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Police Ombudsman's reports into PSNI drunk driver chase which resulted in girl's death 'concealed from victim's family', court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 14/03/2016

The judge said it was
The judge said it was "most unfortunate" proceedings had to be ended.

Police Ombudsman reports into the pursuit of a drunk driver who later crashed and killed his passenger were concealed from the victim's family, the High Court heard today.

As the mother of Claire Kelly abandoned her legal challenge to the decision not to prosecute the PSNI officer who gave chase, her lawyer also launched a withering attack on the watchdog.

Denise McAuley's solicitor accused the Ombudsman of keeping reports into the incident secret and vowed to refer the case to the First and Deputy First Ministers.

Her 20-year-old daughter Claire was killed in a night-time road accident near their home in Dungiven, Co Londonderry in December 2011.

Miss Kelly 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, 26, 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.

Last year 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.

Based on the contents of a letter from the Ombudsman's office setting out the findings, Mrs McAuley's lawyers urged the Public Prosecution Service to review its decision not to prosecute Officer A for dangerous driving.

In December last year the PPS concluded that it had been within a range of reasonable decisions.

A judicial review of the outcome was set to get underway today before Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.

But Mrs McAuley's barrister, Michael Forde, instead asked the court to dismiss the challenge based on new information discovered at "the eleventh hour".

He said the PPS has now disclosed up to four previous unseen reports from the Ombudsman' office - three containing 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 heard.

A fourth report containing forensic analysis determined the police car may actually have been as low as 62mph, with no certainty about when it reached that speed, according to Mr Forde.

Referring to legal papers, the barrister added: "It further appears... the Ombudsman had not given it's permission to the PPS for the existence or contents of the reports to be shared with the applicant's family."

He said his client wanted to know why the Ombudsman's office submitted three separate investigators' reports to prosecutors and allegedly hid this from her.

Sir Declan, sitting with two other senior judges, was also told the letter to Mrs McAuley wrongly implied the watchdog body believed Officer A should be prosecuted.

"With all the shifts there have been towards a victim-centred justice system, I am instructed that the applicant feels thoroughly disappointed at the way she has been treated by the Ombudsman's office," Mr Forde told the court.

"On account of the emergence of the previously concealed reports and given the light they cast on the respondent's decision making, the applicant respectfully invites the court to dismiss the application."

Agreeing to end proceedings, described the situation as "most unfortunate" and expressed sympathy for Mrs McAuley's bereavement.

Outside court, her solicitor, Stephen Atherton of John J McNally & Co, insisted he will be seeking urgent answers.

He said: "What we have uncovered is a culture of secrecy and concealment.

"These revelations are matters of significant public importance, and it's my intention to refer this to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister."

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