A CHEF is launching legal action against a forensic testing company at the centre of a major investigation after he was wrongfully convicted following an inaccurate drugs test result.

Billal Hartford was found guilty of drug driving – despite insisting he was innocent – after a swab taken by police came back as positive.

The 21-year-old, of Skutterskelfe, near Hutton Rudby, North Yorkshire, was banned from driving for 12 months and lost his job as he could no longer get to work.

However, after seeing national news reports detailing alleged manipulation of forensic results at Randox Testing Services (RTS), he contacted police to find his sample had been sent there.

When retested, it was found to be clear and his conviction was quashed after six months and his licence returned.

Police have since suspended all contracts with the Manchester-based company after two scientists were arrested on suspicion of tampering with data.

Police Minister Nick Hurd has said RTS is "co-operating" in retesting forensic samples after an investigation led to a review of more than 10,000 cases involving 42 forces across the country – some involving rape and murder.

North Yorkshire Police has said it will be retesting nearly 500 cases.

Mr Hartford said: "I simply can’t believe how peoples’ lives can be ruined by being wrongly convicted of crimes.

"Forensic results are seen as being the undisputed evidence – but it is not the case now."

"It may not seem the most serious of convictions but your driving licence is your freedom and that was taken away from me."

Mr Hartford has launched a legal action against RTS through human rights and civil liberties specialists Hudgell Solicitors.

“I’m taking legal action because I want something back for them ruining six months of my life.

“I live in a rural area and losing my driving licence affected me massively. I had just started a new job working as a chef and I lost that job because I couldn’t drive.

"Then I couldn’t get a new job. I was depressed because I was stuck not being able to do anything."

He was stopped by police in August last year and asked to provide a roadside saliva swab.

“They said they’d stopped me because they’d had reports of a car similar to mine driving erratically, so that is fine, I have no issue with that,” he said.

“One of the officers said he thought he could smell cannabis – and I admit that I did have some cannabis in the car. I am an occasional user.

"The next thing I knew I was under arrest for possession, taken into custody and I was interviewed."

He denied the drug-driving charge but was found guilty at court.

Phil Cain, Assistant Chief Constable of the North Yorkshire force, said last week that the Forensic Science Regulator has decided that toxicology (drug) test results handled by RTS from late 2013 cannot be classed as reliable.

He said: "A total of 493 local cases, mostly drug-driving motoring offences, will be retested over time.

“To date, 97 samples in North Yorkshire have already been submitted for re-testing.”

Mr Hartford added: "I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. Some might face jail for doing nothing wrong and that is disgraceful.”

In a statement, RTS said: "In January this year RTS acted as a whistle-blower when it alerted authorities after it uncovered evidence of alleged data manipulation at its laboratory in Manchester. Two former employees remain on police bail.

"RTS deeply regrets the distress that has been caused; it is committed to doing what it can to resolve the situation and continues to actively support the police investigation. 

"As reported by the NPCC on 21st November, retesting of samples has not impacted on crime cases, and fewer than 10 per cent of drug-driving cases have been discontinued."