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Moped pursuits: ‘No free licence for police’

MP Emily Thornberry says allowing police officers to break traffic laws during road chases could put the public in danger

01 September, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Emily Thornberry: ‘Islington is a built-up area and with the amount of cyclists and other traffic, we have to be really careful about being seen to give the police free licence to break all traffic laws’

ANY review of police pursuit tactics launched amid a moped crimewave should consider the experience in Islington, where two teenagers have died in chases in recent years, Emily Thornberry has said.

Speaking to the Tribune this week, the MP for Islington South and Finsbury warned that police should not be given “free licence” to break traffic laws during pursuits because of the danger this poses to the public, as well as those being chased.

Ms Thornberry was asked about a recent article in the Guardian by Labour’s shadow policing minister Louise Haigh, who argued that the law currently hampers the ability of the police to take moped criminals off the streets because they are not allowed to make emergency manoeuvres.

This, she wrote, led the Police Federation to recently advise police drivers not to perform any manoeuvre that would be illegal for any other driver in normal circumstances and meant they shied away from launching pursuits.

But Ms Thornberry said: “The difficulty is that the experience from Islington is so strong, it’s not just those boys who have been killed. We have many examples of mopeds and motorbikes where there have been horrible accidents in which people have died.

“We have to protect people from criminals but if a pursuit gets hot, those who are being chased start even being more reckless and it ratchets up.

“Islington is a built-up area and with the amount of cyclists and other traffic, we have to be really careful about being seen to give the police free licence to break all traffic laws.”

Police chases have been controversial in Islington after the deaths of Henry Hicks and Lewis Johnson, both 18, in moped crashes while being followed by officers in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

And in the case of Lewis, prosecutors are currently considering whether to charge two police drivers involved for driving offences following a critical report by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC). The IPCC also served three other officers with gross misconduct notices over their role in the case. These do not imply guilt.

Meanwhile, the four officers involved in the pursuit of Henry are subject to gross misconduct hearings next month after the IPCC concluded the officers conducted a pursuit without authorisation from a senior officer in the Met control room, contrary to Met guidelines. Investigator also found that they also failed to consider the risks to Henry or whether he may have been a juvenile.

Met guidelines state that only officers with advanced-level training can pursue vehicles, that they must receive sign-off from their control room and their tactical adviser, and a police helicopter must also be called.

The subject has divided Islingtonians, many of whom want to see more police chase moped criminals particularly at a time that moped crime is reaching epic proportions. At the same time, there has been a big “Justice for Henry Hicks” campaign calling for the officers involved in that pursuit to be held accountable over his death.

Ms Thornberry added: “I have no problem with it being reviewed and I accept what [Ms Haigh] is talking about, but I think it needs to be considered quite carefully and the Islington experience needs to be part of any review.

“There might be that there are different circumstances in different parts of the country. It’s a question of getting the balance right.”

Stuart Ryan, detective superintendent for investigations based at Islington Police Station, added: “It’s not true that we don’t do pursuits, as some newspapers have reported. They do get authorised daily. But there is a set process as we follow strict national guidelines around pursuits.

“The reality is we have to risk assess and we are dealing with young people on at times powerful bikes who don’t always make the correct decisions on the road, and are driving at speed.

“Yes they have committed a crime but we have to balance it out with the risk they are posing to themselves and to the public when trying to stop them.”


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