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Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 22:05 GMT
Transcript: In Pursuit

This is the full transcript of Frontline Scotland's In Pursuit programme, broadcast on 14 March




Jane Franchi: This is an actual police chase. Put yourself behind the wheel, the steering wheel of a very fast police car.

You're chasing a criminal, or you've been called out to an emergency - time is short, speed is of the essence. Lives could depend on you.

But speed kills. And lives could be lost because of you, people could be injured.

Last year in Scotland there were more than 1,100 accidents involving police cars. Sixty-five members of the public were injured. Three people died.

Ten days ago in Glasgow Helen Barbour died. She was a passenger in a car being driven by her husband.

They were turning right at a major junction when a police car responding to a call about a drunk driver collided with them. Mrs Barbour died in hospital.

Sheena McDonald: I suspect a lot of the ways that the police behave are informed and controlled by the way that they consider they are able to behave.

In other words, they're not liable to the kind of law and order that the rest of us are.

Jane: 27 February last year. Sheena McDonald was in Glasgow chairing a conference for women in Scotland. She knows she was there because she's been told she was, and the photographs confirm it. But she doesn't remember it.

After the conference she flew back to London for another event. She's been told that, too.

And she's been told that later that night she was in Islington walking home when a police van, on an emergency call avoiding a traffic jam, by travelling on the wrong side of the road.

She knows because she's been told that the police van knocked her down.

Sheena McDonald: I don't remember a thing. I don't remember that day at all.

Jane: When people tell you what happened, does it trigger anything at all?

Sheena: No. It's absolutely normal to experience something they call post traumatic amnesia, which means that after the trauma, after the accident, or whatever it is that happens to you, your brain is so jiggled around, and I find this very remarkable, that is completely forgets.

So for the first five or six weeks of my recovery I have no recollection. And you also experience something called retrogressive amnesia, and that wipes out all your previous memories, and apparently in my case it effectively wiped out, for a short time, some fifteen years of my life.

Jane: Everything?

Sheena: Well, I've been told by my partner, Allan Little, that I didn't recognise him. I didn't, and I referred to him to my sister in law as my ex-boyfriend.

Jane: Sheena has yet to read all the press cuttings her family has kept which describe how critically ill she was.

How she was unconscious for 72 hours. How there were doubts over how badly her brain had been injured.

Was it a fight for life?

Sheena: The doctors wouldn't use the term 'fight for life' because daily they're coping with people who are, well it's a very sensational term, fighting for life.

Em, I have been told by my consultant neurosurgeon that they didn't expect me to recover as much as I have. He said: "You've broken the rules," and I said: "how," and he said: "we don't know."

A couple of months ago I was told by an ophthalmologist that I've lost my right field vision, which means that I can't see out of the left hand side of my eyes, but the right hand side of my eyes are now defunct.

And he said: "And we don't recommend that you drive any more." But, I said: "Oh crikey."

I said: "Is there any chance it might get better?"

He said: "We don't expect so, but there's one in a million chance," so I'm kind of holding out for one in a million chance. You never know.

News Bulletin: "The driver, PC Glen Whitely, is on trial and denies driving without due care and attention"

Jane: 11 January, 2000 - Horseferry Road Magistrates Court in London. The high profile trial. Evidence was heard over two days. The magistrate took just five minutes to come to her decision.

Sheena: The driver of the vehicle that hit me was charged with by the Crown Prosecution Service with driving without due care and attention.

And the Stipendiary Magistrate in the court in London held that the prosecution had failed to make the case, and therefore he was acquitted.

Jane: What was your reaction to that?

Sheena: I was very, very angry. And I still am very angry, but I have quietened down now, I'm not so volubly angry.

The police driver's co-driver I think completely, without any evidence, he kind of suggested that it was his impression, based on his experience, that I was weaving between the cars, and had therefore been drinking.

Well, of course, the second day the defence withdrew that allegation.

