The Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland (PONI)’s First Response

 

 

I received the Police Report at the end of November 2004 and, a few weeks later, the initial batch of witness statements. At this stage I hadn’t received the few Police photographs taken on the night, Police video, the other statements or the Forensic Report. I was to receive the photographs and video in July 2005 and the Forensic Report less the Forensic photos, two weeks later.

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) was established in November 2000 as a public body to provide an independent and impartial Police Complaints Service, to receive complaints and to decide how to deal with them.

I had contacted PONI in September 2004 for some advice when I was beginning to suspect that the Police investigation had not been sufficiently thorough or professional. I phoned them again on 21st January 2005 and said that I wished to make a formal complaint against Police and outlined the reasons. It wasn’t known to me at the time that only complaints made within a year are considered by PONI and I fell outside that time limit.  Given that I didn’t receive the Police Report until the end of November 2004, some weeks outside the one year limit, it occurred to me that the Police might also be aware of the time limit on complaints to PONI and had held it back deliberately.  Thankfully, PONI had a record of my previous call in September 2004 and they agreed to take on the case. I’m still not sure who would investigate a complaint if it not made within the year. Is it the Police or is it simply ignored ?

I wrote a four page submission and listed my concerns. I included as much evidence as I had at the time.  Essentially it listed the errors and omissions of the Report, my concerns about the tyres, the excess speed of the Subaru, and the use of the mobile phone by Carson. My intention was to have the Police Report removed or amended and to have the accident reinvestigated by a properly trained Police Investigator.

By 30th March 2005, the Complaints Officer of PONI had reviewed the complaint and had decided to refer it to her own Investigation Section.

A meeting was set up with the PONI Investigating Officer Mr Meehan. I found Mr Meehan very amenable and sympathetic when we met. I knew nothing of his background or qualifications before his appointment to PONI.

 I also didn’t know until much later that this would be his first accident investigation related case.

After a few weeks I received a letter from Mr Meehan laying down the scope and limits of his investigation. He would not be investigating the causes of the collision, but whether the action of police officers at the scene and afterwards fell below the required standard. The Investigation would cover any errors or omissions in the Police Report, any alleged failure in duty, any failure to record debris, and any failure to comply with PSNI Force Policy regarding Road Traffic investigations.  I was happy with that and most of my concerns had been covered. In truth, all I wanted was for someone in the Police to recognize that their Report was completely unsatisfactory and misleading, and    accept that it should be set aside and the circumstances of the crash  re-examined.  I had one simple aim and I wasn’t in the business of damning the Police outright. Mistakes happen, and provided they are   acknowledged and put right, then the damage could be limited.  Mr Meehan suggested that there were four areas which should be referred back to the Police for reinvestigation.  These were the effect of the hedges on sight lines, the cause of Carson’s head injury, the ill fitted tyres, and the mobile call.

It was now some 18 months since my brother was killed and there was still no resolution. His family was becoming increasingly distressed at the delays and the lack of closure. I resolved that I would not be the cause of any delays and immediately contacted my solicitor to draft a letter to PSNI.

 About the same time, I received a letter from the PSNI to say that I could have photocopies of the seven police photographs for a fee of £140 and a copy of the video at a cost of £75.  I considered this to be an outrageous price but decided that we should have copies of them before sending the letter. We were also trying to obtain a copy of the Forensic Report  which  eventually arrived in the middle of July.

On 7th July Mr Meehan called to see me at home accompanied by a Police Officer on secondment from the Gwent Constabulary. I wasn’t too sure about the reason for the visit, but he told me that they still had some work to do, but so far they had come to the conclusion that the errors in the Report were as a result of inexperience and lack of competence on behalf of the reporting officer and there was no suggestion of a deliberate intention to deceive. They still had to firm up their recommendations which might include that the Police set up a dedicated unit to deal with fatal accident investigations. They agreed to consider my suggestion that they might ask the Police to withdraw the current Report or have it rewritten by an experienced officer, but the final decision would have to left to the Police.  They suggested that I may have to wait until the Coroner’s Inquest before I could challenge it and the Forensic Report. They stressed the limits of their powers in forcing the Police into a course of action.

