Belfast Telegraph

Fears were raised over police vehicle, crash inquest told

By Joanne Sweeney

A PSNI sergeant raised safety concerns over an armoured vehicle 18 months before four officers died in one after a road crash, an inquest has heard.

Claims that the armoured Mitsubishi Shogun "handled abysmally" and that the officer "had no confidence in its cornering ability" were relayed to superiors following an accident involving other police officers at Cookstown, Co Tyrone, in 2006.

However, the Belfast inquest also heard from the commander of the four - who died from smoke inhalation and burns when their Shogun crashed and became engulfed in an intense fire - that he had never received any complaints from his officers about the vehicle, which was widely used by the PSNI.

The constables who perished were full-time officers James Magee and Kevin Gorman, and part-time officers Kenny Irvine and Declan Greene.

On November 23, 2008, they had been responding to an emergency call to assist colleagues in Rostrevor when the horrific accident occurred, trapping them in their vehicle after the fuel tank burst and ignited. Earlier, a lawyer for the PSNI rejected as "absolutely erroneous" a suggestion from a barrister representing one of the families that the vehicle could have potentially been the cause of the accident.

The inquest's jury also heard that the now retired superintendent of the Newry and Mourne police district had issued a communication to his inspectors and sergeants earlier that year to say that the Shogun was not to be used for first response purposes.

Despite this force order, the inquest heard from Superintendent Brian Kee that there was an expectation that all officers would respond to an emergency no matter what vehicle they were using, but on the condition that it was driven to within the capabilities of the vehicle's restrictions and the driver's abilities.

He added that he believed there was no widespread concern about its use, and many officers preferred to drive the Shogun, which has been successfully used by the force throughout Northern Ireland since the accident.

The inquest heard evidence that Constable Magee, the driver of the police vehicle, had chosen to use the armoured Shogun over an armoured Skoda Octavia at the beginning of his shift on the night of the crash.

The current head of the PSNI's training and driver unit stressed that the unsuitability of the armoured Shogun was more to do with its high centre of gravity and potential to roll over than any problems in its handling while being driven.

He said that the PSNI's driver training was of the "highest standard there is" among UK police forces and that all officers would have been informed of vehicle escape hatches during firearms training.

The hearing continues.

Factfile

Tomorrow will see the end of eight days of evidence presented at the inquest into the death of four police officers on November 23, 2008, when their armoured Mitsubishi Shogun crashed and burst into a "fireball" on the Moygannon Road in south Down.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd will be the final witness to be heard by the jury.

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