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Police error lets Old Street death driver off the hook

No punishment for the hit-and-run motorist who ran over young man outside a night club

18 April, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Osman Ebrahim

A DRIVER who mowed down and killed a man and seriously injured another in a hit-and-run will face no punishment – due to a police blunder.

Zanah Mohamed hit two clubbers outside Club Aquarium in Old Street but did not stop.

Osman Ebrahim, 21, died at the scene and his friend Corneille Massengo suffered numerous injuries.

The inquest was being held at the Old Bailey for security reasons. Last month it had to be adjourned after Mr Mohamed was assaulted by a group of men after shocking CCTV footage of the incident was shown.

Mr Mohamed has persistently claimed that he did not realise at the time that he had hit anyone, claiming he thought someone had thrown a brick at his car.

Mr Ebrahim’s uncle Musa Osman said in court Mr Mohamed’s story was a “clear lie”.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided there was not enough evidence to charge Mr Mohamed with causing death by careless driving and a Met police error meant they missed the deadline for pressing charges for failing to stop.

Speaking outside court, Mr Osman, Mr Ebrahim’s uncle, said: “A young man has lost his life. It is absolutely terrible for everybody.” His sister, who did not want to be named, said: “Justice has not been done. We feel like the police have failed us.”

At the Old Bailey on Friday, Senior Coroner for Inner North London Mary Hassell put it to Mr Mohamed that his claim was “inconceivable” but he refused to answer further questions. She said in her determination: “The driver was aware of the collision but did not stop.”

Crash scene investigator Simon Gladstone told the court his analysis showed Mr Mohamed’s BMW was driving at between 29mph and 31mph in the 30mph zone when he hit the two men just before 4.30am last March. He said that Mr Mohamed’s view would have been obscured by two cars in front of him until two seconds before the collis­ion, which is considered too late to react.

Mr Ebrahim, a student from Tottenham, and Mr Massengo, did not cross at a zebra crossing and were crossing the road diagonally.

Mr Gladstone suggested that while Mr Mohamed should have slowed down taking into consideration he was driving in an area where there were lots of people who had been drinking, he had not driven in a way that was better or worse than the average driver.

But he said it was “quite obvious” Mr Mohamed, who had no alcohol in his system, had seen the pair as he swerved sharply to try to avoid them and his brake lights briefly flashed on.

Detective Sergeant Stephanie Watts explained that the police initially suspected Mr Mohamed was not insured, and so had hoped to push for a stronger charge than simply failing to stop.  In fact, he was insured and the delay meant the six-month deadline for pressing charges was missed.

Ms Watts told the court: “That is my fault, I didn’t put it up to the magistrates’ court and I do apologise to the family for that. He wasn’t put up for failing to stop, it was a mis-timing. I thought we would have a much bigger charge to bring to the crown court.”

In her determination, Ms Hassell agreed there was “insufficient time at that speed to avoid the collision”.

But addressing Mr Ebrahim’s family, she added: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about whether or not the driver knew a collision had taken place. I am completely confident the driver was aware he had knocked over two young men but nevertheless did not stop.”

A Met spokeswoman said: “A conscious decision was made to request for authority to charge the driver with causing death by careless driving, and not of fail[ing] to stop, due to officers feeling the former offence better reflected the very serious nature of the case involving the loss of a much-loved young man.

“This decision was made in good faith with the aim of obtaining the best possible outcome for the family from the criminal justice system. Death by careless driving carried a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, while the offence of fail to stop is usually dealt with by way of a fine or maximum of six months imprisonment at magistrates’ court. When the Met consulted with the CPS, they were informed that there was insufficient evidence to charge the individual concerned. The case was reviewed again but there was no further evidence to put forward and the decision was made by police for no further action to be taken, in line with the guidelines.

“The investigation team was disappointed with the outcome but understood the rationale for the initial CPS decision. At this point the six-month window for submitting papers for a ‘summary offence’ — fail to stop — had just expired, otherwise officers would have then pursued this alternative course.”

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