Belfast Telegraph

'Lessons learnt' after police crash

Police in Northern Ireland have learned the lessons from a fatal crash that claimed the lives of four officers, a commander said tonight.

Police Service of Northern Ireland assistant chief constable Alan Todd paid tribute to the four policemen after an inquest jury found there was "insufficient evidence" to determine the exact cause of the accident in November, 2008.

Constables Declan Greene, 39, Kenny Irvine, 30, Kevin Gorman, 24, and James Magee, 27, died after becoming trapped inside their armoured Mitsubishi patrol vehicle when it hit a wall and burst into flames in Co Down.

The officers, all from the Mourne area of Co Down, had been responding to an emergency call out from a colleague in difficulties during the early hours of the morning when the accident happened on a stretch of winding coast road between the harbour towns of Warrenpoint and Rostrevor.

Mr Todd said his thoughts and those of the PSNI were with the families of the officers.

"They represented everything I admire and respect and everything that's good about policing - professional officers, liked by their colleagues, respected by their communities and quite prepared to put themselves in harm's way to protect others," he said.

"They represent the best in policing. They are sorely missed by their colleagues, by the police service and by their families."

Jury members who sat through two weeks of evidence during the inquest in Belfast identified three factors that "on the balance of probabilities" were "most likely to have contributed" to the crash.

They were adverse road conditions, driving over a manhole cover and excess weight.

A statement issued tonight on behalf of the families of the four officers said: "We would hope that lessons have been learnt through the tragic consequences of this incident."

It added: "Most importantly, we would wish that people would remember Kevin, Declan, Kenneth and James for the brave officers they were - that they strived through their efforts to make the communities they served a safer place for everyone.

"They were, and will always be, much loved and much missed members of our families and will be cherished and remembered for their selfless actions."

Mr Todd said while the police had taken steps to avoid a repeat of the tragedy, he expressed doubt that any of those measures would have prevented the crash - given the dangerous combination of factors on the night.

"We have picked up some lessons," he said.

"But tragically, looking at that, it is unlikely that any of those would have saved the officers on the night in question, due to the set of circumstances.

"But we have a responsibility to do the very best we can to keep our people safe when they do what is difficult and sometimes dangerous work."

He added: "Hopefully we never see these circumstances again, but if we do we feel we have done the best we can to give our officers the best chance of surviving those circumstances."

Mr Todd said he retained confidence in the PSNI's Mitsubishi fleet and there were no plans to phase them out of service.

The accident was the single biggest loss for the PSNI. No other vehicle was involved in the crash and there were no witnesses to the collision, which occurred just before 4am.

Constable Magee had been driving the vehicle at the time.

Two of the men, constables Greene and Irvine, worked as part time police officers with the PSNI.

Pathologists recorded the cause of death for all four officers as inhalation of smoke and burns.

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