Sir Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide protection for drivers of emergency vehicles responding to emergencies from civil liability and criminal prosecution in specified circumstances; to make related provision about criminal proceedings and sentencing; and for connected purposes.
I want to look at the case of PC Richard Jeffery, a Norfolk officer who, on a dark night at the end of his shift, was driving back towards the police station when on the radio came through a report of a stolen car being driven erratically with no lights. He intercepted the vehicle and followed it. He followed his training to the letter: he kept a sensible distance and did not tailgate the vehicle. The vehicle carried on being driven erratically and after a mile or so it crashed. Tragically, the driver was killed. He was four times over the limit and it was a stolen vehicle.
PC Richard Jeffery was suspended and investigated for gross misconduct. Understandably, and as one would expect, the case was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. After three months, it decided there was no case to answer. The family of the victim appealed the decision to the CPS, however, and the case went on for several more months, but still there was no case to answer. The Independent Police Complaints Commission then investigated the accusation of gross misconduct for nearly two years. Throughout that time, PC Richard Jeffrey was suspended, Norfolk constabulary lost a long-serving and experienced officer, and at the end of it, he was completely exonerated.
The key point is that the CPS and the IPCC could not look at the extra training and expertise of the police officer—they could not apply the test of a competent and careful trained response driver; they could judge him only by the “competent and careful driver” standard, which is the standard applied to us all. This officer faced a dilemma. He could easily have said, “It’s the end of a long day, I won’t take the risk, I’m going back to the police station.” What would have then happened if this car, which was being driven by a driver four times over the limit with broken lights and on a wet road, had gone off the road and killed several people? He would have had that on his conscience forever, so of course his training kicked in, as one would expect.
There have been many other such cases recently, but I will pick up on just a few. A colleague in the House this afternoon brought to my attention the case of a constituent of his who was a highly trained and decorated officer. He was actually the pursuit commander and tactical adviser during an incident involving a moped that was being driven highly erratically. In fact, the driver was almost deliberately trying to goad the police. The police followed. He was in the second car, but he was the commander. Tragically, the moped rider went off the road and was killed. The officer was suspended, as one would expect—one does not necessarily object to that. Eighteen months on, however, he had been forbidden to work in any capacity and, quite staggeringly, forbidden to leave his home for more than three days. There is still no end to this saga—the case is ongoing—so I cannot comment in more detail.
It seems that there is a scourge of mopeds being used for crimes, and often moped riders know that if they take their helmet off, they have more chance of getting away. Two months ago in Kent—I am glad that some of my hon. Friends from Kent are here today—a moped was being driven highly erratically. It was actually doing wheelies and going up the wrong side of a dual carriageway. Four police vehicles were involved. The police officers concerned decided to take action and follow the moped. The moped driver had an accident, went flying off and injured himself—not critically, although it was thought he had severe head injuries. The police officer driving the car closest to the incident was suspended and then investigated for grievous bodily harm and dangerous driving. The case is ongoing. In fact, the driver recovered from his head injuries very quickly, and two weeks on was committing further crimes, while the police officer, who was doing his duty, ended up being suspended. I cannot comment further because the case is sub judice.
I want to look at cases that are no longer in the court arena and have been decided—these are on the public record. A firearms officer in Hampshire was deployed to a domestic violence incident on new year’s eve in 2015. While progressing to the incident, he used all his training to drive highly professionally, correctly and properly; he went through a couple of red lights and was involved in a slight injury collision with a member of the public. In the end, the “competent and careful driver” test was applied—neither the CPS nor the IPCC could consider his training and expertise—and he was charged with dangerous driving, and nearly two years later the trial took place. I am pleased to say that he was acquitted, but throughout that time Hampshire was without its most senior firearms officer.
There have been other cases. There was one in Merseyside involving a firearms officer and another involving a PC Steventon in Yorkshire. The latter was in a car pursuing a vehicle that had been observed at a petrol station. The individual was suspected of burglary and other offences. The police officer gave chase, and a long time later was charged. The rationale was that, although he had an exemption for breaking the speed limit and going through a traffic signal, he did not have an exemption for the alleged dangerous driving. He was suspended for 18 months, therefore, went to court and was acquitted. Afterwards, the judge said:
“After all you and your family have been through it would be an affront to natural justice if you were to face another internal disciplinary procedure. I hope that will not be the case”
and he expressed his hope that he leave a free man.
There are many other cases, but what runs through them is the significant impact they have on the officers, who are doing their duty to and serving the public, and the forces. There are, however, guidelines. In a letter to one of my colleagues, a Home Office Minister wrote: “There are guidelines in place, and obviously the idea is to reduce the risks associated with this activity”—pursuit—“and to set out when it is in the public interest for a prosecution to take place. Police should be able, without fear of prosecution, to go ahead and carry out their duties”. The guidelines are obviously not working. Time and again, the IPCC takes the view—perhaps while wrapped up in the emotion and under a lot of pressure from families —that it should take action, but it says, “We won’t deal with it, we’ll let the courts look at it”. That, I think, is a cop out. It is quite wrong that these officers are being prosecuted in this way.
My Bill would simply make it clear that the expertise and training of officers can be taken into consideration. In other words, the test applied would not be the universal test but a specific test for these emergency vehicle drivers. Some of my colleagues have said, “Is this a charter for the police acting irresponsibly, going berserk and getting carried away?” It is categorically not. Obviously, they would have to follow their training, the training manual and their professional judgment, and nor would there be an exemption for aggravating factors—for example, if the police officer were over the limit, recovering from a sickness or driving recklessly. The good news is that the training of police drivers has now been consolidated across the entire country through the road policing driving training programme, so we have standard procedures across the country. It is time for the law to be changed. I know that the Minister is sympathetic. This simple change would tilt the balance in favour of these professional, highly skilled public servants.
Question put and agreed to.
That Sir Henry Bellingham, Bob Blackman, Jack Lopresti, Stephen Twigg, Robert Halfon, Steve McCabe, Sir Oliver Heald, Chris Bryant, Sir Roger Gale, Leo Docherty, Peter Aldous and James Cartlidge present the Bill.
Sir Henry Bellingham accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March 2018, and to be printed (Bill 145).