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Emergency call worker suspended after car crash family left with freezing walk home after refusal to send police


Robert Dunn and Sarah Millbank, with their children Matthew, Chloe and baby James

Robert Dunn and Sarah Millbank, with their children Matthew, Chloe and baby James

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

PSNI Belfast commander, Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw

PSNI Belfast commander, Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw


Robert Dunn and Sarah Millbank, with their children Matthew, Chloe and baby James

An emergency call worker has been suspended after a young family were left to walk almost three miles in dark blizzard conditions following a car crash.

Robert Dunn from north Belfast told of being forced to carry his screaming two-month-old baby boy down the Hightown Road amid freezing weather with no street lights.

His partner Sarah, seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter also had to make the hour-long trek after he claimed an emergency call worker would not send police to the scene of the crash.

On Thursday, December 11, the young family were caught in a snow storm in lofty Newtownabbey as they drove home to the Woodvale area.

Mr Dunn described the conditions as "treacherous" and told how a car slid into the back of his vehicle. He called the emergency services from his mobile but said he found an unsympathetic ear.

"He just kept telling me: 'Pull your car to the side of the road and exchange your details'," he said.

"I said: 'I have a two-month-old baby, how do you expect me to get down a mountain with two other kids in the car, one at four and one at seven?'

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"Seven times he said to me: 'Pull your car to the side of the road and exchange details'.

"Then I swore. He said: 'That's it, police are coming now to caution you, you abused me on the phone'.

"His last words to me were: 'The police are coming now to speak to you, but they won't be giving you a lift home tonight', and he hung up."

This happened around 7.40pm. Mr Dunn said they remained at the car until 9.15pm in the hope that the police would come, but eventually gave up.

Mr Dunn described the scene they faced on the Hightown Road - total darkness, no pavements and a blizzard raging.

They walked almost three miles home to Woodvale.

"Cars were sliding all over the place in the ice," he said. "At one point I was walking backwards with my baby in my arms because I was so scared we were going to be hit and killed."

It took the family over an hour to get home. The four-year-old girl had been wearing just her Girls' Brigade uniform and plimsolls. Mr Dunn said they put her in a hot bath for an hour to warm her up.

The baby was sick with the cold, and a week later came out in a rash, which he believes was due to the ordeal of that night.

The north Belfast man complained to police after the incident and has received an apology from the head of the PSNI in the city.

"I just want to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.

"It scared me, I kept thinking of that wee family recently who were walking to school a few months and one of them was killed. If that happened and I hadn't done anything, I'd feel like I should have said something."

The incident is currently being investigated. The call handler worked for an outsourced company.

Last night the company did not respond to the Belfast Telegraph's request for a comment.

PSNI Belfast commander, Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw confirmed that a civilian call handler had been suspended while an investigation takes place. The senior officer also confirmed that he met the family and apologised personally.

"The PSNI expects the very highest standards from all its staff at all times," he said.

"Upon receipt of this complaint a full and thorough investigation was instigated. I have met personally with the family and offered a full apology on behalf of the PSNI.

"We are working closely with our managed service provider, and as a result a civilian call handler has been removed from his post pending the outcome of this investigation."

PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston has been supporting the family.

"Public servants are supposed to provide the highest standard of service all-year round. In this case the response was woefully inadequate," she said.

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