Blog: Lobby your MP to back pursuits bill
26 February 2018
PFEW's Tim Rogers with Sir Henry Bellingham MP
PFEW Pursuits Lead Tim Rogers calls on MPs to back the Emergency Response Drivers (Protections) Bill which is due its second reading on 16 March.
The car in front has persons aboard who are suspected of criminal offences. They are making off at speed – should a police officer pursue? The answer seems obvious – yes, absolutely. It is a police officer’s duty to catch criminals, right? We are trained to manage the risk and skilled in advanced driving techniques. If something goes wrong, so long as we have followed proper procedure and our training, the law has our backs, right? Well, maybe not.
Current legislation leaves police officers and other emergency service responders vulnerable. This is because there are no exemptions in the current legislation that take into account the high level of specialised training officers are given. All are measured against the common standard that of a non-trained “competent and careful driver”. According to the law, ‘dangerous driving’ includes speeding, ignoring traffics signals, or overtaking dangerously. Officers can also be held liable for causing others to drive dangerously. Talk about trying to do your job with one hand tied behind your back!
As Pursuits lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales I am all too aware of the threat of prosecution, investigation and dismissal – just for doing your job. This is a real and present danger for police officers today. Officers who have engaged in pursuits or response drives have been charged with dangerous driving even if no one has been injured. Police drivers are trained to the College of Policing standard. However this standard is not supported by the law.
PC James Holden, a patrol officer from Hampshire, was charged with dangerous driving after pursuing a stolen van. The charges were brought by the Crown Prosecution Service and following review by Hampshire Constabulary despite there no complaints made about the officer’s driving, and no members of the public injured. A jury cleared PC Holden within two hours and the local Federation said the officer had been through “12 months of hell”.
In another example, Merseyside officer PC James Ellerton positioned his unmarked car in the path of a man riding a scrambler bike recklessly to prevent him from heading back into Liverpool town centre, where he posed a risk to the public. The rider was knocked off at low speed and arrested. PC Ellerton was charged with dangerous driving and threatened with five years in prison – thankfully he was exonerated by a court, but the incident caused untold stress to the officer and his family.
So what is the Police Federation doing? We are campaigning for legislative change that reflects the high standard to which police officers are trained to be taken into consideration. We are being supported in this by senior backbench MP, Sir Henry Bellingham, who introduced his Emergency Response Drivers (Protections) Ten Minute Rule Bill in Parliament on 19 December 2017. The Bill was accepted with cross party sponsors and no dissent. The next stage is the second reading on Friday 16 March 2018. We are calling on all of our members and supporters and indeed readers of this column to lobby their MPs to support the Bill at this crucial next stage. It is so important that we protect our police and emergency services from unfair and unwarranted prosecution.
The Bill is categorically not a charter for blue light drivers to act irresponsibly. We would never endorse that. We only seek to protect our officers and other blue light responders who are following their training and exercising their professional judgment. They already do a difficult job under stressful circumstances and they deserve our support and that of the law. There is still a way to go in this process but I am optimistic that, after eight years of watching officers falling foul of the law just for doing their jobs, we can finally have legislation that supports them in the vital job they do.
Please lobby your MPs to support the Pursuits Bill – for more information go to www.polfed.org/pursuits