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City gridlock: police answer questions

PSNI admits no officers directed traffic in rush hour chaos

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By Deborah McAleese and Claire Regan

Police last night admitted that no officers were deployed to direct traffic in Belfast after a fatal accident on the motorway caused rush hour chaos.

John Lawrence Woolf (39), from Ballymena, died after he was struck by a bus on the M2. The bus was making its way from the city centre to Belfast International Airport close to the Fortwilliam off-slip.

In response to a number of questions asked by the Belfast Telegraph the PSNI has revealed that nobody was brought in to help alleviate the gridlock.

A decision by police to close all major northbound routes from the city after Tuesday afternoon's collision came under fire after tens of thousands of motorists spent several hours fuming in evening rush hour gridlock which paralysed most of the greater Belfast region.

Police and the Roads Service met yesterday to discuss the chaos, reminiscent of the mayhem seen last October when it took around 14 hours to completely clear the M1 after a crash involving two lorries.

In a bid to determine why one accident caused such disruption, the Belfast Telegraph asked the PSNI a series of questions:

Why did it take four hours to re-open the motorway?

"In order for police to conduct a thorough investigation, ensuring that all evidence was secured and the scene photographed and mapped, it was necessary to have the road closed. Subsequent to this, the road had to be cleared and vehicles removed. Police were mindful of the disruption being caused, but the duty to investigate takes priority in a situation like this. In the event of a death on the roads, police have a statutory duty to investigate on behalf of the Coroner and ensure they are able to answer legitimate questions from the deceased's family."

Why did the whole motorway remain closed?

"Police initially attempted to keep traffic flowing along the M5. However, after a number of near- miss collisions caused by drivers slowing down to look at the scene, it was decided in the interests of the health and safety of police, other agencies and the motoring public to close the M5 also. Furthermore, any further collisions would only have exacerbated the situation and placed additional pressure on police resources."

How many police officers were deployed to direct traffic?

"Police officers were not specifically deployed to direct traffic. The situation was such that there was no feasible alternative route with the capacity to take the volume of traffic affected by this event."

What lessons has the PSNI learned since October's shambles?

"Whilst the collision in October differed significantly from yesterday's collision, there were significant improvements. The closure in October was in excess of 12 hours, yesterday's closure was just over four hours. The communication lines between Roads Service and Police Service of Northern Ireland have improved, thus resulting in a more co-ordinated response and information flow to the motorist. In addition, police provided nine separate traffic and travel updates to the public, via the media, during the incident."

How does the PSNI approach compare with best practice in the rest of the UK?

"The Police Service apply the principles of the Road Death Investigation Manual, in common with all the police forces in GB. The manual clearly states that the investigation takes precedence over the need to re-open roads. Investigation of collisions in NI is materially no different from what occurs in the rest of the UK. The difference there is that often the road infrastructure is such that alternative viable diversion routes are more available."

What extra traffic measures were introduced after traffic wardens were replaced by parking wardens?

"Parking wardens did not replace Traffic Wardens. Traffic Wardens were transferred to DRD Roads Service to become Traffic Attendants. Police have always had, and retain, the power to stop and direct traffic."

Belfast Telegraph


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