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Alleged Drug Cooks May Walk Free

Alleged Drug Cooks May Walk Free

"Alleged drug cooks caught making methamphetamine may go free as drug testing delays get even worse," says National's Police spokesman Tony Ryall.

"Criminal lawyers are now arguing that the wait for their clients is breaching the Bill of Rights, which requires people to be tried without undue delay. In the past four years, 40 cases have been thrown out of court because of time delays."

Last Wednesday, a depositions hearing in the New Plymouth District Court was postponed because ESR had not completed analysing the forensic evidence. See attached Daily News story.

Judge Bidois told the court it was extremely worrying because this case was considered minor compared with others waiting to proceed. "It is certainly a problem when you consider what is going to happen when we get to the big cases," Judge Bidois is reported as saying. ESR (the Institute of Environmental Science and Research) is reported to have confirmed this week it currently had 170 cases to deal with. This number was expected to grow to 300 by June.

"The Police Commissioner told Parliament last November that it would take a year to clear the then backlog of 130 cases and ESR admits it is struggling to cope with that workload.

"The Government was warned three years ago that this tidal wave of methamphetamine was coming. Both the National Party and the Police Association repeatedly warned Ministers that more resources were needed to tackle this scourge. It is now at crisis point.

"We run the very real risk that methamphetamine 'cooks' and dealers may go free because the Police can't get the necessary ESR tests done within a reasonable timeframe.

"This means even more of this insidious drug will flood our communities. These time delays are unfair to victims and the accused party, who may in fact be innocent but waiting in jail for months and months" says Mr Ryall.

In a briefing paper, ESR estimates 'it may need to deal with 300 meth labs in the 2003/2004 financial year and the organisation's staff capacity will need to be further increased. However given the extended training time required and the world shortage (of lab staff) this is not easy'.

"If the Government had acted two years ago, there would have been sufficient time to train adequate testing staff. Instead, ESR and the police had to beg for more money for their DNA laboratory in Auckland," says Mr Ryall.

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