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Robinson and others v Northumbria Police Authority

8 November 2001
The issues

Police “hot pursuit” – Authorities obligation to protect officers.

The facts

The Claimants who were officers of the Road Traffic Division of the Northumbria Police Force had been injured whilst driving a marked police car in Sunderland. They had been following a stolen car when they were bombarded with stones and bricks. One officer was hit on the head by half a brick that had broken the windscreen. He was seriously injured. The others suffered PTSD. Similar attacks had been frequent in the North of England in the early 1990’s, in the forms of throwing missiles from car roofs or ambushing police cars when they stopped. Senior officers were aware of these attacks. Eighty-five incidents were put before the Court – but none involving the breaking of a windscreen. Following an incident in 1993 a report was commissioned and a different type of windscreen recommended. Twenty-eight were fitted and sixty placed on order. It was accepted that the accident would not have occurred if the new windscreen had been in place. The Defendants argued that other forces had not found it necessary to install stronger windscreens and that in 1991 they had not been therefore negligent and that moreover the windscreens were compliant with regulations in force at the time and were fitted only as a consequence of the accident. The Judge at first instant found the police authority liable. The police authority appealed.

The decision

1. The authority had known of the risk of flying glass. It was foreseeable that a windscreen would break sooner or later.

2. It was irrelevant that the new windscreens had been abandoned by these Defendants and other forces in 1997. Subsequent events could not justify the failure to take what would have been appropriate action in 1991. Appeal dismissed.

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