Review use of PSNI's armoured Mitsubishis, MLAs tell police chief
Calls have been made for the Chief Constable to review the use of armoured Mitsubishi Shoguns following the death of four officers.
Concern regarding the safety of officers in the PSNI's 95 armoured vehicles - all Mitsubishi Shoguns - comes on the back of an inquest into the horrific crash which claimed the constables' lives in 2008.
While the inquest concluded there was insufficient evidence to firmly establish the cause of the accident, excess weight of the vehicle - its armouring, the men and their control packs - was identified as one of three possible contributing factors.
Last night DUP Policing Board members Jonathan Craig and David McIlveen called for a review of the vehicle's use to be discussed at the Policing Board and Stormont's Justice Committee.
"Given some of the evidence has come out from the inquest, it's vital for the Chief Constable to ask his technical experts to have a review of these vehicles," Mr Craig said.
"It's critical we look after the safety of our officers driving these vehicles. It also impacts on the community if there is an issue there which could cause an accident."
Justice Committee member, Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott, said: "There have been concerns raised of how the vehicle may have been unfit for the purpose it was being used for.
"There needs to be a review of how these vehicles are adapted and how they are used."
However, the PSNI's assistant chief constable Alan Todd insisted that the armoured vehicles were safe and fit for purpose.
The officer's former district commander ruled out any consideration of the Shoguns being retired before their expected end of use, in two to three years' time.
Mr Todd said: "We fully accept the jury's verdict. We will look at it closely and learn what we have to learn for the benefit of our officers and for the safety of the wider public.
"The armoured Shogun has an impeccable safety record which was put before the inquest. We will be communicating with officers to give reassurance of this over the coming weeks."
Mr Todd added that the officers were "everything I admire and respect and everything that's good about policing".
The inquest jury was unanimous in its ruling that there had been "a number of unfortunate and concurrent set of incidents" which occurred on November 23, 2008 when the four officers responded to a call of assistance in south Down.
It concluded: "On the balance of probability, the contributing factors was most likely to be road conditions, driving over a manhole cover and excess weight."
The ruling noted that the officers were unable to avail of the escape hatch from the vehicle due to the intense fire at its rear along with the collision jamming the doors. All of the constables died from the inhalation of fire fumes.
After the inquest ended yesterday, former senior investigating officer Inspector Ian Kennedy read a statement on behalf of the men's families.
It said: "We would hope that lessons have been learned through the tragic consequences of this terrible incident.
"Police officers have a dangerous and difficult role and our loved ones have paid the ultimate price - however, we would wish that people would remember Kevin, Declan, Kenny and James for the brave officers that they were."
The officers who died were constables James Magee (27), Kevin Gorman (24), Declan Greene (39) and Kenny Irvine (30). The inquest heard anecdotal evidence from serving police officers about their concerns over the handling of the armoured vehicle. There is no suggestion of any safety concerns on Mitsubishi Shoguns used by the general public or the unarmoured ones used by the PSNI.
The key issues raised by inquest
- The court was told that a PSNI sergeant raised safety concerns over an armoured vehicle 18 months before the four officers were killed.
- The PSNI took a decision to modify the Shoguns with armour but the jury heard there was no paper audit trail available to show the vehicles were tested for adequate handling after the armour was fitted.
- Nationally-renowned collision experts couldn't confirm what caused the police vehicle's rear wheels to lose control.
- A force order stated the Shoguns should not driven at more than 60mph, but the jury heard that one senior officer questioned what he was to do in covering emergency runs when his fleet consisted "95 to 99%" of armoured Mitsubishi Shoguns.