Full scope of failings in fatal road traffic policing at Avon & Somerset Police revealed on third anniversary of road death27 May 2014
Unseen documents shed new light on errors made by police
The family of a man who was killed in a road traffic accident in Bristol has marked the third anniversary of his death (25.05.14) by releasing a series of unseen documents that shed new light on the catalogue of errors made by Avon & Somerset Police which led to a failed prosecution into the cause of his death.
Jake Thompson suffered a broken right fibula and substantial head injuries after being hit by a Mercedes lorry on the A37 in Bristol on 20 May 2011.
A Tachograph device on board the HGV showed it had been travelling at 38mph in a 30mph zone immediately prior to the collision with Jake. The incident took place on a pedestrian crossing and eye witness accounts supported the view that the lights had changed, or were changing, at the time.
Jake’s parents, John and Janet, were contacted at their home in Durham and informed by the police that their son had been injured. Jake died five days later, on the 25 May 2011, from the head trauma he suffered.
A police investigation followed however Jake’s parents were shocked to be told that – despite strong evidence that showed the motorist’s driving had fallen below the expected standard – Avon & Somerset Police’s report had not provided the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with sufficient grounds to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
“That was the first blow,” said John Thompson, Jake’s father. “We got the call from our solicitor, David Robinson, to say that due to a clerical error, he had been sent a copy of the Specialist Collisions Report – a ‘red tagged’ document normally meant for police and CPS eyes only.
“In it, the CPS stated that the police investigation into Jake’s death had not yielded sufficient evidence and failed to make the case that being 8mph over the speed limit was ‘sufficient cause for a charge of causing death by careless driving’. To see it there in black and white left us shell shocked.
“People receive fines of £80 if they get caught speeding by a Gatso camera, and yet here, with our son dead, the driver walked away without charge or penalty.
“Janet and I were at a loss as to how the decision had been reached in light of what we felt was such compelling evidence against the driver, and we couldn’t let it rest. To add to our distress the CPS stated that they considered there would be ‘minimal’ public interest in prosecuting the driver”.
The family, supported by Thompsons Solicitors, started a three year legal battle to campaign for justice for Jake.
“Thompsons represented John and Janet in a civil claim for damages against the driver. This claim was successful thanks to the expert evidence we commissioned as part of our own investigations into the cause of Jake’s death,” said David Robinson, the family’s solicitor.
“However, when we came to learn that the criminal prosecution had fallen apart due to insufficient police evidence, we couldn’t stand idly by while John and Janet were denied the justice we felt they – and Jake – deserved.”
Thompsons attended a series of meetings with the family and the police in order to voice their complaints about the original investigation, including one with Chief Superintended Ian Wylie who went on record to say:
“… there were some areas of improvement that could have been made to the investigation, but I was also clear that there was nothing missed that would have changed the decision reached by the CPS not to prosecute.”
Letter, 20 July 2012
A complaint by the family to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) followed which found that the force’s investigation failed to meet the required standards in a number of ways and ruled:
“In my opinion, the investigation into the death of Jake Thompson did not meet the standards of investigation set out in the Road Death Investigation Manual and did not meet the standards to which Mr and Mrs Thompson were entitled.”
Avon & Somerset Investigation Report, Complaint against the Police
Key failings included:
- No crime scene investigator was appointed
- No attempts were made to trace the original 999 caller for their evidence
- Failed to capture or explore CCTV evidence
- No scientific examination of the driver’s mobile phone or its records
- The details of officers who attended the scene were omitted from the Scene
- Management Log and information from their police notebooks was not captured leading to ‘an important witness being missed’
- Witnesses who approached officers on the scene with their details were not contacted for evidence and other witnesses were not interviewed on the scene
- The driver was breathalysed and interviewed at the scene but was not called for formal interview until four months after Jake’s death
- An officer working on the case prematurely advised there was no need for a forensic post mortem to take place because the initial scene examination and investigation did not suggest any offence on the part of the driver and that it was unlikely a prosecution would follow – this is in violation of the Road Safety Policing Manual which states that fatal collision investigations must adopt the mind set of unlawful killing until the contrary is proved [Avon & Somerset Investigation Report, Complaint Against the Police]
In the wake of this damning internal report, the force acquiesced to the family’s formal request for a re-investigation into Jake’s death which started in January 2013 – almost two years after he was killed.
Contrary to Chief Superintendent Ian Wylie’s statement to the family, the reinvestigation identified over 30 new lines of enquiry and yielded new information which led to the CPS launching a prosecution against the driver.
The case was finally heard at Bristol Crown Court in February 2014 but Jake’s family were again left devastated as the Judge instructed the jury to record a not guilty verdict on the second day of the trial after ruling that the ‘expert’ evidence put forward by Avon & Somerset Police was insufficient.
Mr Justice Picton stated that even though the driver had been speeding and his lorry had hit Jake Thompson, the police evidence submitted to the CPS failed to present enough evidence of ‘causation’.
Speaking about the not guilty verdict, John Thompson said: “We were, and are, devastated by this decision. Avon & Somerset Police let us down time and time again.
“The expert witness Thompsons instructed for our civil case put forth a strong argument that the driver was at fault and that, the standard of driving, in that type of vehicle was a direct cause of Jake’s death. The police however – the ones we place our trust in to uphold the law – proved themselves incapable of running an effective investigation twice.
“As painful as it is, we wanted to reveal the damage caused to us by their incompetence and shambolic attempts at investigation in the hope that new systems and training will be implemented by the force to protect other families who face the horror of a death on the roads from a similar fate.
“We are now calling on Avon & Somerset Police to issue public, written reassurances that lessons have been learned and the proper procedures are now in place.”
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