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Armsden v Kent Police, Court of Appeal, 26 June 2009

10 July 2009
The issues

Police – emergency services – contributory negligence – police car colliding with car at junction – failure to use siren.

The facts

On 22 October 2005 at 11.00pm an accident occurred at the junction between the A28 and Brissenden Green Lane, near Ashford, Kent, when a Skoda police car driven by PC Purse collided with a Ford Fiesta driven by Rachael Cheesewright who was killed. The estate of Rachael Cheesewright claimed damages against Kent Police.

The junction between the A28 and Brissenden Green Lane was notoriously difficult. It was a T-junction. The A28 had priority. Miss Cheesewright was proceeding along Brissenden Green Lane intending to turn right on to the A28. Visibility to the right is restricted by a bend in the A28. Equally visibility from the A28 travelling towards Brissenden Green Lane is also restricted by the bend. PC Purse was a highly qualified and experienced police driver. There had been a violent domestic incident in Biddenden which had led to an immediate response call. When an incident was given “immediate” status officers were expected to attend it “in the most timely way” and this would usually involve the use of blue warning lights. The speed limit at the location of the accident was the national speed limit of 60 miles an hour. PC Purse had accelerated to 100 – 110 on the straight, a speed he did not feel to be excessive on the straight road before the bend. Before Miss Cheesewright was another car driven by Mrs Haywood. She drove up to the junction and stopped and noticed a small car had stopped behind her. Having decided the road was clear and there were no headlights coming from oncoming cars in either direction she moved out on to the A28. As she straightened the vehicle up and changed into 2nd gear she received what she called the fright of her life when a police car seemed to come out of nowhere from the direction of Ashford. Her recollection is that it was straddling the white line down the middle of the road. The Judge rejected evidence that the deceased had pulled out when the police car was approximately 30 metres away on the basis that there would not have been time for her car to have reached the impact point. He found that the police car came round the bend at a speed of about 93 miles an hour. He found that the police officer’s speed at the point of the bend was excessive and that he was negligent in that regard and also in failing to have had his siren on as he approached the bend. The police force appealed.

The decision

The evidence which the Judge accepted was that the deceased should have looked right, then left, then moved off. This was a statement of the practice of Mr Hance, the expert called by the claimant. It was not expert evidence but merely a statement of what was his practice. The Judge referred to it as unchallenged but, since it was merely Mr Hance’s practice, there was no basis for or need to challenge it. More importantly it was wrong. She should have looked right again to see whether any car had come round the bend before moving off and maintained a look-out to the right. Had she looked right as she was deciding to move off she would have seen the police car approaching with its blue flashing lights. The police officer was entitled to assume that a person driving a car at the junction with Brissenden Green Lane would not emerge into the junction without keeping a look-out to the right. The deceased was therefore negligent.

The fact that the police car was positioned over the white line was not indicative of negligence. The position enabled PC Purse to take the bend more quickly and it improved his ability to see ahead.

PC Purse had however driven at an excessive speed but he was entitled to do so. The Judge should not have found the failure to use the siren was of itself negligent, not least because the allegation was not pleaded. However, the fact that he was not using his siren affected the speed at which it was safe for the police car to travel. The siren would have given greater and earlier warning of its approach. The fact that the siren was not being used exacerbated the danger that there might be a car in or about to enter the junction. In these circumstances the excessive speed of the police car was a contributory cause of the accident and of its gravity. Appeal allowed attributing responsibility for the accident as to 40% to the negligence of the police driver and 60% to the negligence of the deceased.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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