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   Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday March 7, 2005

POLICE CRASHES

Police car crash
Safety first - there is grave concern about police crashes

Inside Out investigates the stories of ordinary people who have been injured and killed as a result of police crashes.

According to the Home Office 126 people lost their lives in accidents involving police vehicles in England and Wales between 2000 and 2004.

West Midland's Police have by no means the worst record of police forces nationwide, but over the years they have had their share of tragedies.

With accidents involving police cars in chases and emergency responses resulting in accidents and injury, the spotlight remains on the tactics that Police are using.

Inside Out investigates two accidents in the West Midlands, one fatal and one involving serious injury.

Serious accident

Just over a year ago, 11-year-old Sadie Stevens walked across a pelican crossing in Birmingham.

She was hit by an unmarked police car on its way to an armed robbery.

For the past 12 months we've followed the investigation into what happened that day.

Girl
Crash survivor - Sadie has showed huge courage

Inside Out has asked the police why innocent people are still being injured and killed in accidents involving their vehicles.

We have also followed Sadie as she sets out on her long road to recovery.

Six months on from the accident that left her crippled for life, Sadie is slowly recovering, step by step.

She's been making steady progress.

The impact of the crash left Sadie with a dislocated hip, a shattered left leg and a right leg so badly injured it had to be amputated from below the knee.

Soon Sadie will be able to walk down the stairs. She's just been fitted with a prosthetic leg - it will be the first of many.

High speed tragedy

In December 2005, it will be ten years since Neil Homer from Oldbury was killed.

The Police were involved in a 100 mph pursuit of a stolen vehicle when they hit his car.

It was two days after Neil's 20th birthday.

Neil Homer
'Neil was a very special lad... we miss him so much" says his dad

The driver of the police car was found guilty of death by dangerous driving and sentenced to three months in prison.

His colleague was killed.

A decade on the bitterness at what happened hasn't left Neil's father.

Denis Homer still finds it hard to come to terms with the tragedy, "If you try to ask if I forgive, no I can't. I can't forgive the person who killed Neil.

"It's taken a massive chunk out of my life. There are tears - we just miss him so much and I would love for Neil to walk through the door."

When he heard about Sadie's accident, it brought back the memories.

"I didn't think this sort of thing would happen again. It could have been worse for the young girl, even so this sort of thing shouldn't be really happening.

"The Police are the law - they are not above the law…"

Without due care

PC Hibbert, the police officer accused of running Sadie over, has admitted driving without due care and attention.

Police crash
Police crashes generally result from emergency call-outs

He said that he had misread the traffic lights on the crossing where he hit Sadie.

But he claimed that he shouldn't be penalised as he was responding to an emergency call.

The judge at Birmingham Magistrates Court disagreed and fined him £400 and endorsed his driver's licence.

Sadie's father felt that the punishment was too lenient, "Everybody makes mistakes but he made a drastic mistake and my daughter has to suffer this the rest of her life.

"It's a joke - £1,100 for the cost of a leg... I think he should have been banned."

Intensive training

PC Hibbert got the best driver training that the West Midlands Police could provide.

The force allowed us to see part of the intense course he would have been put through.

Sadie Stevens
Sadie Stevens' story has touched ordinary people

With all advanced drivers getting at least four weeks of high level instruction on top of their basic training, management reckon their drivers are up to the job.

John Colston, Chief Superintendent, West Midlands Police says, "Sometimes the public don't really understand the pressures of being placed on individuals to get to an incident to provide rapid assistance".

Until now the Police have refused to comment on the Sadie Steven's case.

For the first time West Midlands Police are willing to say sorry for what happened.

"I have no problem in apologising to Mr and Mrs Stevens and their daughter Sadie. I'd be quite happy to do that on a personal basis if that helps them deal with the anguish they've gone through."
John Colston, Chief Superintendent, West Midlands Police.

