IPCC issues findings from investigation into police search following traffic accident in Norfolk
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has concluded police officers failed to conduct a sufficiently thorough search in the near vicinity of a crashed vehicle off the A47 at Walpole Highway, near Wisbech, Norfolk last year. A 54-year-old man was found in a serious condition in a ditch at the crash scene by a member of the public, several hours after police had twice attended and searched the immediate area.
The IPCC investigation also found a control room operator breached the Data Protection Act by inappropriately disclosing sensitive information in a telephone call with a member of the injured man’s family, soon after the accident.
The location of a damaged dark blue Peugeot was reported to authorities at 11.20 am on Sunday 8 July 2012. Police attended and conducted an initial inspection soon after. The officers established the identity of the car’s owner and visited the registered address nearby but could not locate him. The two officers returned to the vehicle and carried out a further search around the car. As they found no one present, ‘Authorities Aware’ stickers were attached to the car and the police control room was informed.
At approximately 4.30 pm on the same day, members of the public looked at the crashed car and found the owner in a ditch. They called an ambulance and the man was subsequently taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, where he was admitted with life threatening injuries.
On 9 July the matter was referred to the IPCC by Norfolk Constabulary, and the IPCC decided to undertake an independent investigation. A relative later made a complaint about the police failure to find the man, which the IPCC has upheld. We understand the man is still fully recovering from his injuries.
The investigation considered whether the man could have moved to the location he was found in sometime after police officers had attended, but based on the serious chest and pelvic injuries the man sustained, the medical evidence indicated this was improbable.
Both officers were interviewed by the IPCC under criminal caution. While the investigation found their searches should have been more thorough, the ditch was not easily visible and the immediate area was covered in dense vegetation. The officers’ failure to find the man was not an intentional omission and did not amount to a criminal offence or misconduct, however the IPCC considered that there were potential performance issues which the force has addressed by management action for the officers. The IPCC also found that a member of police staff had a case to answer for misconduct after disclosing sensitive information about the accident to a member of the man’s family in a telephone call three days after it occurred. The control room operator accepted a formal caution for breaching the Data Protection Act. The IPCC’s findings have also been shared with the family.
IPCC Commissioner Sarah Green said: “While there are no specific policies or training for police officers regarding the physical search of a given area in these circumstances, I think the officers should have spent more time and care carrying out searches at the scene. The medical evidence indicates the injured man must have been in the ditch, close to the car, at the time the police officers were there, and the officers’ failure to find him meant that valuable time was lost before he received medical attention. A control room operator also made an error of judgment in disclosing sensitive information to a family member and is being retrained by Norfolk Constabulary.”
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