 They agreed that there were errors in the Report but they didn’t have much power to do anything about it. I would have to wait for the final Report from them after we found out what the Police said in response to our questions and take it from there. I couldn’t imagine that the Police might allow a Report to stand when they knew it was full of errors, and that those errors were admitted by the writer of the Crash Report.

As it turned out, the Police Ombudsman is a paper tiger without any authority or power and the Police could simply ignore them at will.

 On 14th July 2005 my solicitor received the Forensic Report, and so the agreed letter detailing the four queries not dealt with by the Police Ombudsman was sent to Sgt Mc Bride the Investigating Officer. with a copy to the Chief Constable’s Office and one to the Police Ombudsman.

We received a reply to the letter some two weeks later written by  Inspector Ian White who held the appointment of Criminal Justice  Manager.  He had been the officer who recommended that there should be no prosecution of Carson in the Police submission to the PPS.

For the purposes of clarity, I will list the questions posed by us followed by Inspector White’s answers.

It was requested by PONI that the following points be referred to the Investigating Officer and the letter was addressed to Sgt McBride..

Question: Sight Lines

  • In paragraph 5.4, the Police Report does not actively reflect the view of the road ahead of the two drivers. Given an eye line height of 4ft and taking into account the various hedges and the incline of the road, both sight lines are restricted. You are asked to establish the sight lines of the two drivers involved and then to compare them with the Report and the written statement by Mr Carson. This error has both evidential and causal implications. You are also asked to accurately establish the sight line of witness 2 and include it in the Report. The first statement should also include whether or not she saw the red Renault cross the junction as stated by Mr Carson, as well as a clear indication as to whether she saw the cars impact with each other, and if not what she actually did see.

White’s Response

  • This has been completed in the original report and I do not agree this was an error. I do not see any reason to reinvestigate this section.

Question 2. Carson’s seat belt and injuries

  • In paragraph 6.1, the report failed to detail the head injury to Mr Carson as recorded in his medical report and in his own statement. We can only presume that the head injury was most likely caused as a result of this accident and possibly by Mr Carson’s head hitting the windscreen to the left of the steering wheel in the collision. With the absence of diagonal or shoulder bruising in his medical report, it would seem to suggest that he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision, and that he was saved only by the airbag. This has a bearing on the cause of the accident and the position of the vehicles at the point of impact, and therefore it would require further investigation or a reinvestigation.

.White’s Response

This is a summary of the injured and injuries sustained. If you are making the point Mr Carson was not wearing his seatbelt I suggest you employ relevant experts and follow this matter through the courts. I do not see any need for reinvestigation.

 

Question 3. Fitness of tyre configeration

It is not disputed that the Subaru was fitted with Bridgestone Potenza RE011 uni-directional tyres and that all four tyres were fitted against the required direction of rotation. On 22nd January 2004, the Police stated that the local Bridgestone representative had assured them that the tyres would have had no bearing on the cause of the accident. This is contrary to the views of Bridgestone in Canada and other reputable bodies who have been asked for their views. It is accepted that detailed research may have to be carried out to establish the effect ill fitted tyres might have but the Police Report should include relevant factors such as the condition of the road, weather, adverse camber, angle of corner, change of road surface etc., pending such tests.

White’s response

  • Police have been informed by a Bridgestone representative that the tyres had no bearing on the cause of the accident. If you wish to follow your assertions I suggest you employ the services of the relevant person you require in Canada to follow this up for you. I do not see the need for any further police investigation.

