Coroner to speak to police chief on officer training after fatal car crash

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A coroner is to write to the chief constable of Lincolnshire Police with concerns about the training of officers after a drink driver died in a car crash while being pursued by a patrol car.

John McKeown, 62, of Ketton, died after his blue Nissan Micra struck a stone wall in Wharf Road,Stamford, in the early hours of August 22, 2015.

He had been spoken to by PCs Deborah Bowen and Jon Milne, of Lincolnshire Police, at 2.41am on August 22, due to loud music playing from his car which was parked on Broad Street, in the town.

Shortly after Mr McKeown drove off and was followed by the officers in their marked Vauxhall Astra Estate patrol car because they saw he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

Just over two minutes later Mr McKeown, who was not wearing his seatbelt, suffered fatal injuries as he crashed into the wall at the end of Wharf Road, near the junction with St Mary’s Hill, with the police car behind him. A post-mortem examination revealed afterwards that he was nearly three times the drink drive limit.

A jury inquest into Mr McKeown’s death led by Coroner Paul Cooper was held at Stamford Town Hall this week and concluded today (Thursday, July 27).

Concerns had been raised at the inquest about the standard of training held by PC Bowen, who was driving the patrol car at the time, which allowed her to pursue other vehicles.

Evidence was heard from Inspector Richard Todd, a road’s policing inspector, that to be a pursuit driver, officers had to pass a training course and take refreshers at least once every five years.

PC Bowen had passed a three week training course to become a police pursuit driver in 2001 and then taken part in a refresher course in February 2010.

On the date of the fatal crash it had been more than five years since PC Bowen had done a refresher.

She felt that she was still classed as a pursuit capable driver by the force.

Lincolnshire Police driver trainer Ian Pratt confirmed this to the inquest by saying that an officer did not lose pursuit status if they had not done a refresher within five years.

Barrister Sean Horstead, acting for Mr McKeown’s family, though produced a Lincolnshire Police document which said that pursuit capability would be removed if it was more than five years since training or a refresher course had been taken.

In an attempt to clear up the case in relation to PC Bowen the inquest jury were asked a series of questions which included whether the officer was adequately trained to carry out the pursuit.

The jury stated that yes they felt she was equipped and that she could continue to carry out vehicle pursuits.

In his summing up as part of the narrative verdict Mr Cooper said he would write to Chief Constable Bill Skelly.

He said: “I will write to the Chief Constable in terms of the training done by police officers in Lincolnshire.

“I want to try to make sure that any future deaths can be prevented.”

Mr McKeown had left his house during Friday, August 21, 2015, and he was spoken to by police on Broad Street near to Zorba Kebab House about the music several hours later.

He bent down to be level with the window of the patrol car so that he could speak to both officers inside of it.

Both officers stated that Mr McKeown did not appear to be drunk and stated that he did not stagger or slur his speech.

Shortly after Mr McKeown drove onto Star Lane and was followed by the patrol car which had its blue lights and headlights flashing as Mr McKeown was not wearing his seatbelt.

The Micra then turned onto St Paul’s Street where it stopped at a red traffic light.

PC Milne got out of the patrol car to speak to Mr McKeown but before he reached the driver’s door the light changed to green and the Micra pulled away.

From there the Micra drove along Brazenose Lane and then stopped at the end of Priory Road before turning onto Wharf Road.

The inquest heard that along Wharf Road the police car reached 54mph in following the Micra before the crash which left Mr McKeown with severe chest injuries.

Two unopened cans of Carling lager and an open one were found in the car.

He had 218mg of alcohol in his blood at the time of the crash, with the drink drive limit being 80mg.

PC Bowen felt Mr McKeown had not seen the patrol car while PC Milne felt he had spotted it at the St Paul’s Street traffic lights.

The jury was asked by the coroner as part of his verdict whether Mr McKeown died in the crash and whether he was over the drink drive limit and they answered yes.

They stated that the officers did not and should not have known Mr McKeown was drunk on Broad Street before he drove.

Members of the jury also stated that the officers had no reason to believe that Mr McKeown was doing anything unlawful and they felt he knew the police car was behind him at St Paul’s Street.

They added that the police officers were in an initial pursuit mode which started in Wharf Road when Mr McKeown speeded up and pulled away from the patrol car.

The jury felt the officers wanted the Micra to stop due to Mr McKeown not wearing a seatbelt and the fact that he drove on the wrong side of the road at times.

In the jury’s response they said Mr McKeown was not wearing a seatbelt.