Belfast Telegraph

A PSNI order was in force not to use 4x4s on 'blue light' runs, inquest told

By Joanne Sweeney

The police vehicle in which four officers died in a "fireball" after it crashed was not recommended for emergency response work, an inquest has heard.

Despite a force order that stated they should not be used for "blue light" runs and driven over 60 miles per hour, the armoured Mitsubishi Shogun was a commonly used vehicle by the PSNI at the time of the horrific accident in November 2008.

The vehicles are still in use today, but the standard training of police drivers was changed shortly after the tragedy to ensure that officers learned how to operate them.

The crash claimed the lives of Kilkeel-based officers James Magee, Kevin Gorman, Declan Greene and Kenny Irvine as they travelled to the aid of colleagues in the early hours of November 23.

New details were revealed about the aftermath of the crash by the PSNI's investigating officer, Inspector Ian Kennedy, now retired.

He said that although there were six witnesses who heard the impact and five witnesses who claimed that they heard shouts from the men within the vehicle, no one actually witnessed the crash on the Moygannon Road bridge.

Earlier, the inquest heard from a witness about the sense of helplessness at the scene: "They couldn't get out and we couldn't get in," he said.

Mr Kennedy said the two front seat passengers - Constables James Magee and Kevin Gorman - had good records and had been noted as showing "potential" for the future.

It was revealed that Constable Magee's phone had been recovered and showed that the last text the unmarried 27-year-old from Dromore, Co Down, had made the evening before he died was to his mother.

The vehicle's data recorder, which was stored in a plastic box in the car, was damaged beyond use in the intense blaze, which broke out on impact.

However, Mr Kennedy said that it was understood the vehicle lost control just after a sharp right-hand bend 30 yards from the impact site.

He confirmed how several years before the accident, the men's area commander for the Newry and Mourne District questioned what he was to do in covering emergency runs when his fleet consisted "95-99%" of armoured Mitsubishi Shoguns.

As part of his investigation, Mr Kennedy had written to other police forces in the UK and learnt that only advanced accredited drivers were permitted to drive 4x4s.

He said that the Shoguns had been modified with armour after they had been purchased and that he could find no audit trail of them being checked for handling issues afterwards.

The inquest jury also heard of issues surrounding internal communication of the force order on the use of the vehicles.

Background

The horror incident six years ago - in which four police officers perished after their vehicle crashed and burst into flames - is the single biggest lost of life the PSNI has experienced.

The men were - Constable Kenny Irvine (30) and Declan Greene (39) from Kilkeel, Kevin Gorman (24) from Ballynahinch, and James Magee (27) from Newcastle, all in Co Down.

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