Civil Liberties

Crucial evidence not considered in investigations into death of a pensioner killed on her mobility scooter when hit by police car

kerry smith and her mother jessie whitehead
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Terry Wilcox

Manager, Public Inquiries & Senior Associate Solicitor

7 min read time

Lawyers say ‘crucial evidence’ was not considered during investigations into the death of an elderly woman who was killed when hit by a police car as she crossed a road on her mobility scooter.

Jessie Whitehead, 74, died after being struck by a marked Warwickshire Police car, which had been travelling at around 65mph on a 50mph limit carriageway.

Driver PC Jennifer Allan, a trained driver with permission to exceed the speed limits on emergency calls, was responding to a report of an oil leak from a broken-down crane at the time.

An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation subsequently ruled the collision, in Coventry Road, Bedworth, ‘could not have been avoided’ and that PC Allen had been travelling at an ‘appropriate speed’.

However, lawyers acting on behalf of Mrs Whitehead’s daughter, Kerry, now say investigations failed to consider a key part of vehicle-tracking evidence, which was not presented to the IOPC, or to an inquest jury and Coroner.

Solicitor Terry Wilcox, of Hudgell Solicitors, says an expert report from a police collision investigator, assessing the readings of a telematics tracking system on the police car, missed a key period of driving which should have been subject to scrutiny.

The extra evidence was only discovered after Mrs Whitehead’s family instructed an independent collisions investigator to review the vehicle telematics.

Driver took foot off accelerator two seconds before braking

Mr Wilcox says the original review of the police car’s telematics, presented to the IOPC by a collision investigator from West Mercia Police, was taken from a point too late in the incident to fully assess the officer’s driving and response.

“The evidence presented to the IOPC was that PC Allen’s first reaction was to fully press on her breaks when she was around 50 metres from the crossing where Mrs Whitehead was, and just 2.3 seconds away,” said Mr Wilcox.

“However, another independent collision investigation expert, commissioned by our client, has since been able to review the police car telematics records, and by going back further into the journey he identified that PC Allen had completely released the throttle some 4.6 seconds before the collision. This was when she was still some 115.62 metres away from the crossing.

“The vehicle’s speed did not reduce significantly at this point, and significantly the brakes were not applied.

“This expert was of the opinion that this suggested something happened at that point to cause PC Allen to release the throttle, and that, had braking started at the point, she would have been able to stop in time.

“After that momentary hesitation when she took her foot off the accelerator, PC Allen then reapplied her accelerator at a distance of 82 metres away from the point of collision. It was the expert’s opinion that, had she braked at this point, she again would have avoided the collision.

“It was at a distance of 49.02 metres from the point of collision when PC Allen completely released her accelerator and applied her brakes. She was travelling at 66mph.  Had she been travelling at 50mph, she again would have been able to stop in the available distance.

“This extra detail, provided from a couple of seconds earlier in her driving, was a crucial piece of evidence which was not covered in the report from the investigator by West Mercia Police.

“It was therefore not considered by the IOPC investigation, nor was it considered at the inquest into Mrs Whitehead’s death.

“PC Allan did not account for this moment of hesitation in her statements, nor was she ever asked to do so. Clearly something caused her to react over two seconds before she started to brake.

“It is important to remember that, when giving evidence to the Inquest, PC Allen admitted to seeing Mrs Whitehead entering the road at a point close to the 50mph signs at the side of the road – that was around 146 metres from the collision point. This was before her hesitation.

“We feel there was a major shortfall in investigations, with crucial evidence not being considered. That is of course a matter of huge concern. We will be writing to the Coroner, sending a copy of the report as a courtesy, and also writing to the IOPC and inviting their comments.”

Force agrees settlement following claim of negligent driving

Mr Wilcox said his legal firm had raised concerns over a member of West Mercia Police being involved in the initial collision investigation, given the forces had close links at the time and shared many resources, but this was deemed ‘appropriate independence’ by the IOPC.

Following legal representation, in which it was alleged the collision, on January 23, 2019, was ‘caused by the negligence of PC Allen’, Warwickshire Police has agreed an out of court damages settlement with Mrs Whitehead’s daughter, Kerry Smith.

As part of the claim it was also alleged that PC Allen had not needed to be driving at such speed, as the incident, near Nuneaton, did not pose an immediate threat to life, given the broken down crane had been present on the highway for some hours without causing any accidents.

It was also claimed she had been driving too quickly in dangerous circumstances, and accelerated, or failed to brake, when she should have.

The settlement was agreed by the force without commenting on the allegations, or the extra evidence provided from the car telematics.

Daughter says the initial investigation has been proved to be ‘flawed’

Mrs Smith says the case must now return to the IOPC for further investigation. “It is nearly four years since my mother died when PC Jennifer Allan’s car collided with her. It has been the worst four years for my family and I to bear,” she said.

“From the outset I was never confident about the IOPC investigation. Such was their attitude towards me I had no trust in their investigation and now I feel that I was right.

“It needs to be said also that Warwickshire Police showed no interest in my family or I, despite one of their officers being involved with the death of my mother. We have been victims, yet the IOPC nor Warwickshire Police seem to know little or nothing about supporting victims, in my opinion.

“The faith that the IOPC put into the West Mercia Police forensic collision examiner was also flawed. I challenged this at the time but this was dismissed by the IOPC. At the time of the crash Warwickshire and West Mercia Police were for all intents and purposes one force, so how could that investigator ever be independent?

“Now clearly, this investigation needs to be challenged. The evidence means my family and I have been denied justice. Overall though, I feel the IOPC bear the responsibility of a flawed and inadequate investigation.

“The civil claim was never about money; my solicitor knew this from the start. It was about getting answers for my mum, and fighting for some accountability for what happened.

“Now the fight goes on. Neither I nor my family have closure because justice has not yet been fully delivered. This whole situation needs to be re-investigated.

“An independent forensic collision investigator that we instructed has revealed evidence which changes the whole situation. I will be working with my lawyers to put the case back to the IOPC. I won’t be taking ‘no’ for an answer. “

Mr Wilcox added: “The findings of the independent collision expert appointed by the Claimant to review the case were highly critical of the fact there were discrepancies between the driver’s account and the telematics report from the West Mercia Police investigator, that it lacked detail and full scrutiny and suggests that there are lessons to be learned from this case.”

Actions Against the Police

If your rights have been breached by the police or the state, Hudgell Solicitors can help you get justice. Our civil liberties solicitors specialise in actions against the police, holding authorities to account for infringing on your rights and stepping over the line through unlawful treatment.

We understand that challenging the police and the state can be difficult. Hudgells has a number of experienced lawyers specialising in actions against the police who will assess your case and develop a strategy to put right the state’s failings, offering support and guidance at every stage of the process.

Read more: Civil Liberties and Actions Against the Police

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