories has led to an enormous backlog of samples. Prosecutions were dropped in 386 cases because tests were not processed within a statutory time limit of 12 months.

The Scottish Police Authority, which released the numbers and is responsible for processing the tests, admitted there was “a serious error”.

The number of tests that would need to be processed was significantly underestimated before new anti-drug driving laws came into force in 2019.

More cases are expected to drop in the “immediate months”, although tests are being sent to commercial providers to increase capacity.

Jamie Greene, the Scottish Tories’ justice spokesman, urged the SNP to adequately fund the police so the backlog could be addressed.

“Drug driving is an extremely dangerous crime, so it is worrying that nearly 400 cases could not be prosecuted, partly due to a lack of police resources,” he said.

“Rather than address this issue, the SNP is breaking its manifesto promises by cutting the police budget over the next few years, which will no doubt result in more cases going up in smoke in the future.”

“Zero Tolerance” Approach

The forensic department of the Scottish Police Force is responsible for processing the blood tests.

Under reforms introduced in 2019, police can take roadside mouth swabs from drivers, which can reveal if they have used drugs such as cannabis or cocaine.

They can then be sent for blood tests and prosecuted if any of the 17 drugs found in their system are above prescribed limits.

The new system has been touted as a “zero tolerance” approach to drug driving.

Fiona Douglas, director of forensic services at the Police Commission in Scotland, said: “Unfortunately, the current backlog and continued high demand have resulted in drug-driving cases reaching or coming too close to the deadline for a criminal prosecution.

“This is a deeply regrettable situation and I would like to apologize and reassure the public and our partners that our laboratory staff are working tirelessly and remain committed to the timely processing of samples.”

Under the new drug-driving laws, limits have been set for several illegal and prescription drugs, in a system similar to that used for drinking and driving.

Drugs such as heroin, ketamine and ecstasy have cut-off values ​​very close to zero, due to concerns that a zero cut-off could capture incidents of accidental exposure.

Those who are successfully prosecuted face a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a £5,000 fine.

The changes were designed to make it easier to tackle drug driving, as previously prosecutors had to prove someone was driving in a disabled manner as a result of drug use.

SNP invests more than £1m in test outsourcing

Those whose tests have not been processed now escape any sanction and can continue.

It was originally assumed that around 1,000 blood samples would have to be taken each year. However, more than 2,000 a year were filed by the police.

The backlog arose despite the Scottish Government providing more than £1million to outsource testing to commercial firms.

The 386 abandoned cases account for about seven percent of the total, said Martyn Evans, chief of the Scottish Police Force.

Raw tests are currently being reviewed to ensure those performed after serious incidents are prioritized.

Mr Evans added: “We are deeply concerned that 386 drug-driving cases remain unprosecuted because tests and analyzes are not processed within a reasonable timeframe. It is a grave mistake.”

Stephen McGowan, Deputy Crown Agent at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said: “We have processes in place to ensure that despite this pressure on the testing regime, appropriate prosecutorial action is taken in as many cases as possible.”

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