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Watchdog group weighs up 'public concerns' on clearing path for removing fear of pursuit prosecutions


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Could three police-related fatalities on roads have put the brake on changes to laws.

Drawing a line: Have latest deaths changed stance on pursuit legislation?

Drawing a line: Have latest deaths changed stance on pursuit legislation?

Date - 28th January 2019
By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle
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Three police-related fatalities on the roads within hours may mean a “big announcement” on the future of more protection in law for pursuit drivers has to be parked for now.

Years of campaigning on a formal strategy looked to have secured the support of the police watchdog to back officers who are appropriately trained to be able to pursue suspects or respond to emergencies “without fear of prosecution or disciplinary action”.

The necessary changes were set to be given a ‘voice’ at the Police Federation roads policing conference on Tuesday in a keynote speech by its portfolio lead Sergeant Tim Rogers.

But attempts to prevent more officers suffering “unnecessary and often mendacious” litigation could have literally been ‘hit’ by the tragic events of midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday lunchtime.

In that brief timespan:  

  • Off-duty PCSO Holly Burke, 28, died when her car was struck by a vehicle that failed to stop for West Midlands officers following a police pursuit in Birmingham on Tuesday night;
  • At around the same time in Walthamstow, east London, Eritrean refugee Luam Gebremariam died after being hit by a police car responding to an emergency call; and
  • At midday on Wednesday, 74-year-old Jessie Whitehead suffered fatal injuries after being struck by a Warwickshire Police car responding to a reported “road safety hazard”. She was riding a mobility scooter.

In August the Independent Office for Police Conduct totally accepted the view the law does not take into account the expert training and experience of police drivers.

Police drivers involved in pursuits or responding to emergencies are currently held to the driving standard of a “careful and competent” motorist. That, the IOPC stated, needed the word ‘motorist’ changing to ‘police driver’.

It added: “We would like the legislation to specifically state that this is a police driver ‘trained to the relevant appropriate standard.’

“This separate standard will allow investigators and the Crown Prosecution Service to take account of a driver’s higher level of training and skill. It will also reinforce the importance of police drivers receiving high quality training.”

But the trio of police-related fatalities on roads in London and the Midlands bring into the spotlight “concerns from a public perspective”, according to the IOPC, as do these figures.

There were 29 police-related fatalities on the roads in 2017-18, of which 17 were "pursuit-related", according to IOPC. Eight involved police vehicles responding to emergency calls.

In the previous year, 2016-17, there were 32 fatalities on the roads involving the police. Of those, 28 related to pursuits and none involved police responding to emergency calls.

There have been 253 police-related fatalities on the roads in the last decade – the worst year being 2008-9 when the deaths numbered 40.

IOPC deputy director general Ian Todd told Police Oracle: “The death of even one person on the roads, let alone three in such a short space of time, will be of concern, and we extend our sympathies to the families of those who have been killed and everyone else affected.

“We will be independently investigating these incidents based on their own unique sets of circumstances.

“Importantly, as well as examining whether the police drivers were suitably trained and followed agreed police policies and procedures we will also look to see if there are changes and improvements which can be made to those procedures to reduce the risks of deaths and serious injuries in the future.”

The IOPC admits it has been working behind the scenes with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing “on this area of policing”.

The group intends to meet very shortly with road safety organisations to “look at concerns from a public perspective”, adding: “We want to focus our work on where we can maximise learning and influence change.”

The safety charities find themselves in an ambivalent position on the issue.

A spokesman for Brake told Police Oracle: “The police must be able to respond quickly to emergency situations, but this must be balanced with any potential danger posed to the public by their emergency driving.

“Any death on the road involving the emergency services has to give serious cause for concern, and we would encourage police chiefs to review and update their guidance for their officers who are responding to emergency calls or engaged in ‘blue light’ pursuits.”

Nick Lloyd, acting head of road safety for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "This type of driving creates a significant extra risk to the police officers in the car and to other road users.

"The public safety risk to which the police are responding, and the risk created by the emergency drive, must be balanced. Emergency blue light drives should only be undertaken when essential, and by authorised and trained police drivers."

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