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Sunday 4 December 2016

Gardaí say cuts have hit training for road chases

Paul Williams and Emma Jane Hade

Published 29/10/2015 | 02:30

Diana Harton: died when car pursued by gardaí hit hers
Diana Harton: died when car pursued by gardaí hit hers

Cutbacks in garda training budgets have led to a dramatic rise in the number of squad car drivers who are prohibited from using sirens or driving faster than the speed limit while responding to emergency calls.

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The bizarre situation emerged yesterday after an inquest jury recommended a review of how garda chases are conducted, following the death of innocent victim Diana Harton.

Garda sources revealed that the force has never had a training course for pursuit driving.

Advanced driving courses are confined to members of elite squads, such as the Emergency Response Unit, the Regional Support Units and ministerial drivers.

According to senior sources, "over half" of all garda drivers are not qualified to take part in high-speed chases or emergency responses.

For many years, untrained gardaí were only allowed to drive squad cars with what was known as 'chief's permission' but this was recently replaced with a course known as 'Competency Based Driving', or CBD 1.

But before getting behind the wheel, officers must sign a document undertaking not to use the squad car's sirens or blue lights and to stay within the speed limit.

This means that squad car drivers in cities and towns must drive within the speed limits for built-up areas and a so-called CBD 1 driver can only switch on the squad car's blue lights when the vehicle is stationary.

Sanctions

Any officer who is found to have broken the rules is liable to internal disciplinary sanctions and would not be covered by insurance. If they are involved in a collision, they are subject to a criminal investigation by either GSOC or their superiors.

All squad car drivers must first pass a 'Response Driving' course before taking part in emergency responses and pursuits, as part of the three-week CBD2 course, which also includes two weeks of competency in driving skills.

However, such training courses have been drastically reduced since the recession.

"The elephant in the room here is that yet again we are suffering because our management is more interested in saving money than ensuring proper training," a senior source revealed.

Gardaí confirmed that they are currently reviewing a new proposed Pursuit Management Policy which is being undertaken by the 'Use of Force Working Group'.

A senior garda admitted at the inquest into the death of Diana Harton that a "tabletop exercise" was held last week as part of this review.

Her family's solicitor, Stuart Gilhooly, said last night that it was "disappointing" that the first time he and the family had been made aware of the review was at the inquest, a year after Diana's death.

Ms Harton (43) died after her car was in collision with a vehicle that was being pursued by gardaí on October 23 last year.

She was about to enter the M7 road at junction 13.

Mr Gilhooly said the family was concerned about how Ms Harton's car had been allowed onto the motorway when three garda cars were in pursuit of Joyces' car

The jury at Tuesday's inquest recommended that the garda code relating to high-speed chases should be reviewed and updated.

Irish Independent

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