Published Date: 17.07.2006
A Police Ombudsman investigation into the death of a 19-year-old man who drowned in a stream following a collision with a police car, has strongly criticised police procedures and training for vehicle pursuits, but has found no evidence of misconduct by any of the officers involved.
Raymond Robinson drowned in shallow water after becoming trapped under a police car in Whiteabbey on 24 April 2004. Police had pursued him as he drove into, and then made off on foot, across grass and into an area known as The Glen.
Mr Robinson became trapped when the police car slid down a steep 12-15 foot bank and landed on top of him in a stream known locally as the Threemilewater. The accident happened at around 1.20am in an area unlit by streetlights.
Police officers tried but failed to free Mr Robinson and provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after 2.45am.
Police had been trying to stop Mr Robinson after receiving reports that a white Seat Toledo car matching the description of his vehicle was being driven erratically in the area. A member of the public reported at 1am on that he also believed the occupants of the car had been sniffing lighter fuel.
Details were relayed over the police radio network and a short pursuit took place after Mr Robinsons car drove through red traffic lights at the junction of Shore Road and Old Shore Road.
Police pursued the car as it turned onto the Glenville Road before mounting a kerb at Glenville Park and driving along a footpath towards the Glen. It then travelled at speed across rough terrain before skidding to a stop, at which point the driver ran off, followed by a police car.
The driver of the police car told Police Ombudsman investigators that just before the accident he had been driving at a speed of between 10 and 15 miles per hour due to the nature of the terrain and poor visibility. He said he had been following the car from "a safe distance" of around 45 metres, and had intended getting closer to the driver before chasing him on foot.
Subsequent forensic analysis of tyre tracks and braking patterns left at the scene confirm that the police car was likely to have been travelling at a speed of between 13 and 16mph before it reached the edge of the steep bank.
After being informed of the incident, Police Ombudsman investigators attended the scene, which was cordoned off for forensic analysis. They later interviewed civilian, police, ambulance and fire service personnel involved in the incident. Police documentation was examined, as were audio recordings of police radio transmissions.
A post mortem report revealed that although Mr Robinson had suffered a range of injuries, the cause of death was drowning. It also revealed that he had twice the legal driving limit of alcohol in his bloodstream at the time of his death, as well as traces of solvents and cannabis.
Forensic analysis of the police car showed no damage to the bonnet area. This suggested that Mr Robinson had not been run over at speed before becoming trapped.
A report was subsequently forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions who directed that there were insufficient grounds to prosecute any of the officers involved.
After reviewing the evidence of the case the Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, concluded that Mr Robinson's death had been "a tragic accident."
While no individual officer was guilty of misconduct, she said "severely deficient" police training and pursuit policies may have contributed to the fatality.
"From the evidence it is clear that police did not deliberately run into Mr Robinson," said Mrs O'Loan. "Visibility was poor and, although he was driving slowly, the driver of the police car was unaware until the last moment that he was approaching a steep drop, or that a collision with Mr Robinson was imminent. He and other officers at the scene did all they could to free Raymond from beneath the car.
"However, it is my conclusion that the pursuit should have been called off before the police car became involved in following the car off-road. "
Mrs O'Loan pointed out that neither the police driver or his front seat observer had informed the police regional Control Room about the pursuit, or sought authorisation for it.
"Although the entire pursuit lasted less than two minutes, opportunities to inform the Control Room of its nature were missed, denying the Control Room an opportunity to order that it be abandoned," she said.
Mrs O'Loan, however, found that the police pursuit policy was unclear as to when officers needed to seek authorisation for a pursuit. She also found that the officers involved had not been trained in pursuits or pursuits commentaries.
She concluded that it would be inappropriate to discipline the individual officers given that the Police Service had failed to provide them with adequate pursuits guidelines or training.
Mrs OLoan made a number of recommendations to the PSNI as a result of the investigation, including that:
a new pursuit policy, based on guidelines developed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, should be developed and applied across all of Northern Ireland
police Control Rooms should play a greater role in managing and controlling pursuits
specialist commentary training should be an essential part of police driver training
police drivers should be given guidance about the need for Control Room authorisation for pursuits.
The PSNI is now in the process of preparing for the implementation of a new pursuits policy.
Mrs O'Loan said: "It is my hope that the introduction of the new policy will greatly reduce the likelihood of such tragic incidents occurring in the future."