EXCLUSIVE: Forensic analyst 'poured samples down the drain'

2017-10-02 12:21
(AP, file)

(AP, file)

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Johannesburg - A forensic analyst at the Pretoria Forensic Laboratory may have been reporting fictitious drug and toxin results for years, potentially putting hundreds of criminal and insurance claims at risk.

News24 has seen a number of documents which show that the analyst repeatedly reported there was "insufficient specimen for further drug analysis" on almost all of her reports since 2013.

These reports all appear to have been signed off by managers in the toxicology section.

Two weeks ago, the Department of Health issued a media release which indicated that the analyst had been suspended and that they had called in the Hawks to investigate, as the allegations against the analyst were both criminal and fraudulent.

READ: Forensic laboratories put samples at risk

The department said the analyst had allegedly failed to follow proper procedure when analysing blood samples, and that this was discovered during a routine quality inspection.

They had also referred the matter to the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), as this could affect the criminal justice system.

The documents seen by News24 show that the analyst may have been doing more than just not following procedure.

Sources who had some knowledge of the case said that the most disturbing thing about the allegations was that the analyst's reports were authorised by managers.

READ: SAPS labs not like CSI, but get results - court hears in Van Breda trial

The whistleblower said there was a batch of more than 60 samples that all said there was "insufficient sample for further analysis".

"You can get one or two samples that come out saying there are not sufficient samples for further analysis, but not 60 in a row. That isn't possible," the source said.

"We believe she may have thrown the excess samples down the drain and then claimed there was not enough of the sample available to analyse."

If true, this could have been happening for many years, as the analyst previously worked in another forensic laboratory before joining the Pretoria Laboratory in 2013.

The source said the analyst was even once praised in a staff meeting for completing so many cases in such a short space of time. She was allegedly given a merit award and given a day off.

Bad managers

There are four laboratories in the country - Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town - and they play an important role in drunk driving cases, as well as post mortem and toxicology reports.

It is not the first time that the Pretoria Forensic laboratory has been at the centre of scandal. The 2015/16 Auditor General's report found that there was broken equipment and bad management at the lab.

The labs have been in the spotlight for a number of years, particularly because of the backlog in getting samples analysed and released, leading to long delays in finalising criminal cases.

The last time the number of backlogs at the labs was published was in 2014. At the time, it was heading toward 60 000 samples nationally.

Health department spokesperson Joe Maila said they were investigating all the allegations, including those that management may have had a role to play in what happened.

The situation needed to be improved, said the source, as it was putting drunk driving cases, post-mortem, drug and toxin reports at risk.

"People have been given criminal records and people have been denied insurance claims as a result of these fake and fictitious results," the source said.

"It's not acceptable and it can't be swept under the carpet."

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