Death By Fraud

Jim McCormick has been charged with fraud over his sales of a totally bogus explosives detection device, as reported in my earlier post  here.  I was beaten to the punch in writing about this bogus device by Barry Leiba back in November 2009.

Jim McCormick is a believer in dowsing, and that is what his gadget is based on.  It is a lump of plastic with a telescopic antenna.  It pays lip service to science by having exchangeable RFID chips to "detect" different substances.  The devices retail for 40,000 US dollars each.  Of the many countries which have bought these devices, Iraq alone has spent 85 million US dollars on them.  And they don't work.

The people who use these devices have been led to believe in their effectiveness through a trick of psychology.  Using one of these devices to determine which vehicles to stop and search is about the same in effectiveness as a random stop and search.  However, in a society which believes in the effectiveness of its gadgets, every positive result reinforces a reliance on the gadget: a most deadly reliance.

Reports are now coming out of Iraq suggesting that perhaps hundreds of people have died needlessly where these devices have led people to assume that no explosives were present.

Caveat: I am not a lawyer!

English law has a section for dealing with people who contribute to the needless death of others.  It's called manslaughter.  Having looked at the facts and the law, I conclude that Jim McCormack should be charged with multiple counts of gross negligence manslaughter.

Conduct, taking the form of an unlawful act involving a danger of some harm, that resulted in death, is manslaughter .  The selling of non-functional goods under a pretext that they are functional is fraud - an unlawful act.

The components of gross negligence manslaughter are:
An act or omission.
A risk of death, not necessarily obvious or forseen.
A duty of care.
A breach of that duty of care.

The act or omission must be a substantial cause of death, but it need not be the sole or main cause of death. It must have 'more than minimally negligibly or trivially contributed to the death'. - Lord Woolf MR in R v HM Coroner for Inner London ex p Douglas-Williams (1998) 1 All ER 344.

Now, any reasonable person having knowledge of the relevant facts could have forseen the risk of death from reliance on the ineffective ADE651 device to detect explosives.

The supplier of any device to security forces for the detection of explosives owes them a duty of care which duty is fulfilled by warning such persons of any defects or limitations of the device.  The duty of care test is more onerous if the supplier has, or is expected by any reasonable person to have, expert or specialist knowledge.

There is no scientific basis for demonstrating the effectiveness of the ADE651: in fact, scientists have determined it to be entirely ineffective.  If a person supplies an ineffective device to security forces knowing that their reliance on it may lead to the death of any person, then that is a clear breach of the duty of care.

It does not matter that the supplier of such a device believes in dowsing, chicken entrails or magic fairy dust.  The reasonable person test applies.  If any reasonable person having access to all of the facts would not have supplied the device, or would have supplied full and true information about tests of its effectiveness, then the person who fails to do that is guilty of gross negligence.

It would be a salutary lesson for other vendors of bogus products if the British authorities were to charge Jim McCormick with being a contributor to the deaths of so many innocents.  The science is clear, as is the law.

Further reading: