Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Speeding traffic officer jailed

Craig Bannister
Craig Bannister was said to be of previous "exemplary" character

A policeman has been jailed for 20 weeks after crashing his traffic patrol car while driving at up to 122mph on the motorway in "appalling weather".

Sergeant Craig Bannister, 30, of South Wales Police, had denied dangerous driving but was found guilty by a jury.

Cardiff Crown Court heard Bannister, of Briton Ferry, near Swansea, aqua-planed before skidding and landing in trees.

Recorder Peter Murphy QC said Bannister "launched a speeding missile into the unknown" on the non-emergency journey.

He also ordered that Bannister retakes a driving test before having his licence returned.

South Wales Police said Bannister had been suspended from duty with immediate effect while the force held a misconduct inquiry.

The court heard Bannister had received an emergency call minutes earlier but he had been "stood down" before his BMW 5 joined the M4 at junction 46, near Neath, on the evening of 13 January 2008.

You knew that your exemption to speed had finished, and you knew there was no longer any lawful reason to travel at speed
Recorder Peter Murphy QC

A black box recorder recovered from the car showed Bannister was driving at 122mph before slowing to 115mph just before the crash.

The trial heard that Bannister, who had been trained to the second highest level for traffic officers, received minor injuries when the car flew through the air after hitting water.

Recorder Murphy told him: "You chose to deliberately accelerate, reaching speeds of at least 120mph in the pitch black.

"You did so for your own ends, and so launched a speeding missile into the unknown, with reckless disregard for other road users.

"The potential risk to other road users was enormous. What you hit was water. It could so easily have been another vehicle.

Blue lights

"There is no way you could have reacted so as to avoid collision."

Bannister claimed at his trial that his speed was appropriate for the weather conditions, and that he was trying to find a safe place to turn off his blue lights after being stood down from the emergency call.

But the trial heard motorway signs had warned drivers of surface water on the carriageway, while a witness told how the wipers on his taxi were not able to keep up with the rain.

No evidence was found to show emergency equipment, such as blue lights or sirens, were being used when the car crashed.

Recorder Murphy reminded Bannister that police drivers were trained to drive at high speed but "cannot speed for the sake of it".

You abused the power and the position of trust placed in you to prevent this type of thing happening by other road users
Recorder Peter Murphy

He added: "You knew that your exemption to speed had finished, and you knew there was no longer any lawful reason to travel at speed.

"Your account about the prevailing weather conditions was at best mistaken, if not wholly misleading.

"You blatantly and deliberately chose to ignore the training you had."

Recorder Murphy said he recognised the sentence would have a devastating effect on "a promising career" and that it would be "particularly hard for you as a police officer".

"This was a highly dangerous piece of driving over a significant distance.

'Judicial proceedings'

"You abused the power and the position of trust placed in you to prevent this type of thing happening by other road users.

"Motor vehicles can be lethal if they are not driven safely."

Bannister earned 35,000 a year as a traffic officer, was said to be of previous "exemplary" character and had earned commendations for his work.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) commissioner for Wales Tom Davies said: "The police service rightly takes speeding seriously and I will now consider South Wales Police misconduct recommendations for Sgt Craig Bannister."

South Wales Police assistant chief constable Nick Croft said the misconduct investigation would include "reviewing the verdict and circumstances of the case".

He said: "We understand that the officer is appealing part of the process and therefore as the judicial proceedings are still ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time."

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