A campaign is underway to get legislation changed, to ensure that officers who engage in pursuit and response drives can be afforded better protection.
This campaign is being led by West Midlands Sergeant Tim Rogers, a member of the Interim National Board.
What needs to change, and why
The current legislation leaves police drivers vulnerable: it is illegal to engage in pursuit or response drives. 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 driving standards are measured against that of a non-police trained “competent and careful driver”.
According to the law, ‘dangerous driving’ includes speeding, ignoring traffics signals, or overtaking dangerously. There can also be liability for causing others to drive dangerously.
Officers who have engaged in pursuits or response drivers have, in the past, been charged with dangerous driving, even if no complaints were made, and no one was injured (the outcome is not the matter that should be considered although it almost always is the catalyst).
Police drivers are trained to the College of Policing standard. However this standard is not supported by the current law.
In June 2017, fresh guidance was issued to by the PFEW to forces, reminding drivers to ensure that their driving remains within the law. This guidance was issued as the wait for a change in legislation goes on. It does not tell drivers not to engage in emergency drives, but reminds them of the risks they may be taking. Every year the Federation receives numerous requests for assistance from members who are being pursued for on-duty driving-related matters, and end up in court simply for following the training they have been given.
What we are doing about it
The Police Federation is campaigning for an appropriate 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 backbench Conservative MP, Sir Henry Bellingham, who introduced his Emergency Response Drivers (Protections) Ten Minute Rule Bill in Parliament on 20 December 2017. The Bill was accepted with cross party sponsors and no dissent and is due a second reading on Friday 6 July 2018.
The government has also responded by launching a consultation on establishing a new driving standard of a 'careful and competent police driver'. We encourage all members to engage with the consultation as another means of securing the protections in law which officers need. It runs on the Home Office website until Monday 13 August.
PFEW's Tim Rogers says: “It is great that the Government is committed to change, but ministers need to act sooner not later to legally protect officers. In a typical year there are 20,000 police pursuits and more than a million response drives in England and Wales – each and every one of those puts our members at risk unfairly. We cannot allow the situation to drag on, we need action now.”
Timeline of activity:
- 2012 - work by PFEW helps lead to the Crown Prosecution Service creating the Crown Prosecutors Guidance.
- 2016 - barrister Mark Aldred led a session on pursuits at the national Roads Policing Conference; PFEW met with Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, NPCC pursuits lead, Anthony Bangham, Policing Minister Mike Penning, and Louise Ellman chair of the transport select committee. Watch the presentation to PFEW's 2016 Annual Conference.
- 2017 - At PFEW's Annual Conference CC Bangham gave a firm commitment to working with the Federation to ensure that police drivers get the best training and agreed that pursuit drivers needed better protection; Policing Minister Nick Hurd outlined a review and Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the NPCC in November: "We're reviewing the law and practice regarding police pursuits. We want to make sure officers feel they have the legal protection they need to go after moped and scooter gangs."
- 2017 - Sir Henry Bellingham MP presents Emergency Response Drivers (Protections) Bill to the House of Commons.
- 2018 - Second reading of Sir Henry's bill halted in March and rescheduled for 6 July as Home Office launches Police Pursuits: Current Position and Proposals for Change consultation
In 2012, patrol officer PC James Holden was charged with dangerous driving after a pursuing a stolen van. The charges by CPS came following a review by the Hampshire Constabulary. No complaints were made about his driving, and no members of the public were injured in the pursuit. The case made it to trial, where a jury cleared PC Holden within two hours of deliberations. The case sparked a conversation about police pursuits, and the lack of protection. Both CPS and the force received criticism from the local Federation, saying the officer had been through “12 months of hell” after being prosecuted for “just doing his job.” Chairman John Apter said at the time: "For [PC Holden] to perform a pursuit and then be on the wrong end of a police investigation because of that just can't be right."
PC Holden was represented by barrister Mark Aldred, who after the successful defence, gave advice to the national board. A key outcome of the resulting campaigning was the introduction of the Crown Prosecutors Guidance.
At the time, Police Oracle quoted ACC Andy Holt, the then-ACPO lead on pursuits saying he agreed there was a problem that could only by solved through an amendment to legislation.
PC Vaughan Lowe was charged with causing death by careless driving after he hit a student while in an unmarked police car in April, 2012. PC Lowe was responding to an ‘immediate response call’ with his blue lights and siren on. He was alleged to have reduced his speed from 62mph to 52mph. CPS initially assessed the facts as no case to answer yet after pressure from the IPCC (now IOPC) the same evidence was deemed to meet the threshold. He was found not guilty of causing death by careless driving after a 10-day trial in January 2015 but charged with Gross Misconduct on compulsion by the IPCC, before being cleared in February 2017.
In 2015, Skipton-based constable Adam Steventon was charged with dangerous driving after pursuing a man who drove off without paying for petrol. After a week-long trial, PC Steventon was cleared, and the judge said the officer had “had to make a judgment call against a background of a lack of training by your police force… made that call in the belief it was in the best interests of the public. It only remains for me to say it is a pleasure to say you can go free from court.”
Speaking at the time, North Yorkshire Federation representative, Mike Stubbs said it was hugely disappointing that the case ever came before a court. Instead of using internal processes to identify training issues noted during the trial, “a proactive and effective officer has been on restricted duties for 15 months, to the detriment of the public. Police officers should always be accountable to the law, but they also need the reassurance that they will be dealt with fairly and proportionately.”
Also in 2015, Met police officer PC Lee Drake was found guilty of two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving. Speaking at his sentencing, Judge David Tomlinson ordered him to complete 200 hours community service, banned him from driving for 30 months, and ordered him to pay £4200 costs. He also said PC Drake could be spared him jail as he was doing his duty as a police officer at the time of the crash.
According to the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice for Roads Policing: Police Pursuits:
“… a police driver is deemed to be in pursuit when a driver/motorcyclist indicates by their actions or continuance of their manner of driving/riding that:
- they have no intention of stopping for the police, and
- the police driver believes that the driver of the subject vehicle is aware of the requirement to stop and decides to continue behind the subject vehicle with a view to either reporting its progress or stopping it…”
The definition of dangerous driving is:
“A person drives dangerously when:
- the way they drive falls far below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver; and
- it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
Some typical examples from court cases of dangerous driving are:
- racing, going too fast, or driving aggressively;
- ignoring traffic lights, road signs or warnings from passengers;
- overtaking dangerously; …”
You can read more on the cps.gov.uk website