Belfast Telegraph

Claire Kelly crash: Claims that Police Ombudsman reports were concealed to be subject to independent probe

Allegations that police watchdog reports into the pursuit of a drunk driver who later crashed and killed his passenger were concealed from the victim's family are to be subjected to independent investigation, the High Court heard on Friday.

The pledge given by the Department of Justice brought an end to a legal challenge from the mother of 20-year-old victim Claire Kelly.

Denise McAuley was seeking to judicially review the Department's original decision that her complaint should first be internally reviewed by the Police Ombudsman's Office.

Awarding her costs in the action, Mr Justice Maguire thanks both sides for reaching a resolution.

Miss Kelly was killed in a night-time road accident near the family's home in Dungiven, Co Derry in December 2011.

She had been a passenger in a Renault Clio driven by Kevin Brolly and pursued by police after speeding off from a checkpoint in the village of Feeny.

The car later crashed into a field and overturned, trapping the victim inside. She later died in hospital.

Brolly, 27, from Rannyglass in Dungiven, pleaded guilty to causing her death by careless driving, drink-driving and having no insurance.

He was handed a three-year sentence and disqualified from driving for five years.

In 2015 the Police Ombudsman completed an investigation into the role played by PSNI officers in the sequence of events leading up to the crash.

It found they were driving at 81mph through a 30mph zone in an unmarked police vehicle with no sirens or flashing lights.

The report further identified no causal link between the way the police car was driven by Officer A and Miss Kelly's death.

Despite representations from Mrs McAuley's lawyers, the Public Prosecution Service stood over a decision not to prosecute Officer A for dangerous driving.

Proceedings issued against the PPS collapsed following the disclosure of previously unseen reports from the Ombudsman' office - three of them said to contain recommendations from three separate investigators.

One recommended Officer A be prosecuted for dangerous driving, another for careless driving and speeding, while the senior investigator recommended no prosecution at all, the court was told previously.

A fourth report was said to contain forensic analysis that the police car may actually have been as low as 62mph, with no certainty about when it reached that speed.

Mrs McAuley then lodged a complaint against the Ombudsman's Office, alleging the reports had been concealed from her.

She asked the Department of Justice to carry out an independent review into her claims, and then launched fresh legal action against its backing for an internal investigation.

Announcing the resolution reached, her barrister Michael Forde told the court today: "The Department have reconsidered their decision and they now intend to undertake their investigation independently, which is the relief sought by the applicant."

Outside court the bereaved mother's solicitor, Stephen Atherton, claimed she had been let by the police, PPS and the police watchdog at various stages since her daughter's death.

"It would have been procedurally unfair if my client's complaint was to be internally investigated by the Police Ombudsman's Office," he added.

"We are grateful that the Department has now reconsidered its position and we hope that the investigation proceeds with urgency."

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