A police force has come under criticism from the family of a distressed woman who was accidently hit and killed by a police van responding to a 999 call to find her.
Helen Loveday, 52, died after being hit by a police van which was travelling around 60mph along an unlit road.
This was despite her sister warning the force she was distressed and on foot, and a witness calling the police to warn of a ‘distressed woman in the middle of the road’.
The witness warned a police call handler that Ms Loveday was ‘going to get herself knocked over’, but that information was not passed on to the driver of the police van responding.
He drove towards the location, at speeds of up to 65mph, before hitting Ms Loveday direct, sending her between 10 and 20ft through the air.
Ms Loveday was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge by the East Anglian Air Ambulance, piloted by the Duke of Cambridge on his final shift as an air ambulance pilot, but died two days later, on July 29, 2017.
An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now the Independent Office for Police Conduct) concluded that had the driver been made aware of the two key pieces of information from Ms Loveday’s sister and the witness, the collision ‘may have been avoided or it may not have proved fatal’.
As part of an independent investigation, the handling of a four minute call from the witness was found to be ‘‘totally inadequate.’’
The call handler failed to follow National Standards of Incident Recording (NSIR) procedures for logging incident calls which would have ensured those details were passed on to the police units providing the emergency response.
Although the van driver said he felt he had been driving at a speed which was not excessive and within his limits, he admitted that he would have modified his driving to be on the lookout for Ms Loveday had had he been given specific information about someone being in the road a short distance ahead of him.
He also admitted that he would have slowed his approach towards the location.
At an inquest, a jury reached the conclusion that Ms Loveday died as the result of an accident, and did not intend to take her life. She had been on medication for physical and mental health issues.
Family say ‘major police errors’ contributed to death
Ms Loveday’s son, Elliott Morris, told the inquest that despite suffering from depression and being on medication, she was ‘in control of her life’.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “It was very difficult for us as a family to listen to the evidence throughout the inquest, and hear in detail the manner in which our mum lost her life.
“However, it has strengthened our belief that, although she was obviously distressed at the time, she did not intend to kill herself. She had not made attempts on her life before, despite her illnesses.
“We appreciate officers involved that night were trying to get to our mum and make her safe, but the poor communication and lack of protocols to safeguard those with mental health issues in emergency circumstances cost our mother her life.
“We find it hard to believe that there was no set protocol to approach an emergency situation involving an individual with mental health issues. As a family we feel my mother’s death would have been prevented had a protocol been in place and followed.
“Had the right information been given to the driver of the police van, and he travelled at a slower speed, as he said he would have with that information to hand, our mum may still be here today.”
Solicitors instructed to consider possible legal claim
Solicitors acting on behalf of Ms Loveday’s family say they are now investigating a possible civil case against the force given the errors highlighted during the IPCC investigation, and the inquest. They say lessons must be learned for future, similar scenarios.
Civil Liberties specialist Samantha Thompson, of Hudgell Solicitors, represented Ms Loveday’s family at the inquest and said: “We fully appreciate that all involved at Norfolk Police on this night were doing their best to locate Ms Loveday as quickly as possible and ensure that she was safe.
“However, in such emergency situations it is not solely about speed. It is also essential that policies are followed to ensure the best and most appropriate response is provided.
“Sadly that was not done on this occasion and essential information from a key witness was therefore not available to the police team responding in the police van. The call from the witness was not dealt with in line with policy or training and this ultimately meant that key information, in that Ms Loveday was in the road in the direction the van was travelling, was not made available to the driver.
“The driver has admitted that had he been given full detail of someone being in the road he would have travelled slower and with more caution.
“Regardless of this, we feel that even given the most basic information, in that their job was to locate an individual who was at risk, and on poorly lit roads, there was surely a duty of care to be driving with extra caution when nearing the location of the reported incident.
“The driver admitted that he knew the road had bends and large bumps along it, and needed careful judgement. The speeds he was travelling at would have made that very difficult given the poor visibility.”
Victim had history of impulsive behavior but had made no previous suicide attempts
The accident happened at 10:23pm in Wymondham Road, Wreningham, Norfolk only four minutes from Ms Loveday’s sister’s home.
Paramedics and an air ambulance attended the scene and she was airlifted to hospital, where she died two days later as a direct result of the injuries sustained in the collision.
The mother of three, who lived in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, had travelled to Norfolk with her 13-year-old daughter to stay with her sister, Rachel Hurn, in July of last year.
Ms Hurn described Ms Loveday as being her normal self during the first three days of her stay, although she had expressed concerned about her financial matters.
On the evening of July 27, after sharing a bottle and a quarter of wine, she said Ms Loveday became ‘angry’ following a telephone conversation with her boyfriend and later asked her to look after her daughter.
She said her sister told her ‘I just don’t want to be here anymore’, before suggesting she may take her own life and walking out of the house.
Ms Hurn said she went outside to look for her but was unable to go further as she had her own 11-year-old daughter, and Ms Loveday’s 13-year-old daughter, to consider.
Ms Loveday’s GP confirmed she had been on medication for physical and mental health issues, and had been diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, Borderline Type. She had a history of self-harm, impulsive behaviour and sometimes intense emotional reactions after relatively minor life events.
However, at her last appointment on April 26, 2017, there was no evidence that pointed to any increase in risk of self-harm or suicide.