They said there's never any evidence for it, and it was. . . .there isn't one to be considered, and the Stipendiary Magistrate absolutely ruled it out, because there was plenty of evidence that I wasn't.

I never am, I never overdrink. But, of course, some of the press picked it up, including I'm ashamed to say, The Scotsman, who ran this big headline: "Television presenter. . . had been drinking," but you know, Joe Public doesn't see the inverted commas.

Jane: Sheena is now suing the Metropolitan Police for compensation. A year on from the accident which so nearly took her life she still hasn't been able to read through the sackfulls of cards and letters she received.

Sheena: From a dog walker at Inverleith Park, that some years ago who valued your smile in passing, and followed your career with pride.

Jane: Along with the get well wishes there were those with similar stories of police car accidents. The realisation that she was by no means alone has made her question the whole culture of police driving.

Sheena: I certainly think that the driving fast is part of the police driving culture. Speed apparently matters to them very much, and having the licence to drive over the speed limit, on the wrong side of the road.

These are young boys driving what are in effect lethal weapons, two tons of steel, driving at speed.

Twenty, 30 miles an hour is actually a colossal speed to be going at if you hit somebody, as I was.

I think it's, and this is completely my opinion, I think it informs the way the rest of us drive. And I think the way the police drive in general has to be revised.

Jane: It's an opinion which is being expressed more and more. The statistics make unwelcome reading for the police, and are a grim reminder to those who may unwittingly find themselves caught up in an emergency or in the part of a pursuit.

Each year in the UK 2,000 people are injured in accidents involving police cars. Around 20 are killed. A tragic toll, a difficult, some would say impossible, dilemma for the police and the public. If we're in trouble we want the law there - fast.

Assistant Chief Constable Martin Papworth: If I'm a member of the public and I've got someone breaking in to my house I dial 999, I want someone there quickly, as quickly as humanly possible.

And I don't want to wait until the police decide they can turn up. I'm desperate for someone to attend, and I'm desperate for someone to come and resolve my problem.

The dilemma then for the police officer, as I say, is to get there as quickly as possible, but to get there safely, because of course, if that individual is involved in a collision of any sort then they're not going to get there at all, and they haven't served the needs either of the community in keeping them safe, or of that individual in getting to respond to their incident quickly.

Music

Jane: 2 November, 1997, Dundee, Fat Sam's nightclub. A Saturday night out. It was the early hours of Sunday morning when Susan Malcolm and her friend left the city centre club. There is an uncanny echo of Sheena McDonald's story.

Susan Malcolm: I left Fat Sam's when it finished at half past two, we both came out together, she wanted to go for something to eat, I didn't.

So we both went in opposite directions, and I came to get a taxi. So there's three different night-clubs came out at the same time. So it's very busy at that time. I just remember coming to the edge of the road, and I can't remember anything after that.

Jane: Like Sheena, Susan's been told what happened after that. She was hit by an unmarked police car. According to witnesses there was no siren. The police were responding to a report of a speeding car.

Susan: I was in intensive care for three days, because I had to have an emergency operation to remove a blood clot from my brain. I had a fractured pelvis.

I was in hospital altogether for eleven days, and I stayed with my mum for, it must have been about three or four months. I did try to go home to my own house, but I couldn't manage.

Jane: It was only when she was recovering in hospital that Susan learned that the car which had knocked her down was a police car. In a search for witnesses her father distributed posters in the city.

Susan I don't think we would have got nearly as many witnesses as we did without him putting the posters up.

Most of the witnesses said it wasn't my fault, the car was going too fast, without a siren. And, basically it was their fault, not mine.

Jane: But Tayside Police disagreed. They claimed that Susan had been drinking. She'd been shouted a warning by other pedestrians, but had stepped out in front of the car which has its blue flashing lights on.

Susan and her solicitors are still trying to get the video tape from the camera inside the police car. Unlike Sheena McDonald, she didn't get her day in the court. The Procurator Fiscal decided against any action.

Susan: I think if it had been anybody else apart from the police driver they would have been charged for careless driving.

