Belfast Telegraph

Police 'missed chance to get crucial evidence from driver's phone'

Neighbours and friends lay flowers at scene after fatal crash
Neighbours and friends lay flowers at scene after fatal crash
Nathan Gault
Debbie Whyte
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

The senior investigating officer into a fatal road crash in Co Fermanagh that left two schoolchildren dead has admitted police missed opportunities to obtain important evidence from the driver's mobile phone.

Inspector Robert McGowan told the inquest into the deaths of Nathan Gault (15) and Debbie Whyte (14) he was unaware of guidance for seizing and securing mobile phones.

The two school friends were hit by a car being driven by Yvonne Seaman on the Croaghrim Road in Florencecourt on November 27, 2008.

Nathan's body was found in his aunt's garden approximately an hour and a half after the collision and Debbie passed away from her injuries in hospital the following day.

A friend who was with them, Wayne Manley, was uninjured.

The mobile phone activity of Ms Seaman has been under intense scrutiny during the inquest sitting in Omagh Court.

In her evidence, Ms Seaman said she made two unanswered calls to her sister, Florence Graydon, while she was parked in a nearby lay-by shortly before the crash.

No evidence of these two calls, which may have helped establish the time the collision occurred, was found during an examination of Ms Seaman's phone.

Mr McGowan told coroner Suzanne Anderson that he was unaware of the proper procedure to follow in relation to mobile phones at the scene of crashes.

Doing so would have helped prevent incoming data over-writing calls or texts which may have been deleted either accidentally or deliberately.

Mr McGowan said he still didn't know the procedure, nor did he know it was not always possible to recover data deleted from a mobile phone.

Asked if he believed PSNI officers were aware of the guidance now and how important it was that it was followed, the inspector replied: "Probably not."

Mr McGowan was pressed about the six-hour delay in seizing Ms Seaman's mobile phone, the failure to isolate it from the network and the failure to ask for it to be examined until 60 days after the collision.

Police did not make a request to the network provider to obtain Ms Seaman's mobile data, which would have recorded all phone activity, including deleted data.

Mr McGowan told the court that "this was just one strand of the investigation" along with the road conditions, clothing worn by the children, lighting and mapping.

He added: "I accept in this case, there were missed opportunities to obtain evidence from the mobile."

It also emerged in court that Ms Seaman was not formally interviewed about the crash until February 2009.

This was after the investigating officer, Sergeant Melanie Hicks, told the PSNI Statistics Branch that the cause of the collision could be attributed to "pedestrians wearing dark clothing".

Counsel for the coroner asked Mr McGowan why, on the day after the collision, he wrote on a police data record to "treat as a fatal RTC (road traffic collision) as opposed to a crime" and whether this would have clouded the investigation.

He said that by "crime" he meant it was not a murder investigation and agreed with the coroner's counsel that careless driving and dangerous driving were crimes.

Mr McGowan denied that the way he filled out the form would have impacted on the way the investigation progressed.

The inquest continues next Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph


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