Police Ombudsman ‘hid crash reports from victim’s family’

The Police Ombudsman's office denied any attempt to conceal information
The Police Ombudsman's office denied any attempt to conceal information

Police Ombudsman reports into the pursuit of a drunk driver who later crashed and killed his passenger were concealed from the victim’s family, the High Court has heard.

As the mother of Claire Kelly abandoned her legal challenge to the decision not to prosecute the PSNI officer who gave chase, her lawyer also launched a withering attack on the watchdog.

Denise McAuley’s solicitor accused the Ombudsman of keeping reports into the incident secret and vowed to refer the case to the First and Deputy First Ministers.

Her 20-year-old daughter Claire was killed in a night-time road accident near their home in Dungiven, Co Londonderry in December 2011.

Miss Kelly had been a passenger in a Renault Clio driven by Kevin Brolly and pursued by police after speeding off from a checkpoint in the village of Feeny.

The car later crashed into a field and overturned, trapping the victim inside. She later died in hospital.

Brolly, 26, from Rannyglass in Dungiven, pleaded guilty to causing her death by careless driving, drink-driving and having no insurance.

He was handed a three-year sentence and disqualified from driving for five years.

Last year the Police Ombudsman completed an investigation into the role played by PSNI officers in the sequence of events leading up to the crash.

It found they were driving at 81mph through a 30mph zone in an unmarked police vehicle with no sirens or flashing lights.

The report further identified no causal link between the way the police car was driven by Officer A and Miss Kelly’s death.

Based on the contents of a letter from the Ombudsman’s office setting out the findings, Mrs McAuley’s lawyers urged the Public Prosecution Service to review its decision not to prosecute Officer A for dangerous driving.

In December last year the PPS concluded that it had been within a range of reasonable decisions.

A judicial review of the outcome was set to get under way on Monday before Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.

But Mrs McAuley’s barrister, Michael Forde, instead asked the court to dismiss the challenge based on new information discovered at “the eleventh hour”.

He said the PPS has now disclosed up to four previous unseen reports from the Ombudsman’ office – three containing recommendations from three separate investigators.

One recommended Officer A be prosecuted for dangerous driving, another for careless driving and speeding, while the senior investigator recommended no prosecution at all, the court heard.

A fourth report containing forensic analysis determined the police car may actually have been as low as 62mph, with no certainty about when it reached that speed, according to Mr Forde.

Referring to legal papers, the barrister added: “It further appears ... the Ombudsman had not given its permission to the PPS for the existence or contents of the reports to be shared with the applicant’s family.”

He said his client wanted to know why the Ombudsman’s office submitted three separate investigators’ reports to prosecutors and allegedly hid this from her.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman denied any attempt to conceal information, stressing the reverse had been the case.

He said: “This issues relates to an incident in 2011, which was then investigated. There was only one report submitted to the prosecution service, which included the different views of a number of people involved in the investigation.

“This office does not make public information prior to a possible prosecution and did not do so in this case.”