Jane: Now back at work in her parents' shop Susan suffers tinnitus, depression and mood swings, all of which she attributes to the accident.

She's suing Tayside Police for compensation. The case is due to be heard in June.

Susan: I feel he should have been more aware, especially coming out at that time in the morning at the weekends, all the discos coming out, I think he should have been aware, being alert to people coming out, crossing the roads.

I just don't think he was driving with enough care and attention. And when I heard Sheena Macdonald had been run over I thought with her being a celebrity, somebody famous, that she would have more chance of winning against the police than I did.

And after she lost her court case, it just makes you feel there's no chance of winning against them.

Jane: This is another real pursuit.

A stolen car, its driver intent on getting away from the police car behind, irrespective of the danger to others.

A school on the left.

Both cars are doing more than 80 miles an hour, 75 as they pass two pedestrians on the right.

A narrow escape at a junction.

Round this bend on the left a cyclist, just feet away, pulls back in alarm.

After the roundabout three people on the right within inches of being knocked down.

A criminal in front of you, the force of the law behind you. In your hands, your control, a very, very fast car. At what point does the thrill of the chase, the adrenaline rush take over.

Dr Gordon Sharp, author of Human Aspects of Police Driving: Even the most dedicated professional police driver has a tendency, if he allows himself to get into that position, to develop these negative attitudes of impatience and tolerance, or a whole number of them.

But what they do is to seriously interfere with his ability to carry out the driving task in a skilful, and of course, in a safe way.

Jane: Precisely the tendencies Doctor Sharp identified when he worked at Farnborough with RAF jet pilots on low level flying missions.

Increasing concern about the number of police car accidents led to Doctor Sharp's lectures and his book becoming compulsory study at the Scottish Police College.

This is where Scottish forces train the elite of their drivers, traffic police. It's the advanced course. Constable Sandra Fleming, from Central Police, is on week two.

Jane: Car control is vital. But just as important, and a whole lot more difficult to master - emotion control. When that's lost it's known as 'red mist'.

Dr Gordon Sharp: A driver should normally be aware of his situation in a very wide sense.

He should be seeing what's happening away ahead, to the sides, to the rear, by using the rear mirror, so that he builds up a huge cigar shaped zone of awareness round his car.

Now when he gets into a red mist situation what is happening is that negative attitudes, or powerful emotions are beginning to pull the situation awareness in, so that he's focusing down his attention on to the one thing, whether it's the villain that he's chasing, or whether it's catching a speeding motor cycle, he's moving that vision right down into a point.

So the information that's going to the brain is very limited. And therefore he's in the danger of missing many of the hazards that are building up.

I think training of attitude of behaviour is improving all the time, yes. The problem is that when the officers leave the rarefied atmosphere, almost the monastic atmosphere of the driver training school, they return to what they call real life.

Real life is life driving operation vehicles on division, responding to 999 calls, responding to calls from colleagues that help. And that is, they have a completely different view.

Jane: Kevin Delaney has first hand experience. He was with the Metropolitan Police in charge of the traffic department and its two hundred drivers.

Kevin Delaney, RAC Foundation: The job must be got done. The calls must be responded to. The villains have got to be caught.

When you see driving being done operationally I'm afraid that speed of delivery is as important, and it would seem in some cases, more important than safety, especially where you're dealing, I'm afraid, with drivers who have not been trained to those levels, who are driving beyond their capabilities, and perhaps beyond the capabilities of their vehicles and may not even understand that they're doing that.

Jane: The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland acknowledge that can happen, but say there's a safety net.

Assistant Chief Constable Martin Papworth: There is always going to be the situation where it's the first driver available who attends to an incident, because of the pressure of that incident.

Drivers are trained and advised and guided to acknowledge that issue, but still do drive within their skills, within their experience, within their expertise.

We also have in place, if you like, an impartial observer in the shape of the duty officer in force control, who maintains a distance from the incident, but at the same time has the absolute mandate should he or she consider it necessary to call that driver off because he perceives that the situation is becoming too dangerous.

