Belfast Telegraph

Safety of PSNI's 4x4 queried: He may have survived crash in different vehicle, officer's family tell inquest

By Joanne Sweeney

The family of the youngest policeman to have died with three colleagues after their vehicle crashed in a "fireball" believe he may have lived if he had been in another car, an inquest has heard.

A solicitor representing the family of Constable Kevin Gorman (24) yesterday questioned the PSNI's head of transport on the suitability of the armoured Mitsubishi Shogun 4x4 that the officers had been using.

The four Kilkeel-based constables were responding to a blue light emergency call when their car lost control on a bend on the Moygannon Road, Co Down, crashed on a bridge wall and ignited, killing them all.

The Belfast inquest heard that the vehicle's driver, Constable James Magee (27), had been driving an armoured saloon car earlier in his shift and had later changed to the 4x4 a short time before the accident.

The two other officers to lose their lives in the tragedy were Constables Declan Greene (30) and Kenny Irvine (39). In questioning David Graham from the PSNI on why the force's internal users group was not consulted about the handling of the armoured 4x4 vehicle before it was introduced, the Gormans' solicitor said: "There are concerns from the family that their son may not have been killed if he had been in a different car."

Mr Graham described the decision to purchase and then modify the vehicle with armour as "a stepping stone in the police process to demilitarise" following Chris Patten's Report on Policing in 1999.

Initially bought as unarmoured "soft-skin" vehicles to replace 400 armoured Land Rovers from 2001, the PSNI took a decision to modify them with armour.

However, the jury heard that there was no paper audit trail available to show that the vehicles were tested for adequate handling following their modification. Nationally renowned collision experts, including one who gave evidence at the inquest of Diana, Princess of Wales in 2008, disagreed about how much the vehicle may have rolled on taking a right-hand bend, and where exactly the fire started.

A forensic scientist also told the inquest that when he carried out an investigation, he concluded that two of the officers had attempted to get out of the car before they succumbed to the toxic fumes.

Following the accident, the PSNI's remaining 126 armoured Shoguns were fitted with a second escape route, which allows occupants to get out of the vehicle within 60 seconds.

Background

Several contentious issues have emerged at the inquest into how and why four officers died in a horrific crash six years ago - the handling of the overloaded armoured vehicle, adequacy of police driver training, the speed of the vehicle, and a possible loss of control due to driving over a metal inspection cover on the road.

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