Question 3. Use of mobile phone at time of crash

  • It is a fact that a telephone conversation took place between Mr Carson and his wife at or around the time of the accident. Mrs Carson states that her husband phoned her immediately after the accident although Mr Carson does not mention it. The police have stated that they have checked Mr Carson’s  mobile account and he had not made a call at the relevant time. Witness 1 who was one of the first individuals on the scene, indicated that no call was made by Mr Carson and therefore it can be argued that there was very little time for Carson to initiate a call before witness 1 arrived. When one considers that Mr Carson had been injured as a result of this very serious accident, and in fact had broken both knees and had injured his head as well as other injuries, it is most unlikely that he was able to make the call and therefore it will be necessary to reinvestigate this matter to confirm exactly when the telephone call was made i.e. before the accident or just prior to the accident or as the accident happened. No doubt this would have a great bearing on the case once it is established when this phone call was actually made. We believe this is quite an important factor and can therefore not be left in abeyance.

White’s response

  1. Police have already checked the mobile phone account of this person, as agreed by you. No call was made at the relevant time on checking this account. Mrs Carson may state her husband phoned her immediately after the collision, however Mrs Carson was not present at the scene and cannot say when the collision occurred. Therefore no further investigation is necessary.For your information a forensic scientist on our behalf visited the scene and compiled a report on the collision in which his opinion is that the collision occurred in the Antrim bound lane of the road which is as described in the investigation.  (End)

In this last question,White simply lied. He knew that his file on the case contained a second statement from Carson written about two months after the crash in which he accepted that he made a call at 1448 to his wife when the Police Report showed a crash time of 1450.

We only found this out years later and so couldn’t challenge him then.

In question one, his response was wrong if only through ignorance since his opinion was completely overturned by Police some years later.

In Question two he was again proved wrong by both Carson and the Police some years later. Both PC Cochrane and the Insurance Company proved him wrong in his vehicle Inspection Report after the crash happened. White had PC Cochrane’s Report when he wrote his reply. He simply lied hoping that I would never see Cochrane’s Report.

In question three he also lied or was incompetent regarding the extent of his knowledge from Bridgestone about the ill fitted tyres. I presume this is what he was relying on for his evidence, a document turned over by the PSNI to me many years later.

You will note that this response from Bridgestone refers to their tyre RE010 when the tyres on Carson’s car were in fact RE011, a different style and type.

You should also note that there is a strange anomaly between the date of the letter ( 11th May 2004) and the date of the original query of it from PC Cochran (26th May )

I investigated this letter and will return to it later.

Not only did I find Inspector White’s replies arrogant and contemptuous in the extreme but he seemed to be cocking a snook at the Ombudsman who was asking for a investigation of these points. The police are the appointed investigators of fatal road crashes, but he was suggesting that we should find our own experts. He turned a blind eye to, or kept hidden, evidence in the Police Report and was suggesting that his investigator’s report was fine and accurate.

Inspector White was doing Sergeant McBride no favours by failing to acknowledge the errors in the Report. He was in a position to make the necessary corrections and additions. Had he done so then, in all probability, the matter would have ended there. Instead, he chose not to acknowledge the errors and omissions, and refused to accept the possibility that the Police had got it wrong.  His failure to respond properly and honestly to the queries by the Ombudsman made certain that he left himself open to disciplinary proceedings and possible removal from the PSNI when the facts emerged. Had he been called befiore a Court to give such evidence under oath, he would most probably been found guilty of perjury and subject to criminal penalty including a term in prison.

If you conclude that such an action should be initiated against him, what chance do you think it will happen ?

The Coroner made sure he wouldn’t be called as a witness, but more details of that later.

The Police would continue to use the conclusions in the Forensic Reports time and time again to justify their actions even though that Report relied at least in part on an inaccurate and false Police Report. It was to prove to be an unbreakable circle of mutual reliance. 

As stated above the so-called Report which the Police supposedly got from the Bridgestone Company was never produced until 10 years after the crash when it was assumed that I would have given up and gone away.

The next post will deal with the First Ombudsman’s Report in full. It will represent the rotten part of the curate’s egg, but don’t despair, later dealings with PONI were much more palatable.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s