21 January 2006

ISO9001 and Quality Assurance

A very good friend of mine asked me this week what I hoped to achieve from this blog. Well, I guess a lot of the motivation comes from my own background as a quality assurance professional. It was my role for many years to look for real and potential problems in organisations and technical situations, in order to recommend corrective action and improve the performance of the companies I worked for. I believe I was very good at what I did and, a little like a dog with a bone, once I found some weakness or unexplained problem then I would not let up until I got to the bottom of it. This was partly due to my nature, but also as a result of my education, training and experience.

In the world of quality assurance, standards are all important and it is the systematic approach such as defined in International Standard ISO9001 which is now widely recognised. These standards are internationally agreed methods of working that establish a universal approach to how a good organisation should function. It was my job in the past, not only to design systems to meet these standards, but also to go around the company auditing it for compliance.

It was the deficient quality standards that caused me so much professional consternation in my own case. Having been profoundly shocked at the way prosecution evidence at my trial was being exaggerated, and the exhibits portrayed as more sensitive than they really were, I became acutely focused on what the prosecution was trying to do. In my mind this was a misuse of science to satisfy the whims of the prosecution lawyers, who didn't understand the technical issues anyway.

There has been much talk recently of the damaging way expert witnesses have been misused in court, and the CCRC has been critical of the part expert testimony has played in miscarriage of justice cases. In July 2005, the General Medical Council struck off paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow because of his "misleading" evidence in the Sally Clark case. Sir Roy was found guilty of serious professional misconduct, which was "fundamentally unacceptable". Sir Roy has been used as an expert in many other cases, and therefore this brings into doubt the verdicts in those trials as well.

Expert evidence played a major part in my own trial, and it resulted in a procession of prosecution experts arguing one interpretation of the evidence, against the handful of defence experts. In all of this evidence it was the testimony of MoD expert Dr Meirion Francis Lewis which played the key role in establishing a “guilty” verdict in the jury’s mind. It was Dr Lewis’s evidence that the prosecution and judge pointed to as a significant reason why the case involved sensitive material, important enough to endanger national security and lives.

Dr Lewis has now retired from his job at DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency), and he is a recognised expert in physics - he specialised in acoustic wave devices as well as optical signal processing. He has published many scientific papers in his field and is clearly eminent within the disciplines in which he worked. My criticism of Dr Lewis is that he was not sufficiently expert in the fields in which the prosecution used him as an expert witness in my case.

I discovered a large number of anomalies between Dr Lewis’s testimony and what I know to be the facts, as supported from information in the public domain and the normal deductions that an electronic engineer like myself can plainly see from their own experience. My defence expert, Dr Eamonn Francis Maher, thought the prosecution scientific evidence was in general not of a high standard, and in relation to Dr Lewis he said “there are points of disagreement in the evidence that he raised, important points of disagreement”.

I was anxious to resolve these technical anomalies I found in Dr Lewis's evidence, and having found the route via journalists and the media would be difficult - as you see the Ministry of Defence did not want me to mention any specific details about ALARM - I decided to contact MPs about the matter. You will notice, from an earlier post, the MoD are still unwilling to admit to Mr Andrew Mackinlay MP that there was anything wrong with Dr Lewis’s evidence, and several years ago the MoD also used weasel words to avoid answering a question put by Mr Harry Cohen MP on my behalf.

I genuinely wanted to give Dr Lewis a chance to explain how he had arrived at the evidence he gave in my case, as I am scrupulously fair in offering other parties the opportunity to put their side of the argument. I found Dr Lewis’s details on the Internet and on 7 December 2003 I phoned him at his home in Malvern. I just treated this like any other quality assurance task, and I decided on some pertinent questions to ask Dr Lewis. However, Dr Lewis was not interested in discussing how he had made his deductions about the Marconi document; he simply claimed he told the truth. I know Dr Lewis is an intelligent man, and I am also, but in the matters concerned we cannot both be correct.

I asked Dr Lewis why it was that it was he who had been chosen to give the evidence about the “restricted” document, rather than an expert from the Marconi company - he said my lawyers should have explained that to me. Well, it would surprise me if my lawyers knew anything about this, as Dr Lewis’s evidence came out of the blue - my counsel Rock Tansey QC even protested to the judge that most of Dr Lewis’s points had never been disclosed to the defence, until Dr Lewis spoke them from the witness box.