Monday, July 12, 2004

To protect and serve...

As is all too often the case these days, when our boys in blue are not locking up citizens, they are mowing them down.

The BBC has reported today that a cyclist in South Yorkshire has died after a collision with a police car crash. The man, who is believed to be in his early 40s, was cycling towards Hellaby at 1210 BST when the accident happened on Rotherham Road in Maltby.

He was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital in Rotherham. Two officers inside the car were treated for shock and minor injuries.

This is one of a long line of police incidents, which are causing considerable concern. The following narrative is taken from my own document called "Unsafe at any speed", which, although it needs updating, gives a flavour of the problem.

"One of the most notorious incidents in recent times was when a police driving instructor, driving an unmarked, high performance Rover 827 on the A10 at Harston in Cambridgeshire, ran into a nurse’s car and killed her.

PC Gerard Sharratt was involved in a 100mph training exercise, with three students in his car, acting as a ‘bandit’, being chased by another car driven by a police student. He rounded a left hand bend and ‘did a double-take’ when he saw cars queuing in front of him, braked, skidded and hit the stationary car owned by Miss Judith Wood, 27, at 56 mph. Sharratt had been driving at between 100 and 116mph when he had braked.

Then, in March 1996, Channel 4 TV news presenter, Sheena McDonald, was knocked down and seriously injured by a police van answering an emergency call to a fight in Holloway, north London.

But by no means all accidents occur while police vehicles are responding to emergency calls. In 1997, PC Adrian Ward was taking Shelley Simmonite, 15, home to her parents after she had been arrested for suspected shoplifting. Driving at up to 120mph, he had gone through a red light and had lost control, hitting a van. He was estimated to have been travelling at 65-75mph when had applied the brakes. Shelley was killed in the crash.

In 1996, after the Cambridgeshire incident, police were being urged to review their pursuit training and, in 1998, the Lund report recommended that all police involved in pursuits be given special training. But, in November 2000, it was being variously reported that the number of deaths from accidents during police chases had risen by more than 50 percent, by 140 percent and, in December, by 300 percent.

Either way, 22 people had been killed during police chases and there had been nine deaths arising from other police road accidents. Overall, there had been 17,300 road accidents involving the police in 1998. Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, observed:

There is worrying evidence (that) the skill and judgement of some police officers is open to question and criticism.
Nor are police evidently great respecters of traffic laws – or, at least, any greater respecters than ordinary people. That was a finding of the TRL, which suggested that only nine percent of magistrates and 11 percent of police would observe the 30mph limit on an urban road in clear daylight with little traffic. And, apart from the celebrated case of Home Secretary Jack Straw’s police driver who escaped prosecution despite driving at 103mph on the M5, there have been a number of other high profile embarrassments.

In 1996, Ben Gunn, the Chief Constable of the Cambridge Police, was seen driving at 90mph on the M11. At least he was given a fixed penalty ticket and three penalty points. But not so the chauffeur of Dennis O’Connor, head of the Surrey police, who in December 2000 saw his driver escape without sanction when his car was pulled over by his own officers on the A3 near Guildford, despite his driving at 78 mph in a 50 mph zone.

Others had not been so fortunate. In September 1999, three policemen were banned from driving after being caught riding their motorcycles at 110 mph through one of their own speed traps, on a road with a 60 mph limit."

If anything, the number of accidents involving police cars over the last few years has increased. With it has been - in my experience - a significant deterioration in the courtesy exhibited by police on road patrols - who are often truculent and ill-mannered when stopping motorists.

But this does not stop them giving their little homilies about "road safety" to their captive audiences, often based on propaganda rather than reality. I have to say that, during the last lecture from such a constable - considerably my junior - I told him that, when the police could match my own safety record on the road, they would be in a better position to lecture me about my driving.

Certainly, their case would be strengthened if they were able to lead by example, which these days does not seem to be the case.


At 3:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened to the driving training centre at Hendon? Don't they teach police drivers any more?

At 5:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The driving centre at Hendon teaches Metropolitan police drivers much the same as each force has their own driving centre.

The drivers still need real road practice. It is a delicate balance to train suitably and to avoid accidents.

At 4:55 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should run a "shotgun" car to make sure the road is free of obvious dangers such as queues and the "dangerous" manouvers kept for the test track. Cambridgeshire Police have some atrocious drivers, some day I will video them, cutting corners on a blind bend, speeding without blue lights on, driving too close etc...

At 7:04 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

08/09/06 - As a Class 1 Advanced Police Driver, I drive to emergency response incidents every day and its ok to point out when things go wrong but when you look at how many emergency incidents are attended every day and how many miles are clocked up everyday (we have a '53 plate vehicle with 100,000 miles on the clock) the amount of accidents are miniscule. Unfortunately, due to the type of driving we do, when accidents do happen, due to the increased speeds, they can be more serious.

At 10:28 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

with regards to the accident in 1996 when shelley simmonite was killed in a speeding unmarked police car my name is emma cubbin and i was traveling in that car with my friend shelley when the accident occured i survived with surprisingly minor injurys but will be forever scarred by the events of that day. pc adrien ward however recieved a £500 fine and 5 points on his drivers licence!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! where is the justice?


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