Tuesday 23 January 2018

Review of garda pursuits underway, inquest told of woman killed after her car was struck during M7 chase

Emma Jane Hade

Emma Jane Hade

There is a review underway of the Gardai’s policy specifically in relation to Garda pursuits, a court has been told.

Superintendent Martin Walker said that a “tabletop exercise” was held at the Garda Siochanna College in Templemore last week in relation to code 35.41 which deals with instructions for members of the force in relation to pursuits.

He was speaking at the inquest into the death of Diana Harton, who died last October.

He told the Coroners Court that he understood “certain recommendations have been made” and they are “being reviewed in HQ in relation to a complete policy change”.

Ms Harton was killed after her car was struck during a chase along the M7 motorway in north Kildare shortly before 9pm on October 23, 2014.

The deceased’s car was struck by a Volkswagen Polo which was being pursued by Gardai after being involved in an earlier incident.

It is not yet understood if the review of the Garda policy was established directly in response to the incident, and it is not yet known how long the review is underway.

Superintendent Walker also agreed with solicitor Stuart Gilhooly that the members of the Gardai presented in the Coroners Court for this inquest did not have “the necessary training” to deal with the incident.

The 43-year-old victim’s ribcage was shattered and her spine was fractured during the collision, according to the State pathologist  Dr Marie Cassidy who spoke at the sitting of the Coroners Court in Naas, Co Kildare earlier this morning.

She told the coroner, Dr Denis Cusack, that Ms Harton had died almost immediately from her injuries, which were predominantly to the abdominal and chest area of her body.

The pursuit, which last over 10 minutes, occurred over a distance of 19.5km.

Giving evidence to the court, Garda JP O’Brien- who was the radio controller in Portlaoise station on the night of the incident- said he was not aware of the Garda code in relation to the use of official vehicles in pursuits at the time.

The vehicle sped through Laois and Offaly and towards Kildare during the pursuit.

The court was previously told that all five men had been drinking, including the driver.

A number of other Gardai also admitted they were not aware of that part of the code at the time of the accident.

Garda Daniel Murphy attended the scene and he was the passenger in a patrol car which was struck by the green Volkswagen Polo that was carrying five men on the night of the accident.

Garda Murphy said he “felt physically sick”, suffered a “pain in his back” and went into a state of shock at the scene.

He was the passenger in the Garda vehicle that attempted to stop traffic on the motorway in attempt to intercept the vehicle, but he had “no training in vehicle pursuit”.

The Gardai involved in the pursuit did not block off the Junction 13 slipway which Ms Harton was travelling down when her vehicle was struck and flipped.

Garda Murphy told the court that they “had to make a call” and that he stands by his decision.

All of Ms Harton’s family were present in court, including her father, two brothers and two sisters.

The verdict read out in court today found that "Diana Harton died on October  23, 2013, from chest and abdominal injuries consistent with those sustained in a road traffic collision of that date, in the context of a Garda vehicle pursuit of a VW Polo vehicle which collided with the car being driven by the deceased.   

"The death was a result of an unlawful killing  by dangerous driving causing  death in accordance with the finding of the circuit criminal court on March 13, 2015.

"The jury recommends that the (Garda) code 35.41 should be reviewed  and updated in view of the advent of modern structure and technologies and that there be training of all Garda personnel in the code.

"The jury also recommends that the Minister for Justice should review the 1976 Criminal Law Act in view if the findings that they have set out."

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