Jane: There was no such safeguard for a police college driver undergoing specialist surveillance eighteen months ago. 8 September, 1998, Glen Ogle, Perthshire. A tourist coach with eleven American pensioners on board. Sally Spaven was their tour guide, Christine Falconer at the wheel.

Christine Falconer, Docherty's Midland Coaches: As we approached the long spine up, there wasn't any traffic around really, nothing in front of me. And as I approached this bend a car came round, and my first thoughts were 'he's going fast'.

Then I saw the tail end swing out to the middle of the road and realised he'd lost control. He tried to correct it, but overcorrected a couple of times, and then he was making straight towards the front of the coach.

Sally Spaven, Scottish Tourist Guides Association: And I heard Christine make an exclamation. There was nowhere for us to go, we were actually right at the edge of a very steep incline.

Christine Falconer: And my thoughts were well, this is it.

Sally Spaven: I would say three or four seconds from when I looked up and saw it, that was all it took for the car to impact with us.

Christine Falconer: I opened my eyes, realised, Oh, I'm alive, I moved across to see Sally, she wasn't there. I said: "Sally, Sally," and I stood up and looked out, and she was sitting on the grass.

I looked round and there was passengers everywhere. There was one, .two down the well at the door, round the passageway, they were holding their faces because they'd bumped their faces against the back of the seats.

Jane: The oldest of the tourists was 90. Hers was the worst injury, a broken hip. The three police students and their instructor in the car were much more seriously injured.

November 1999, the police driver, Sergeant Stewart Allison, appeared in court charged with dangerous driving.

He was convicted of the lesser charge of careless driving and fined 150. He's no longer allowed to drive for Strathclyde Police.

Christine Falconer: I mean 150, it's nothing. I feel that there's a law for them and a law for us.

Kevin Delaney: There's a belief among the public that the police, behind the wheel of a car at least, are a law unto themselves.

Now they do have certain legal exemptions from speed limits, from traffic signs, and the simple fact is that the courts are extremely reluctant, ever, to convict them of motoring offences.

Even jurors are very, very reluctant to convict police officers of motoring offences. And again this contributes, I think, to this sort of. . .the 'no win' scenario. Because once again, the police are endeavouring to do the job that they believe the public wants them to do.

If they are involved in a collision then they don't necessarily go asking for special treatment, but they may receive it, and that in terms simply reinforces a growing negative opinion amongst the public.

Jane: There is a public perception, you see, that because you're wearing a uniform, you have a blue light on your car, and the siren is going, that you are somehow above the law.

Assistant Chief Constable Martin Papworth: That's a perception which I would like to dispel. The police are not above the law. They must operate within the law.

Where they're seen to exceed speed limits, for example, they're doing that because the law permits them to do so in certain circumstances when need dictates.

It's always important. It's always vital that in doing that they ensure that public safety is not endangered.

Sheena: At the moment I'm very cynical about the police, and I think I'm rather cynical about the courts as well. I'm well on the way to becoming an anarchist. I think we live in a very strange state.

Jane: The number of accidents and increasing public concern prompted a wide-scale review of police driver training in England and Wales.

The result, the so-called Lind Report, was published in 1998. It recommended major changes and became a spur to Scottish forces to do their own review. It's currently underway.

But we've learned that there is a significant difference north of the border. Unlike England, in Scotland the advanced course for traffic police trains for high speed driving.

But doesn't include specific training for emergency response or pursuits - exactly the sort of tasks the drivers will be expected to do.

Assistant Chief Constable Martin Papworth: We do not provide pursuits driver training courses. We do not provide emergency response training course.

What we advocate instead is that we provide officers with the skills to drive in any environment safely. We require them to assess the situation through which they're driving and to respond according to that situation. We think that is a much safer way of going about things.

Kevin Delaney: I think that particular stance is naive. I do not believe that you can ensure that pursuit in particular is undertaken safely without some level of pursuit training.

