Page last updated at 16:26 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

Crash police driver found guilty

Sgt Craig Bannister
Sgt Craig Bannister denied driving at an inappropriate speed

A traffic officer who crashed his police car while travelling at 115mph in "appalling weather" has been found guilty of dangerous driving.

Sgt Craig Bannister, 30, aqua-planed before skidding off the M4 and landing in trees on the non-emergency journey.

A jury at Cardiff Crown Court took three hours to reach a guilty verdict.

Mr Recorder Peter Murphy said Bannister of Briton Ferry, near Swansea, would be sentenced next month as first he wanted to know how it would affect his career.

He has already been withdrawn from operational duties and had his driving permit taken off him.

Following the verdict The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it would consider South Wales Police misconduct recommendations for Bannister.

During the trial prosecutor Michael Hammett had told the court: "Conditions were appalling. There was heavy rain, lots of spray and standing water on the carriageway.

Following the guilty verdict in court today, and after sentencing, I will then consider the force's recommendation for any misconduct action
Tom Davies, IPCC Commissioner for Wales

"Bannister's car showed he'd been travelling at 122mph before slowing to 115mph when he hit the water and began aqua-planing.

"He left the road and mounted the grass verge demolishing fencing.

"The car then skidded another 200 yards before coming to rest in a crop of trees facing the wrong way.

"It's important to note that he was not answering an emergency response call at the time."

The court heard a police investigation showed the car had no mechanical defects and the crash was caused by driver error.

Mr Hammett said: "When Bannister was interviewed he refused to accept that driving at those speeds in those conditions was dangerous.

"There were signs on the road warning of standing water and many drivers were travelling well below the 70mph limit.

"He couldn't offer an explanation as to why he was travelling that fast."

Diligent investigation

The court heard Bannister had received an emergency call minutes earlier but he had been "stood down" before his car joined the M4 at Junction 46 near Neath.

The jury was told Bannister was a grade two qualified police driver, and had been trained to the second highest level of traffic officers.

Bannister had denied dangerous driving.

IPCC Commissioner for Wales Tom Davies said: "Police officers are given special dispensation in certain circumstances to drive faster then the speed limit allows.

"That power carries a responsibility not to abuse it.

"South Wales Police voluntarily referred Sgt Bannister's crash on the M4 to the IPCC.

"They have carried out a diligent investigation under my management and found no policing reason why this officer was driving so far above the speed limit.

"Following the guilty verdict in court today, and after sentencing, I will then consider the force's recommendation for any misconduct action."

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