Police car that killed grandfather was racing at 'unjustifiable speed'

Police car that mowed down and killed grandfather, 79, at 57mph on 999 call-out was racing at ‘unjustifiable speed’ given its siren was OFF, rules coroner

  • David Ormesher, 79, was hit at 57mph by the police vehicle in Brighton in 2017
  • He was pronounced dead after suffering a serious head injury and cardiac arrest
  • PC Richard Harris faced an inquiry over gross misconduct claims last year
  • He was cleared of gross misconduct relating to speed but 3 claims were upheld

A police car which mowed down and killed an elderly grandfather on a 999 call-out was racing at an ‘unjustifiable speed’ given its siren was off, a coroner has ruled. 

David Ormesher, 79, was hit at 57mph by the Sussex Police patrol vehicle in Edward Street, Brighton, during the early hours of August 25, 2017 as officers responded to an emergency.

He was pronounced dead at the scene having suffered multiple injuries, including a serious head injury, and a cardiac arrest.

The police car had struck Mr Ormesher about 40 metres from the western-most point of the junction with Upper Rock Gardens in Edward Street at 12.53am.

He had been crossing the road from the central reservation heading south, while PC Richard Harris was driving to a ‘grade one’ emergency with his colleague PC Samantha Cooper in the passenger seat.

PC Harris said he applied the brakes as soon as he saw a movement in the right-hand lane and swerved into the left lane in an attempt to avoid him.

PC Stephen Ashby, of the forensic collision investigation unit at Sussex Police, calculated the speed of the police car at the moment of impact was 57mph.

Mr Ormesher had been hit near the southern side of the road, about 5.5 metres across the 7.5 metre wide westbound carriageway.

The use of sirens ‘could have affected the outcome,’ an inquest jury concluded. 

A disciplinary hearing last year cleared PC Harris of gross misconduct with regards to the speed the car was travelling at, but three other gross misconduct claims were upheld.

David Ormesher, 79, was hit at 57mph by the Sussex Police patrol vehicle in Edward Street, Brighton, during the early hours of August 25, 2017 as officers responded to a 999 call

The police car had struck Mr Ormesher about 40 metres from the western-most point of the junction with Upper Rock Gardens in Edward Street at 12.53am

On the final day of the inquest into his death this week, the jury concluded unanimously that the police car’s speed was ‘unjustifiable’ and meant neither party could react in time to avoid the impact.

The court heard that evidence given by two police officers did not match the timing of events in a transcript of the police radio that night.

In their record of inquest, the jury said: ‘The driver did not have their personal hand-held radio. It had been loaned to the other officer in the vehicle and not returned.

‘The in-car radio was not switched on, which was an option.

‘Had this radio been heard by the driver, more accurate information would have informed a dynamic risk assessment.

‘This is coupled with a reduced amount of sight at the ‘visually cluttered’ junction.

‘We find that these two factors made the high speed unjustifiable.

‘The speed of the vehicle allowed insufficient reaction time for either party to avoid the impact.’

The inquest heard that the car’s blue lights had been activated throughout the journey, but not the police car siren, partly due to the time of night.

The jury added: ‘Due to the complexity of the junction, the use of sirens could have affected the outcome.’

The officers were heading west towards the beach near the Palace Pier, where a woman had attempted to take her own life by going into the sea.

They had been driving from the Kingston roundabout near Lewes and had come into Brighton along the Falmer Road, past the Amex stadium, and then down Wilson Avenue towards Eastern Road.

PC Cooper, who was listening to updates on PC Harris’s hand-held police radio and relaying the information to him as they drove along Eastern Road, said two other officers were with the woman on the beach.

Mr Ormesher, a retired tool-maker from near Poole in Dorset, had been staying in Brighton to renovate a friend’s property in Portland Place

She had told the court: ‘There was an urgent call for assistance as she was out of the water but not responsive.

‘Then all of a sudden she had got up and run back into the sea and at that point officers have gone into the sea after her.’

But senior coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley later established this did not take place before the fatal crash.

She said: ‘The words ‘She’s back in the water and so are we’ – that was an event that did not happen.

‘It’s no reflection on PC Cooper. What we have done is to give the jury a transcript from the radio.’

When previously asked if the situation had become more urgent as they drove at high speeds along Eastern Road, PC Cooper had said: ‘It’s still an emergency.

‘You’ve got an unresponsive female in medical terms but then we’ve got two police officers and an unresponsive female in the sea.’

The jury concluded Mr Ormesher died from multiple injuries in a road traffic collision and noted the presence of alcohol in his blood, which was classed as ‘moderate intoxication consistent with reduced alertness’.

Mr Ormesher, a retired tool-maker from near Poole in Dorset, had been staying in Brighton to renovate a friend’s property in Portland Place.

That night he had been out at a bar listening to live piano music by candelight and was on his way back to the house when the crash happened.

Last year, PC Harris faced an inquiry over gross misconduct claims in relation to the incident.

He was cleared of gross misconduct relating to the speed he drove at, but three of the five misconduct claims against him were upheld, the IOPC said.

It means PC Harris was able to resume his career as an officer, but received a final written warning.

PC Stephen Ashby, of the forensic collision investigation unit at Sussex Police, calculated the speed of the police car at the moment of impact was 57mph

The jury concluded Mr Ormesher (pictured with his family) died from multiple injuries in a road traffic collision and noted the presence of alcohol in his blood, which was classed as ‘moderate intoxication consistent with reduced alertness’

Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Nick May described the crash as a tragedy and said the force had made an effort to improve training and standards for police driving to emergency calls.

He said: ‘Our thoughts are with Mr Ormesher’s family and friends who have had to wait nearly four years for the inquest to be heard and I would reiterate our profound and deepest sympathies for this tragic incident.

‘The jury concluded that Mr Ormesher died as of a result of a road traffic collision.

‘The matter had been investigated independently by the Independent Office for Police Conduct and assessed by the Crown Prosecution Service.

‘A gross misconduct hearing took place, with a finding of misconduct in relation to some of the allegations.

‘Following the incident in 2017, we have sought to improve the training we provide officers and raise the standards of driving on emergency calls, in order to keep the public safe.

‘We look to our emergency response officers to make rapid decisions and perform them to the very highest standards. Every single day, hundreds of them do so.

‘In this case, sadly, the specific circumstances resulted in a tragedy.’

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