The Police Ombudsman’s Second Attempt

The last post published on 9th July 2018 showed that the Police, after some ten years, agreed that Carson in “all probability” was speaking to his wife on his mobile when he crashed into and killed my brother. You might wonder what conclusions they came to regarding my allegation that the original Police Collision Report was false and that  it contained at least 15 critical and fundamental errors( The False Police Report posted on 2 April 2018).  I will not return to Kennedy’s findings until some time later, but since I don’t think that you should be subject to prolonged cliff hangers, I can tell you that Kennedy also accepted that my findings were correct and the original Collision Report was wrong in those areas highlighted by me.

You may begin to wonder why  Kennedy was not asked to locate and interview the witness who heard the phone exchange between Carson and his wife. and why he did did not interview Carson’s wife on the subject of the disputed phone call. He did not try to establish  scientifically the speed of each vehicle given the mass of data. You might also wonder why Carson was never prosecuted for crimes not time limited.  You will have your own views, especially the response of the Chief Constable who didn’t pursue the case to its logical conclusion or consider the behaviour of McBride or White who cooked up the false Report in the first place.

I will give you my views  after I have dealt with Kennedy’s findings.

 

About two years later, in  July 2007, Mr Meehan called me and explained that the Police Ombudsman was reviewing some past cases and asked me if I would be prepared to take part. Given that Ms Nuala O’Loan was giving up the post of Police Ombudsman and was probably wishing to tidy up loose ends for the new incumbant Al Hutchinson, I immediately agreed and on the 25th July 2007, he called at my home in the company of Mr Kane. He was a Police officer recently seconded from the West Midlands Police to PONI for 2 years to assist them with their investigations into complaints involving collisions. He had over 20 years experience as a fully qualified Senior Collision Investigator.   I assumed that he had been brought in to raise the level of expertise in the organization.

We sat around the dinner table where I had arranged the large-scale map of the scene, which I had made by a professional plan drawer together with the help of a couple of  three dimensional scale models of the two cars, I went through all of the evidence I had obtained and showed  where it differed from the Forensic Report and the Police Report. The presentation took almost an hour and during that time, neither of my guests said anything.  At the end, I explained how the accident happened according to the evidence I had and my reasons for coming to my conclusions .

At the end, Mr Kane was the first to speak. He said that there was only one thing he found difficult to understand. If Carson was speeding and drifting the car along the road, why would he try to use his mobile phone. I couldn’t think of a detailed answer because I didn’t know so I said “sheer arrogance.” I don’t know if it satisfied him as an answer but he left it at that. (As it later turned out, my Drifting expert concluded that although the car was rigged for drifting, the corner was not sufficient to induce a drift and it was more likely that he simply lost control)

He said that he had read all the Reports in the case but he hadn’t visited the scene. He asked me why I thought that the Police Report had so many faults in it. I told him that it wasn’t my job to decide on why that was and that I had hoped the Ombudsman would have had a view, but I could give him a few possible reasons.

I said that I had heard that there was a canteen culture that it was easier to blame the dead driver in such collisions.

 I told him that Carson had many friends in the Police through his work and they may have been protecting him.

I explained that it might be a case of confirmation bias and gave some explanation of what that meant.

Finally I suggested that the Investigating Officer had come to a conclusion on the first night of the accident and simply wrote the evidence to fit.

He stated that it was unlikely that such a canteen culture existed. He said that he could not comment on the accuracy of the evidence that I presented but he thought that my investigation had been carried out to a professional standard and he would have been happy to give his name to such an investigation. He found the evidence convincing and could not find fault with it.

He said that so far he had investigated four or five similar complaints in my Police area and, with one exception, he had found the same pattern. In each case the Investigator had jumped to a conclusion and proceeded to write up the Report to match. He had little doubt that this was the cause in this case.

At this point Mr Meehan, who had been silent up till then, broke into the conversation and said that the meeting would have to be wrapped up as they would be late for another appointment. Mr Kane seemed a little baffled by this interjection, but continued with his review.

He said that he was shocked by the lack of experience and expertise of the officers tasked with the investigations, and that an MLA whom he named was about to present such a case to the Police Board in the next couple of weeks. He said that had he been the appointed Investigating Officer he would first have charged Carson with having an unsafe car on the road because the tyres had been reversed. After that, other charges could have followed.

Mr Meehan tried again to wrap up the meeting saying that we had run out of time.

Mr Kane speeded up saying that he could not believe that Forensics were not obliged to attend all fatal and serious accidents as is the case in England.

Out of the blue, he asked me if an Inspector White was involved in any way in the case. I told him that he was indeed involved and that he was Sergeant McBride’s supervising officer. I asked him why he should mention that name but he didn’t reply.

