Published on 1 Nov 2013

‘Extraordinary and disturbing’: the G4S tagging malfunction

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is being asked to launch an inquiry into the malfunction of a modified  curfew tagging system operated by G4S.

The move follows decisions by the Crown Prosecution Service to abandon four cases of suspected tampering. Experts said there’s a fundamental design fault in  the GPS tracking tag.

The four cases involved suspected terrorists curfewed under TPIM (terrorism prevention and investigation measures), which replaced control orders, who all live in different parts of the country.

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Each was separately accused of deliberately tampering with the device which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence on conviction.

One leading expert, Professor Ross Anderson from Cambridge University, said: “It is strange that the Ministry of Justice did not have the tags tested for strain imposed by people praying five-times a day.

“The defendants appear to have been wrongly prosecuted as a result of official incompetence.”

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said the original decision to prosecute was based on the “available evidence” which had included the opinion of an expert.

“Following further inquiries by the police and a review of new material we are unable to prove to the criminal standard that the subject of the TPIM deliberately damaged the tag,” the spokesperson said.

Threats to public safety?

G4S say  on its website that the technology associated with tagging has been thoroughly tested and has proven to be robust and reliable.

But another expert, Dr David Schudel, said the new, bulkier GPS version puts more strain on  straps that were designed for a lighter, previous model.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has called on his Conservative counterpart to assure the public that faulty tags have not put the public at risk.

He said: “To be in a situation where electronic tags are alleged to have malfunctioned not once, but on a series of occasions, really calls into question the competence of the company responsible and the government department supposedly monitoring the contract.

“We need urgent  answers from the companies involved and an immediate public assurance from the justice secretary that there hasn’t been any threats to public safety as a result of what has been uncovered.”

‘Extraordinary and disturbing’

A spokesperson for the Ministry of justice responded by saying “there is no risk”.

The spokesperson said: “There is no risk to public safety. We have been made aware of concerns relating to a very small number of GPS tags currently in use which may be overly sensitive to tamper alerts.

“This has yet to be confirmed and we are working with our suppliers to establish whether this is an issue.

“These tags are entirely different to radio frequency tags currently used to monitor all other offenders. The new generation of GPS tags, due to be introduced in 2014, are also distinct and are currently subject to robust testing.”

Lawyers for the four are calling for an inquiry into the reliability of the tagging system run by G4S.

In a letter to the justice secretary, seen by Channel 4 News,  Gareth Pierce and Matt Foot describe the situation as “extraordinary and disturbing”, and said it has given rise to wrong and negligent claims as a substitute for faulty equipment.

G4S, which is to lose the tagging contract amid allegations of overcharging, has declined to comment.

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