Police officer's anguish

The West Midlands Police are also keen to point out that it is not just Sadie who has suffered - it is also the officer who was driving the car that hit Sadie.

"I've seen the physical an mental anguish that the accident has caused Jamie Hibbert - don't let anyone underestimate it.

Traffic lights
Police say they have confidence in their drivers

"He is not prepared to drive police vehicles again... I'm sure that moment will live with him for the rest of his life."

Chief Superintendent Colston says that the pressure on police officers to do a demanding job is often under-estimated by the public.

"I have every confidence in our drivers.

"When you look at the pressures we place on them, that the public places on them in terms of expectations, I think our accident record is actually quite low when you look a the number of vehicles we have and the hours we spend on the road.

"I cannot imagine putting any more pressure on a human being, called to assist another human being who is in a life-threatening situation where a minute or two minutes could result in the death or serious injury of someone."

Words of comfort

Despite the words of comfort, living with what happened is something Brian Stevens and his daughter Sadie is trying to do.

A year on from the accident, he has come back to the site where his daughter was crippled for life.

Brian Stevens is still devastated by the accident, "Our life as it was ended that day… the year as a whole has been an absolute disaster…"

Whether an apology helps or not, Sadie knows things are never going to be the same - but they just might get better.

Brian Stevens
High-profile campaigns have highlighted access issues

Sadie is making good progress despite the severity of her injuries.

Her physiotherapist, Melissa Berry, is astounded by her progress.

"She's made good progress in a relatively good length of time.

"Considering her injuries, she's done very well indeed."

Her dad cannot believe his daughter's courage after her year-long ordeal.

"Her courage has really lifted us up. We're very proud of what she's achieved so far and we hope what she can achieve in the future."

Sadie is also refreshingly upbeat about the future:

"You don't want to get used to things but you have to
Either way it can't get worse, so my future's going to get better."

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Car crash
Crash detectives
Driving black spot
Car jacking
Speed kills
Car crime

On bbc.co.uk
BBC News: High price of police crashes
BBC News: Police crash deaths 'far too high'
BBC Motoring: Safe Driving

On the rest of the web
West Midlands Police
Independent Police Complaints Commission
Association of Chief Police Officers
Car Pages - Worrying rise in police crashes

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

D Conaghan
1.30pm Tuesday 15th March 2005 Ten minutes ago I watched as a police car, travelling at least 40mph, weaved its way back and forth across both carriageways of Kingsway, Holborn (crowded with people) missing a pedestrian who was crossing the road by a hair's breadth and narrowly missing a collision with a taxi coming in the opposite direction. I was absolutely convinced I was about to witness a terrible accident. On Valentine's Day 2004, I watched as a patrol car travelling much faster than today's zoomed past me on Victoria Street, SW1, with its siren blaring and lights flashing. Moments later, the car drew up alongside me and I saw the two officers get out, go into a shop. I then watched them emerge with a bunch of flowers, which they put into the car. They then drove off at a normal speed. This sort of reckless driving or 'emergency' driving apparently for the fun of it, has got to stop.

Clive Latham
As an ex cop [many years ago] ,I can remember no cases of 'blues and twos' being used except when on 'shouts'. Most were embarassed when a shout was cancelled after the blue lights etc. were used. Some turned into side streets before turning them off! Regarding speeding, traffic cops are in their jobs because they, like the rest of us, like going fast, but they want to do it legally and need very little excuse to do so. The authorities say that speeding itself is dangerous, rather than the misuse of speed, so what's their excuse? With satellite tracking now available, officers should be prosecuted when they speed unless they have good reason.

Paul Clarke
i think the police put the sirens on and blue lights on when thay not going to a emergency

Andrew Duncan
The police are very quick to hand out speeding fines by using all methods available to them but when one of them is caught then they cry wolf and try to cover it up. They should have their bue lights and sirens on thereby warning road users that they are reacting to an emergency and not doing the shopping.



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