Page last updated Friday 4th October 2013 at 1435hrs
One of the tipping points in the public’s relationship with the police is often the approach of officers towards traffic offences. Rightly or wrongly, large sections of the population believe that driving transgressions are pursued disproportionately compared to crimes such as burglary or other acquisition crimes. It does, therefore, stick in the throat of many when police officers blatantly break the law (or other traffic regulations or restrictions) followed by a laissez-fair or even ‘cover up’ approach by their own Force. Some of the more recent West Yorkshire Police trangressions are highlighted here:
1. On Saturday 1st June, 2013 two police officers – a female and male constable – had been responding to report of youths causing trouble in the Pudsey Park in the suburbs of Leeds. They arrived in the park at 2.15pm and had parked up the West Yorkshire Police vehicle on a hill before making their way to speak to the group of rowdies. The police van then rolled forward and struck 83 year old grandfather, Donald Bennett, who had been eating an icecream in the afternoon sunshine. Paramedics were called to the scene in Church Lane, Pudsey, but the Mr Bennett died of his injuries.
One local resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “I did not know Mr Bennett. The van rolled on into him. People have said what had happened. They said the man was dead. It is the talk of the town this morning. It was a sunny day yesterday. He was probably out for a walk in the park. There was an ice-cream van parked up there. It is there all the time.”
Another witness, dog walker Barry Smith, witnessed the tragedy on Saturday afternoon and corroborated the account of the first witness. He said: “Apparently, the officers jumped out to go to speak to the young lads who were being a nuisance and left the handbrake off. The van rolled forward and crushed Mr Bennett to death. He couldn’t move because he needed two walking sticks to get around. His son had left him sitting on a wall eating his ice cream while he went ahead to watch the bowls”.
In a statement, West Yorkshire Police said the matter was immediately referred to the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Curiously, the police statement said Mr Bennett had been ‘walking in the park’ and contained no message of condolence to his family which was quite extraordinary in the circumstances. The constable in charge of the Vauxhall has been suspended from driving police vehicles pending the outcome of investigations.
2. The IPCC is also carrying out an investigation after an unmarked police car was involved in a crash with a bus in Leeds just 4 days after the Pudsey fatality. A grey BMW X5 police car and a Number 2 First bus service collided at the junction of New Briggate and Merrion Street in Leeds city centre shortly after 8am on Wednesday 5th June 2013. The police officer driver was treated for minor injuries in hospital before being discharged. The bus driver was treated for shock, but no passengers were injured.
A West Yorkshire Police press office spokesman said the matter had been referred to the IPCC to investigate whether further action needed to be taken. A First bus spokesman said an internal investigation had also been launched into the circumstances of the crash. A witness, who did not wish to be named, suggested that the police vehicle had pulled out in front of the bus. This account appeared to be borne out by the picture at the top right of this page.
3. Driving whilst using a mobile phone, quite rightly, costs around 7,000 West Yorkshire motorists every year a fine and 3 penalty points on their driving licence. It is a dangerous practice and the cause of many serious road traffic collisions. It is, therefore, hugely surprising that the local police force seem to take a quite different view when this transgression involves one of its own officers. Elsewhere on this website (http://www.upsd.co.uk/di-peter-howarth/) we cover the case of DI Richard Cawkwell who was not prosecuted “in the public interest” even after a fellow officer, DI Peter Howarth, had originally lied to colleagues in an attempt to cover up the offence. The matter was aggravated by the fact that both Howarth and Cawkwell were Professional Standards detectives at the time. More recently, and again within days of the Pudsey fatality, a concerned member of the public took the photograph featured at the top right of this page. All entreaties to West Yorkshire Police to identify the driver and confirm that he will face the same sanction as a member of the public have been refused. A formal complaint is now to be lodged with the Force in order to force the issue.
4. West Yorkshire Police is often described by officers in neighbouring police forces as a ‘Gung-ho outfit’. The picture we have featured at the top left of this page would serve to demonstrate that. It was taken by a member of the public on Tuesday 11th June, yet again within days of the Pudsey fatality, and shows a van driver taking a short cut to Pontefract Police Station and jamming his vehicle under a height restriction barrier. As with the mobile phone incident above all enquiries to West Yorkshire Police to identify the driver and confirm that he will face the same sanction as a member of the public have been ignored. Again, a formal complaint is now to be lodged with the Force in order to force the issue.
5. On Thursday 29th August 2013 a heavy duty Iveco police van crashed with a Honda Civic on Thursday night at the notorious Hipperholme crossroads on the outskirts of Halifax. The police van was travelling down Denholme Gate Road towards Brighouse at 9.20pm. It was on an emergency call with sirens and blue lights on when it collided with the Honda Civic which was turning right from Leeds Road. A West Yorkshire Police spokesperson is quoted as saying: “A police vehicle was responding to and emergency incident travelling towards Brighouse. On approaching the traffic lights it came to a halt and and proceeded through the lights at low speed when it collided with the vehicle which was turning on to Denholme Gate Road.” The same spokeswoman said that the incident would be “reviewed” but that there is no investigation ongoing. A picture of the damaged Honda can be viewed by clicking here. It doesn’t appear consistent with a low impact crash and we are hoping the Honda driver may come forward with their own version of the collision.