Jane: Driver training became an issue again after an appalling tragedy in Aberdeen.

November 1998 on Remembrance Sunday in the west end of Aberdeen. Sydney and Christine Carey had just collected their Sunday papers from that newsagents and were walking home when three police cars sped on their way to an emergency incident at a nearby suburb.

The last of the police cars came round this corner, clipped a car parked over there, skidded across the road, mounted the pavement and hit the couple. Mr Kerry was killed instantly. His wife died later in hospital.

A computer simulated image produced at Aberdeen Sheriff Court last month shows the line the police car took, how out of control it was.

PC Andrew Baynes appeared in court charged with causing death by dangerous driving. He was found guilty of the lesser charge of careless driving and fined 750.

But it emerged in court that although he was responding to an emergency at the wheel of a high performance car PC Baynes had not been on the advanced course at the Scottish Police College.

He had completed only the standard course organised locally by Grampian Police.

Supt David Cormack, Grampian Police: Immediately we looked at what training we actually gave our officers at the time of the accident, and we looked to see how we could better that.

And as a result of our investigations we have, in fact, introduced a three-week programme when a police transfers into the traffic department.

I can assure the public that we in the police service, I'm not cavalier about the way we go about driving on the roads. Nonetheless we have a duty to respond to emergency incidents, and it is of no consolation I'm sure to somebody who is sitting in the house knowing that there is a prowler in their house if we take 25, 30 minutes to respond to such a call.

We have to balance that need to respond quickly, but at the same time to so safely.

Kevin Delaney: Sadly it seems to be the case that increasingly officers who have not received that level of training are nevertheless undertaking that form of activity, simply because there are not, if you like, there are not enough trained officers to meet the demand.

You tend to arrive at the situation whereby a very young officer with little, or in some forces perhaps, no training whatsoever, finds him or herself behind the wheel or an ordinary standard beat car having to deal with a 999 call.

No training in terms of dealing with 'red mist', the wrong sort of vehicle perhaps or high speed works, certainly the wrong sort of vehicle for fast acceleration work, and then not necessarily trained in how to handle it anyway.

Unless there is a collision or a founded allegation of dangerous driving made against the officer, and there are very few of those, it tends not to be questioned.

Jane: Presumably it will be questioned along with other concerns in the ACPOS review that's being conducted at the moment. The results are due later this year.

Assistant Chief Constable Martin Papworth: I think it's inevitable that there will be some developments, and that those developments will be for the good, and that drivers, police driver skills, which are already extremely high, will be even better following the review of driver training.

Kevin Delaney: What it actually needs is action from the top. The culture will not be changed except from above.

What it takes would for a brave chief constable to sit down behind his or her desk and say that with effect from nine o'clock Monday morning no call is sufficiently serious to justify an accident, ever.

Assistant Chief Constable Martin Papworth: The overriding responsibility must always be the safety of the public.

I find it difficult to envisage a situation where the need to detain a suspect, to arrest someone for driving a stolen car, enables us to imperil the public. The safety of the public must always be paramount.

Jane: Inevitably Sheena McDonald doesn't agree that police believed her safety was paramount. Equally inevitably, as she gradually returns to work, it's been suggested that she could become a high profile campaigner for change.

Sheena McDonald: "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the presentation of the Whitbread Book Awards"

I mean, I don't want to spend the rest of my life being a campaigner to improve police driving. I mean, I optimistically, and I think very unrealistically I would like the police to take it on themselves to investigate how they go about their business and improve it.

I mean, I was brought up, we all make mistakes, we all get things wrong, occasionally in our minds. But I was brought up that. . . .if you do make a mistake, and you get something wrong you say: "Ok, I'm guilty," you pay your dues and you try and do better next time. And the police don't seem to do that.

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See also:

05 Mar 00 | Scotland
Woman dies in police crash
15 Feb 00 | Scotland
Death crash officer convicted
11 Feb 00 | Scotland
New training since death crash
19 Oct 99 | Entertainment
Sheena back in the spotlight
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