A police officer has been convicted of careless driving after his armoured Land Rover veered across the road and collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle.
The female driver of the other vehicle sustained serious injuries in the collision, which happened on the Glenshane Road, near Maghera, shortly after 6am on 4 March 2013.
The police driver (Officer A) had been on duty for 15 hours at the time, and had been asked about 10 minutes before the crash whether he was tired or OK to continue to drive.
Colleagues travelling in a vehicle behind him recalled sounding their horn and using their radio to alert him when they saw his vehicle drifting across the road. They said he braked, but not in time to avoid the collision.
Civilian driver sustained multiple injuries, was hospitalised for a week and required ongoing treatment.
The female driver sustained multiple injuries to her neck, back, legs and arms. She was hospitalised for a week and required ongoing outpatient treatment.
The incident was not referred by police to the Police Ombudsman’s Office until nearly three hours after the collision, by which time the scene had been cleared and the road reopened.
The scene was photographed under the supervision of Police Ombudsman investigators, and both vehicles were examined by trained examiners, who found no defects with either.
Statements were obtained from all the officers involved, as well as from the female driver and a doctor and paramedic who had treated her. Relevant police records were also examined.
Enquiries established that the Land Rover which crashed was one of a convoy of four returning to Belfast after being posted to Derry/Londonderry the previous evening. On the way back, the vehicles stopped on the Belfast side of Dungiven so that a colleague could take over from a driver who reported being tired.
Officer A was also asked if he was tired and wanted a colleague to take the wheel. He replied that he was all right but would say if he did.
Police driver said he had not felt tired earlier and could not explain why his vehicle had crossed onto wrong side of road.
When interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators under criminal caution, Officer A said that he had not felt tired when asked, and could offer no explanation as to why his vehicle had drifted onto the wrong side of the road.
An examination of his duty roster showed that the officer had been off-duty for 22 hours before commencing duty on the evening before the collision. This was within recommended guidelines.
A preliminary breath test conducted by another officer following the collision produced a reading of zero. Officer A’s phone was also examined, and showed no signs of having been in use at the time of the crash.
At the conclusion of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation a file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service, which subsequently directed that the officer should be prosecuted for the offence of Careless Driving Causing Grievous Bodily Injury.
The officer appeared in court in June 2014 and pleaded guilty. He was disqualified from driving for 12 months, ordered to take a re-test at the end of the period of disqualification, and fined £300 with £15 costs.
The Police Ombudsman also recommended that he should be disciplined as a consequence of being convicted of a criminal offence. The recommended sanction has since been imposed by the PSNI.
No misconduct recommendations were made against two police sergeants in respect of the timing of the referral to the Police Ombudsman’s Office. Guidelines require police to refer traffic collisions involving officers in which a member of the public sustains serious injury.
Enquiries showed that the incident was referred when the officers became aware of the extent of the woman’s injuries.