6. Just over two days after the traffic accident described in 5. a more serious incident occured when one driver died and three other passengers were critically injured in a traffic accident in Burley, a suburb near the centre of the city of Leeds. The collision was between a Vauxhall Astra containing four men, all from Leeds, and a Skoda Superb taxi at the junction of Burley Street and Burley Road in Leeds at 12.40am. It left a 22-year-old front seat passenger in the Astra dead and two others in the vehicle – a back seat passenger aged 27 and the 24-year-old driver – critically injured. The 35-year-old taxi driver, from Bradford, also had what West Yorkshire Police said were “life-threatening injuries” and was detained at Leeds General Infirmary. A fourth passenger in the Astra, aged 27, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of an unrelated offence of perverting the course of justice. A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “Officers followed in the direction the Astra made off in, but were not involved in a police pursuit and came across the scene of the collision a short time later.” This contradicts early reports of the acident which suggested that the Astra was being pursued by the police car. The spokesman added: “The matter has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) who have attended the scene.” However, the IPCC announced on 2nd September that they were not investigating the matter after an initial assessment of the evidence. Oddly enough, the normally prolific Twitter log of the West Yorks Police helicoper (@NPAS_CarrGate) is silent concerning the incident and does not report being elsewhere at the material time.
7. In early September 2013 a police sergeant based at the notorious Killingbeck police station (read more here) was caught drink driving. That in itself is bad enough but he was found to be THREE times over the prescribed limit. Even in ordinary circumstances that is an appalling dereliction of your responsibilities to fellow drivers and citizens but with loss of life at the hands of police drivers so recent in the memory it simply beggars belief. More so when uPSD discover that two very experienced detectives in the West Yorkshire Force have also been arrested for drink-driving. Weetwood based DI Neil Thompson (better known as Thommo) and DC Jim Steele. Both have served more than 25 years in the police. Thompson, an outspoken officer who sharply divides opinion within his own Force, is denied the offence claiming that his drinks were spiked. He appeared at Wakefield Magistrates on 30th September, 2013 and was cleared of the offence after Magistrates, led by Roger Grasby a former Member of the disgraced West Yorkshire Police Authority, accepted an incredulous story involving a steward of a working men’s club adding vodka to the soft drinks bought by a man who knew to be a police officer. (Read more here). Two whistleblowers have come forward with further information regarding “Thommo” and that is currently being evaluated by uPSD.
A third officer, PS Simon Harrison, has brought further shame on the thoroughly disgraced Killingbeck police station after being arrested whilst more than three times over the drink driving limit. Harrison, a former custody officer at Killingbeck has more recently operated as a NPT sergeant in the nearby Crossgates area of Leeds. He was due to appear at Leeds Magistrates on 25th September, 2013.
8. A recent raid on Killingbeck police station netted an officer’s car with a bald tyre parked in the police station car park. Faulty tyres are responsible for a significant portion of fatal RTC’s particularly on motorways.
Eight incidents of varying degrees of seriousness, from needless fatalities downwards and all within a ten week period, should have produced a definitive and re-assuring response from West Yorkshire Police. But all we have is the usual downplay and cover-up. More importantly, the person elected to protect the public interests in matters of this nature, Police Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, is again conspicuous only by his absence.
On a more historic note we highlight this case where a police officer used a vehicle to repeatedly attack a suspect. On 18 March 2012, West Yorkshire Police officer PC Steven Mullaney and his Lawcroft House colleague PC Darren DaCosta stopped 37-year-old Anthony Shaw in his vehicle in Mary Street, Bradford. As Mr Shaw tried to run away on foot from the officers, PC Mullaney “nudged” him three times with his Vauxhall Vectra patrol car. After his arrest on suspicion of a number of driving offences, Mr Shaw was taken to hospital with a number of abrasions and other injuries, which included a damaged shoulder and sprained ankle. PC Mullaney was accused of dangerous driving, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and perverting the course of justice. But on 18 February 2013, a jury at Sheffield Crown Court cleared Mullaney, of Queensbury, Bradford who said in his evidence he had done “no more than was necessary” to help arrest Mr Shaw. A spokesman for the IPCC said: “It is alleged the officer deliberately used the vehicle to stop the man and then made an attempt to conceal evidence about the incident.” Following Mullaney’s Court acquittal, the IPCC were considering whether Mullaney still has a case to answer for disciplinary charges where the burden of proof is balance of probabilities rather than the criminal test of beyond reasonable doubt.
More to follow……….