He said that he was shocked that only six police photographs were taken when he would have expected closer to sixty-six. (I had miscounted the seven photos given to me).  Mr Meehan was keen to get away to his next meeting but I persuaded him to let me show Mr Kane the Police video as I wanted his views on it. We sat down and watched the video. At the end of the showing, Mr Kane did not say anything but I got the impression that he was not much impressed.

Before they left Mr Kane explained that he was tasked initially to review existing cases and that his findings would not be used to add to the Ombudsman’s Report.

 I said to Mr Meehan that I thought that there was a lack of any sort of censorship of the police in his final Ombudsman’s Report and there was evidence that the police were already hiding behind it. He explained that he didn’t have any experience of collision investigation and did not have access to an expert until now. He said that he had a limited remit of dealing with disciplinary matters only.

As long last, I felt that someone in the Justice system had come to the same conclusion as me about the circumstances surrounding the collision and that now I wasn’t beating my head against an unbreachable brick wall. It was better than that. I had an expert from within the system who clearly had been recruited for his expertise and years of experience and whose opinion would be heeded.

 

It occurred to me that perhaps Mr Kane had expressed his views more forthrightly than Mr Meehan would have wished and I thought that perhaps that was the reason why he suddenly remembered the other meeting. It didn’t matter to me that Mr Kane probably hadn’t yet been on the Course dealing with the Techniques of Discreet Diplomacy required by any employee of an organization such as PONI. He expressed his views openly and I was grateful for that. I was sure that the PONI Report would be eventually amended or at least the case reviewed in light of the findings of their new expert. I was also sure that the police would have to look at the whole thing again.

The following day I phoned Mr Meehan and asked him if he or Mr Kane would consider writing a letter to me or to my solicitor expressing the flavour of the discussions and the findings of the review expressed at our meeting. I said that this would be a positive act to counter the PONI Report and findings. He said that he would put it to Mr Kane.

I spoke to Mr Kane that evening and he said that he would see what he could do but that any such letter would have to be first approved by management. He said that he had discussed the meeting with Mr Meehan afterwards and they had decided to consider approaching senior management to ask the Ombudsman to review the case.

About two weeks later, Mr Meehan phoned me to say that I would get a letter in a couple of weeks after it was approved by management. 

It was on the last day of August when Mr Kane phoned me. He had been on leave which accounted for the delay. He said that he had now written the letter and submitted it to his senior management for approval. He said that the letter included his approval of my investigation of the case and that he had found that it “held water.” He said that it contained criticism of the Police handling of the case, but management had already told him that it was not the Ombudsman’s job to criticise the Police. I began to believe that the letter would never see the light of day, at least not in any useful form.

Two weeks later, I was called to a meeting at the Ombudsman’s Office. Mr Meehan and Mr Kane were there together with a member of their Legal branch. It lasted about an hour which was the time it took them to tell me that it was no part of the Ombudsman’s writ to comment on the merit of evidence.  In short, Mr Kane may have been recruited to bring a level of expertise into the organisation, but his findings did not count for anything especially if they disagreed with the conclusions of the inexperienced Mr Meehan.

The original Ombudsman’s Report was never amended to reflect the input of Mr Kane.  In truth, that is not quite right. It was worse than that. It was later to transpire that the worst criticism of the Police was ameliorated and their actions were washed even whiter.

In February 2008 ( when the new Ombudsman Al Hutchinson had been appointed) Mr Meehan wrote to the Coroner:

“The Investigating officer, Sgt McBride stated that the evidence at the scene indicated that the car driven by Mr Lynn’s brother had crossed onto the wrong side of the road. There was no evidence at the time that Mr Carson caused Mr Lynn’s death by either careless or dangerous driving. The Police Ombudsman’s investigation concluded that Sgt McBride fully investigated all lines of enquiry, such as allegations that Mr Carson had been speeding or using his mobile telephone prior to the accident.

The vehicles were properly examined and the accident report compiled by Sgt McBride was factually based. The scene was photographed, mapped and video recorded and investigated in accordance with the force policy of the PSNI. The errors within the collision report were deemed to be administrative and the sergeant accepted full responsibility for them. This did not impact upon the collision investigation or the officer’s conclusions and there is insufficient evidence to prove any misconduct on the part of police regarding Mr Lynn’s allegations.”

He simply chose to ignore everything that Mr Kane found. He even ignored irrefutable evidence later presented to him – the statement by Carson that he had made a call at 1448 and that the Investigating Officer McBride (and White) knew about it.

Clearly Mr Meehan and more particularly the senior puppeteer who was pulling his strings had not allowed for someone like Mr Kane to tell the truth as he found it. They forgot that he was an honest Police Officer who had taken a solemn oath to tell the truth as he found it and without influence from anyone regardless of their rank. Maybe they had spent too much time interviewing members of the PSNI and picked up their bad habits.

It took another five years and a change of Police Ombudsman before this distortion of his findings to the Coroner was withdrawn. By then the damage was already done.

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