Family voice anger at Ombudsman report wait
THE family of a man whose body lay undiscovered in a river for a week, have hit out at the length of a Police Ombudsman investigation into the tragedy.
Paul Gordon died after his car careered over a bridge outside the village of Draperstown and was swept downstream in the swollen River Moyola on December 8, 2007.
His family have received a draft report from the Ombudsman’s office almost five years after the accident happened.
“This is an unacceptable period of time to produce what is in effect a small report with only a few witnesses. This unreasonably long period has caused our family unnecessary extra anguish, “ a statement from the family read.
At an inquest held in 2010 it was revealed that police officers in Magherafelt took around one-and-a-half hours to respond to a report of a possible accident at the bridge.
However, officers who eventually attended the scene could not find any evidence that a vehicle had entered the swollen river. Mr Gordon’s body - which was still inside his car - was discovered in the river a week later by a local farmer.
The Ombudsman has recommended that “police officer 2 be disciplined for failing to ensure a prompt response to the report of a possible traffic collision, although he recognised that this had not contributed to the fatal outcome”.
Draft report from Ombudsman office
The Police Ombudsman has criticised the slow police response to a reported traffic accident near Draperstown in 2007, but has found that the delay in no way contributed to the death of a motorist.
The accident happened on Saturday 8 December 2007 when a driver lost control of his car as it crossed the Derrynoid Bridge. The man’s body was not recovered until a week later, 15 December, when a farmer noticed a vehicle lying on its roof in the Moyola River some 250 metres from the bridge.
The Chief Constable asked the Police Ombudsman to investigate after learning that police in Magherafelt had received a report of a possible traffic collision at Derrynoid Bridge on the afternoon of the accident, but had failed to locate the body.Police Ombudsman investigators launched an enquiry which established that a member of the public had called police at around 13:30hours on Saturday 8 December 2007 to report a possible road traffic collision.
The driver (Witness A) had noticed bits of debris on the road, including pieces of a car bumper, which he realised had not been there when he had driven over the bridge an hour and a half earlier.
Witness A also noted score marks on an upper section of the bridge’s stonework, which he believed may have been caused by a car, as well as a chevron road sign on the same side of the road which had been pushed backwards and was no longer sitting upright.
Witness A looked over the bridge wall to see if a car had entered the river, but could see no sign of a vehicle nor any sign of tyre marks leading down to the water. He noted that it was raining heavily at the time and that the river was “extremely high and flowing very fast”. He also remembered that the road conditions were treacherous, with a lot of surface water.
With no clear evidence that a car had entered the river, Witness A said he decided to report what he had seen to police in Magherafelt, rather than dialling 999. He then told the officer who answered the call of his concerns that a car may have entered the river.
The police officer who took the call (Police Officer 1) advised that a police response crew would be with him in about 20 minutes. However, when police had still not arrived an hour and 20 minutes later, Witness A left the scene and drove home.
Enquiries by Police Ombudsman investigators established that after receiving the call from Witness A, Police Officer 1 had informed his Duty Sergeant (Police Officer 2), who in turn had tasked another officer (Police Officer 3) to go to the scene of the accident.
About half an hour later, Police Officer 2 noticed that Police Officer 3 had not yet left the police station as he had been tasked to deal with an unrelated incident.
Police Officer 2 then reassigned the task to Police Officer 4, who then set off from Magherafelt Police Station, accompanied by Police Officer 5, to go to the scene.
They arrived there at around 3pm, about an hour and a half after Witness A’s phone call, and about 10 minutes after he had left the scene to go home.
The officers noted the crash related debris on the road, but did not see any matching debris on the river side of the bridge. Nor did they see the score marks near the top of the bridge’s stonework, which may by that stage have been disguised by the wet.
Both officers looked downstream from the bridge and satisfied themselves that a car had not gone into the river.
Police Officer 4 then contacted Strand Road Communications Centre and reported: “Some debris suggests that a vehicle had clipped the bridge at some stage - no damage caused. Vehicle had been removed from scene - no evidence that it had been anywhere near the river. No damage caused to any other property.”
By the time the body of the deceased had been recovered, police had not received any reports that he was missing.
An inquest into his death was held in July 2011. The Coroner recorded a finding of death by drowning, noting that the deceased had been driving too fast and had failed to take account of the road conditions at the time.
Having heard evidence from the Deputy State Pathologist and a Community Rescue Service representative, the Coroner was satisfied that even if rescue services had promptly attended the scene they would been unable to prevent the fatality.
Having reviewed the evidence of the case, the Police Ombudsman recommended that police Officer 2 be disciplined for failing to ensure a prompt response to the report of a possible traffic collision, although he recognised that this had not contributed to the incident’s fatal outcome.
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