- Follows prosecution of a PC for dangerous driving even though no complaint was made
Police officers chasing speeding criminals are too frightened to put their foot down for fear of being prosecuted for dangerous driving.
Yesterday the Police Federation said hundreds of officers around the country were worried about undertaking high speed pursuits due to the risk of them being hauled before the courts.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, QC, is now carrying out an urgent review after the Federation warned that officers could refuse to pursue fugitives, burglars, carjackers and other dangerous offenders if the law on dangerous driving is not changed to provide exemptions for 999 emergencies.
Police officers chasing speeding criminals are too frightened to put their foot down for fear of being prosecuted for dangerous driving
The extraordinary move comes after the prosecution of a police patrol officer for dangerous driving even though no complaint was made about his driving and no members of the public were injured.
PC James Holden was following a serial burglar who raced through several red lights and went the wrong way along a section of dual carriageway before his stolen van crashed through a railway barrier in Cosham, Hampshire.
No one was injured and the officer from Hampshire Constabulary stopped the pursuit before he reached the railway barrier.
The thief who ran from the scene was caught by another patrol on the other side of the railway.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, QC, is now carrying out an urgent review
Despite no complaints being made, senior officers, who routinely review police pursuits, deemed that the chase had gone on too long and had put lives and properties at risk.
An independent review by another force expert described PC Holden’s driving as ‘admirable’, ‘not careless, reckless or dangerous’ and ‘typical of an urban pursuit’.
However Hampshire Police referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who decided to prosecute the officer for dangerous driving.
After just two hours of deliberations, a jury cleared the constable of any wrongdoing at Guildford Crown Court in February this year.
But the landmark case has raised fears that dozens of other police patrol officers could face prosecution simply for trying to catch a fleeing criminal.
More than a hundred rank and file officers have contacted the Police Federation to say they are worried about putting their foot down when chasing an offender.
There are also fears that the case could deter surveillance teams from tailing terrorist suspects in the run-up to the Olympics if the officers feel that they are vulnerable to prosecution.
Paramedics and firefighters have also expressed concerns about the case.
Mr Starmer is now carrying out a review of CPS guidance after the case was raised Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
The national ACPO lead on police driving Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt has also written to all chief constables regarding a review of the legislation.
Yesterday Chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation John Apter said: ‘In some cases police officers are saying I do not want to go through what PC Holden went through just for doing my job.
‘I am not going to put my foot down.’ He went on: ‘Some officers have decided that the risk to them is not worth it. I understand that position.
‘You are trained to do a job and if you do it you are worried about gripping a rail in a dock.’
Mr Apter stressed that the federation was not calling for an total exemption on prosecution for police officers, but that it was necessary to provide allowances for 999 emergencies.
He said: ‘I think that the reality is if nothing is done, police officers will lose faith in the system.
‘If police officers lose faith and do not feel they have any support, they will minimise the risks to themselves.
‘I can see officers refusing to pursue which would be very sad for the police and for the public- it would be Christmas for criminals.’
Currently members of the emergency services have no special exemption from prosecution when responding to 999 calls, they owe the same duty of care as a member of the public.
But yesterday Mr Starmer said: ‘A number of concerns have been raised with me about the case of PC Holden.
‘I do not propose to comment on the case itself, but I have decided that CPS policy guidance in relation to dangerous driving should be reviewed, including the way in which it is applied to members of the emergency services.
‘The CPS will consult with the police before finalising the revised policy guidance.’
See also: End of the road for police pursuits?