Police ignored fears over unqualified interpreters
Police used an interpreting company that recruited unqualified translators even after a criminal trial collapsed because one of its linguists told a suspect what to say.
Three police forces paid £1.1 million to ITL North East despite concerns over its employees because the interpreter told a suspect: “Don’t tell them too much.” Jan Kartak, 76, a Czech citizen, continued to be used as an interpreter after the transcript of the police interview resulted in the collapse of the trial in 2016.
Concerns over translations by the company also caused delays in the trial of an eastern European slave gang, costing the taxpayer about £200,000.
ITL, run by Grace Tia Bon Bon, recruited students at jobs fairs and used an untrained woman who had been in the UK for only a few months as a translator in a police interview.
Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland police forces have now stopped using the company but their expenditure on ITL was uncovered in a freedom of information request.
Stephen Bishop, of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, said: “I’m really concerned that people are being picked up off the street because they can speak a language and then are being used as interpreters. This seems to me to be a complete misunderstanding of what interpreting is about — it needs specific skills and a high level of language ability.”
Mr Kartak had been brought in to a police interview to interpret for a juvenile suspect but was unable to explain the police caution in full, meaning that the interview was not compliant with legislation. Transcripts obtained by BBC Newcastle revealed that Mr Kartak interrupted the suspect and said: “Listen, don’t tell them too much — just tell me what I ask you.”
The youth was tried at Teesside crown court with Jioi Istok and Michal Cina, charged with blackmail, in August 2016 but because of the quality of the interpretation the case collapsed. When it was heard again in October 2016 the juvenile was acquitted and the two men were convicted and jailed for three and a half years each.
Last year Mr Kartak worked on the case of the Rafael family, a gang of Slovakian gypsies jailed for 40 years for keeping slaves in the cellars of their homes. The trial, also at Teesside crown court, was delayed for three weeks while qualified interpreters examined the work of Mr Kartak and two of his ITL colleagues.
Northumbria police, which leads on interpreting services for the forces, requested a full audit of all ITL interpreters’ qualifications after concerns were raised at the slavery trial. It said that interviews were independently re-examined but this did not lead to any substantial change to the prosecution case. It confirmed that “the force has instructed a new supplier”.
The BBC investigation found that Eugenija Steponkut was among the students recruited by ITL at job fairs. She was driven to a Newcastle police station to interpret an interview with a Lithuanian man accused of attacking his partner. She said: “It had only been two or three months since I’d been in England in total so when I came there I didn’t get everything the policeman was saying. I tried my best.”
Ms Steponkut said that she had no interpreting qualifications and was given no training by ITL.
ITL said: “All interpreters supplied by ITL meet the qualifications required and are suitably registered. Students may be recruited but are only used when trained and registered.”