Police not to blame for crashed van being sent to scrap-yard without owner’s knowledge

Published Date: 13.02.2015

A Police Ombudsman investigation has found that police were not to blame after a vehicle which was seized by officers following an accident was sent to a scrap-yard without the knowledge of its owners.

A recovery company had taken the van into secure storage following the collision, in which the van driver and three people in a car were injured. 

The van driver’s mobile phone was also seized by police to establish whether he had been using it at the time of the crash, which happened in April 2013 in Co. Antrim.

The company which owned the van later lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office, alleging that despite repeated enquiries and unreturned phone calls, it took two weeks to discover that the van had been removed from the secure storage and taken to a scrap-yard.

A company representative added that the van contained several thousand pounds worth of equipment, cash and the driver’s personal belongings. Although these were removed from the van before it was sent to the scrap-yard, she said they had lain “in an unsecure location for over a week” and were eventually recovered “more by accident than design.”

She also alleged that the investigating officer had been biased in favour of those in the car, whose representatives had been able to issue claim letters, while the company had still not been advised of the other parties’ details.

In addition, she said the mobile phone had still not been returned four and a half months after the collision, despite police stating that it was no longer required.

When a Police Ombudsman investigator looked at the case, she discovered that police had been unaware that the van, which had been written off following the accident, had been removed from secure storage.

She said it appeared that an insurance company had arranged for the vehicle to be moved. The PSNI apologised to the complainant and have since advised the recovery company to check with police before releasing vehicles.

The investigator also found that the police department responsible for analysing mobile phones had a backlog of work, which led to the phone being retained for longer than it should have been, before finally being returned.

However, the investigator found that police had conducted an extensive investigation and had properly updated the company about the case. She also found no evidence that either side had been treated more favourably.

No disciplinary recommendations were made against police as a result of the investigation.

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