The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is at the heart of a scandal whereby two UK forensics labs were found to have manipulated test data, affecting tens of thousands of victims. The scandal has seen the arrest of employees of two Manchester-based laboratories, Trimega and Randox, both of which were accredited to ISO 17025 by UKAS. The tests were used in criminal prosecutions, paternity tests and other usages, and may have led to wrongful convictions, separation of children from rightful parents, and other serious victimizations.
The Randox criminal investigation found that the two employees now in police custody had previously worked for Trimega, which is now being investigated for data falsification occurring between 2010 to 2014. Trimega was also accredited by UKAS.
From publicly available records to date, it appears UKAS maintained Trimega’s ISO 17025 accreditation until the company was liquidated. Randox received its own UKAS accreditation, which remains in effect now, even though the criminal investigation has been widely reported. UKAS officials have not responded to a request for clarification on how why the accreditation has not been withdrawn.
ISO 17025 is an international quality management system standard for test laboratories, and accreditation to the standard is intended to provide evidence of the validity and trustworthiness of the lab’s results. The UKAS website claims the following of its ISO 17025 accreditation services:
UKAS accreditation not only provides authoritative assurance of the technical competence of a laboratory to undertake specified analyses but also reviews particular aspects relevant to the Criminal Justice System, for example, continuity of evidence, management of casefiles, storage of exhibits.
Accreditation rules require bodies such as UKAS to review the accreditation status of client organizations in the event of such events, but UKAS appears not to have done so.
Trimega’s Manchester laboratory also held a separate ISO 9001 certification issued by Lloyds Register (LR), formerly known as Lloyds Register QA (LRQA). The ISO 9001 certification would have attested that Trimega also meets international standards for general quality management.
Revealing a long-standing conflict of interest inherent in the accreditation scheme, LR is itself accredited by UKAS as well. The dual roles of accreditation bodies such as UKAS, who offer simultaneous accreditation to labs and to the ISO 9001 registrars that certify them, has been the subject of controversy. Under such an arrangement, UKAS would be enticed to overlook malpractice by LR so that its own relationship with the given client was not harmed. UKAS would have received income from both LR and Trimega in that arrangement, reducing its incentive to enforce accreditation rules.
This is not the first scandal involving UKAS and Lloyds. In 2014, the Hungarian company Hoerbiger was found to have submitted a forged LR ISO 9001 certificate to gain illegal access to an INA Oil contract. Rather than report the crime or sue Hoerbiger for trademark violation, LR instead awarded Hoerbiger a valid ISO 9001 certificate in exchange for a 3-year auditing contract, helping Hoerbiger cover up the incident. When this was reported to UKAS, UKAS acknowledged the incident was based on a forgery, but sided with LR and found no wrongdoing, despite the actions contradicting explicit accreditation rules. Criminal attorneys in Hungary confirmed to Oxebridge that the alleged acts by Hoerbiger were in violation of that country’s criminal codes. Because no victim stepped forth, no criminal complaint was ever filed, and the parties escaped possible prosecution.
UKAS and LR were also involved in another scandal, from 2011, when it was revealed that the Israeli company Carmel Forge had falsified data related to aerospace components. Carmel Forge held ISO 9001 certification also issued by LR, and accredited by UKAS.
Another incident involved the company Datix, which owns a data management software package reported to have caused serious problems at one New South Wales hospital, including erroneous reporting of patient falls and medication mistakes. Despite widespread reporting of the scandal, Datix maintained ISO 9001 certification by Alcumus ISOQAR, which was also accredited by UKAS.
UKAS previously ran to the defense of Alcumus ISOQAR in a separate scandal, after the registrar was found to be running a program which would offer alcohol, dinners and financial rewards to ISO 9001 consultants who referred clients to Alcumus ISOQAR. Such arrangements are prohibited under accreditation rules, but UKAS cleared Alcumus of any wrongdoing, without explanation.
UKAS has significant connections with the British government, and has managed to have its accreditations enshrined in some British laws, making their position in the UK economy an entrenched one. Ministers have been resistent to investigate UKAS.
UKAS’ accreditations are overseen by the International Accreditation Forum, but that group has refused calls to investigate UKAS.