A Cleveland Police officer, PC David French, has been acquitted of charges of driving without due care and attention following a trial at Teesside Magistrates Court.
This conclusion comes after an earlier hearing on November 25, 2022, where PC French denied the charges.
The case, however, was not without controversy, with the district judge expressing frustration over the way the prosecution’s evidence was presented in court.
The officer was charged after an incident that occurred on May 22, 2022, when PC French, while driving a marked police van on Grewgrass Lane in Marske, collided with a Vauxhall Corsa.
The collision resulted in serious injuries to the occupants of the Corsa, an 18-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) initiated an independent investigation following a referral from Cleveland Police.
The inquiry included a review of body-worn video from the police officers present at the time of the incident, statements from witnesses, and interviews with the officers involved.
Upon concluding their investigation in October 2022, the IOPC referred a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which subsequently authorised the charge against PC French.
In his initial account, PC French claimed that the police van was stationary at the time of the collision.
However, a review of the body-worn video footage led Cleveland Police to refer the incident to the IOPC, following which PC French admitted that the police van had indeed pulled out onto the road before the collision occurred.
Despite these findings, during the verdict delivered on June 13, the judge ruled that while PC French had been distracted, resulting in the collision, his actions did not reach the criminal standard of proof needed for conviction.
This ruling came amid judicial concerns regarding the case’s evidence management.
District Judge Helen Cousins had voiced her dissatisfaction, stating that it was “outrageous” that the case had been brought to court without the necessary paperwork being served.
The judge noted the absence of the full accident investigation report, highlighting a lack of proper service that prompted defence solicitor Julian Gaskin to remark on the “protracted investigation” with “a lot of issues”.
IOPC Regional Director Emily Barry said:
“My sympathies remain with the two young occupants of the Vauxhall Corsa, who sustained serious injuries, and all those affected by the incident in May 2022.
“This incident has had a profound impact on the lives of these young people and their families, and this is something they will have to live with for many years to come.
“Given the seriousness of the allegation, it was right for the evidence to be tested in a public court.
“It was a matter for the judge, applying a far higher evidential threshold than the one we must use when considering referral to the CPS, to determine whether PC French drove without due care and attention, and I am grateful for their careful consideration of this case.”
The IOPC added that it found that PC French, whose conduct was also under investigation, had a case to answer for gross misconduct concerning his driving prior to the collision and that it will be for Cleveland Police to arrange a disciplinary hearing in due course.
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