Saturday 25 January 2020

Policeman involved in crash where two nuns were killed was 'in difficult position', inquest hears

Both nuns died at the scene. AFP/Getty Images
Both nuns died at the scene. AFP/Getty Images

Lesley-Anne McKeown

The driver of an unmarked police car which collided with a vehicle containing two elderly nuns was put in an impossible position, a coroner has said.

Sister Frances Forde and Sister Marie Duddy died when their Renault Clio was struck by a Mitsubishi Shogun on the A1 near Newry in September 2014.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast's Laganside House, coroner Joe McCrisken said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) constable could have done little to avoid the nuns' car.

He said: "It seems to me you were placed in an unbelievably difficult position that day.

"I am not sure there's much more you could have done."

The nuns, from the Sister of Mercy Order in north Belfast, had been making their way to a retreat at the Dromantine College Retreat and Conference Centre when the incident occurred.

They both died at the scene.

Three male police officers travelling in a silver Mitsubishi Shogun were also treated in hospital for minor injuries.

Announcing his decision not to hold a full inquest, Mr McCrisken added: "I am not sure I could ever properly understand why Sisters Duddy and Forde attempted to make that manoeuvre.

"I am not sure an inquest would give us an answer."

The coroner said he had taken into account a detailed investigation and report from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman which sent a specialist mapping and photography team to the scene.

He also met with Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd to discuss the PSNI's response and was "satisfied" significant measures had been put in place to limit the speed of police vehicles.

These include the placing of stickers on all vehicle dashboards and the re-drafting of a new force order, the hearing was told.

Mr McCrisken said: "It is not necessary for me to hold an inquest to answer the four statutory questions which are: who the deceased were, when and where they came to their deaths and how did they come by their death.

"Holding an inquest would be counter-therapeutic to the officers involved and to the families and friends of the two Sisters."

Among those in court for the brief hearing were Sisters Anne Brady and Paula Carron, also from the Sister of Mercy Order, who came across the crash involving their friends and colleagues.

Earlier, the Order's solicitor, Ciaran Rafferty, said they believed the matter had been "completely investigated".

Meanwhile, barrister Michael Loughrey, representing the police constable driver, said his client had been prepared to "co-operate fully" with any inquest but added: "Given the very detailed investigation by the PONI it is my view that holding an inquest would not be necessary in the circumstances and would not provide any further detail regarding the circumstances of this tragic accident."

Afterwards the two nuns embraced the police officer who had been driving the police vehicle.

The coroner expressed condolences on at the sad and tragic death of "two good women".

In a statement issued after the hearing, the Sister of Mercy Order welcomed the coroner's decision.

It said: "We, the Mercy family, are again reminded of the tragic passing of two wonderful Sisters who dedicated their lives to serving God and God's people. We remember them and the contribution they made to our each and every day.

"Our thoughts are with all those who were affected by this tragedy, especially with the Duddy and Forde families who have experienced and have had to deal with such a sudden and tragic loss."

PA Media

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