Friday, 19 December 2008

Fatal police chase 'foolish, horrifying'

Police officers were responsible for the death of a woman who was thrown from a car during a high-speed pursuit, a court has found.

Vanessa Louise Hardy, 24, was killed when the car in which she was a passenger flipped and crashed while being chased by police on a dirt road in Brewarrina, in the state's north-west, in October 2003.

The State Coroner, Mary Jerram, said yesterday that it was horrifying that police were still unclear of protocols when it came to high-speed pursuits.

She recommended that all police undergo further training in safe driving to clarify their responsibilities in police pursuits.

The driver of the car, Joseph Shillingsworth, had been drinking heavily that night and was driving unlicensed in an unregistered car, with warrants for his arrest.

Police gave chase after he failed to stop for a random breath test. Shillingsworth's Holden Commodore reached 100kmh during the pursuit.

Ms Jerram said the police chase should not have taken place, because Shillingsworth had not been speeding when he evaded the roadside test and his car would have been traceable the next day in the small town.

"The actions of police … were lacking in common sense, foolish and without basis in terms of preventing a serious crime," she said. "Ultimately, those actions contributed to causing a fatality."

As the Commodore passed a second police car, which had been positioned on the side of the road, Shillingsworth lost control of the vehicle, which rolled, throwing Ms Hardy, who was not wearing a seatbelt, through the rear window.

"Conditions were anything but ideal. It was a pitch-black night, there was a lot of wildlife about, Mr Shillingsworth was highly intoxicated and his car was throwing up a great deal of dust on the sparsely gravelled road," Ms Jerram said. "To follow a car in those conditions put not only Mr Shillingsworth and his passengers at risk, but also the pursuing officer and the police in the waiting car."

During the inquest police officers gave conflicting accounts of the pursuit, including the speeds at which they were travelling and whether warning lights and sirens had been used. They were unsure whether the local command had a "no pursuits" policy.

Ms Jerram recommended all police be made aware of changes to pursuit policies in their area.

Quote: Catch and kill has its origin back in the cave man days when people had to catch and kill their meals. The adrenalin rush takes over these days and that’s what police are doing when they pursue people on the road. Give up the adrenalin rush. Give up the chase and stay safe.


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TJ died 4 years ago. His bike was rammed by a Redfern police vehicle, driven by then, Constable Michael Hollingsworth. As a result, he was impaled on the metal spiked fence.

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