Police have a licence to kill
By Helen Shooter
"MY FAITH in the police has been shaken. I'm incredibly lucky to be alive. Many people are not and have died unnecessarily." That bitter comment comes from Sheena McDonald, the broadcaster and Channel 4 news presenter, in a TV programme about the cost of reckless driving by the police.
Sheena was badly injured when a Metropolitan police van ploughed into her in February last year. She was in a coma for three days, in hospital for nine weeks and suffered serious brain injuries as a result of the incident. The officer responsible was found not guilty of driving without due care and attention in January this year.
Sheena is just one of over 2,000 who were injured by police cars in the year to April 1999-21 people died. Those figures are typical of the last ten years, and are on the increase. In London alone Metropolitan Police officers in cars injured 243 people in 1999. Some 14 of those were seriously injured.
Sheena interviews two women for Channel 4's Dispatches programme who had a family member killed by the police. Christine Murphy's brother was killed after a police officer doing twice the official speed limit hit him. "I found out by watching TV that night that a police car was involved. I'm very, very sad and very, very angry," said Christine. "How-why-can a police car do this? Every time I look at a policeman or a police car my blood runs cold."
Again the officer involved got away scot free and was acquitted of causing death by dangerous driving.
Samantha Channell and her husband were trapped in the wreckage of their car for over an hour after a police car ran into them in a quiet country lane. Samantha's husband died in the car. This time the officer was found guilty of death by dangerous driving. He was fined �3,500 and banned for two years. But, as Samantha says, "The police haven't taken it seriously at all. He should have been sacked and gone to prison."
The Dispatches programme gives an insight into just how dangerously many police officers drive. It shows CCTV film footage of police cars cutting across dual carriageways to drive up the wrong side of the road. The Association of Chief Police Officers drew up 33 recommendations for police driver training two years ago. Yet only two forces have implemented these changes.
The police's new minimum standards to be introduced later this year will not be legally enforceable. An officer can have the same basic licence as an ordinary driver and still be allowed to drive at high speed and break all the rules.
The cars they drive do not even have to pass an MOT test like other vehicles on the road. They mainly use police-run garages to service the cars. Sheena was a victim of both these problems. She was hit by a speeding police car on the wrong side of the road which had a broken speedometer.
The police claim that, like other emergency services, they have to be allowed exemptions from obeying the normal rules of the road. Yet all ambulance drivers have to take a three week training course where they are taught to put the safety of other road users, as well as the ambulance passengers, first.
Martin Whibley, an ambulance driving instructor, says in the programme, "I fear the state of police driver training has put lives at risk." As Sheena concludes at the end of the programme, "Many people have said to me the police are a law unto themselves. Nothing the police have said convinces me otherwise."
- Dispatches, 9pm, Thursday 30 March, C4.