POLICE have apologised to the family of a man whose body lay in the Moyola River for a week.
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.
It was revealed that PSNI officers received a report from a local resident that “a car may have entered the river” just minutes after the accident, but it was not until a week later on December 15, that Mr Gordon’s body was discovered in his partially submerged Alfa Romeo car by a local landowner.
An inquest into the tragic death heard how police had taken more than an hour-and-a-half to respond to the initial call, and how they also failed to further investigate the evidence that a car had entered the river.
Further concerns were also raised by coroner Joanne Donnelly when a police inspector said many of his officers were not even aware of the community rescue service, the voluntary organisation responsible for assisting police in such emergencies.
However, experts told the coroner’s court in Magherafelt that Mr Gordon could not have been saved – such was the force of the flooded river – even if rescuers had been at the scene.
Kevin Wilson, who spotted the debris of Mr Gordon’s car at the bridge, said he waited for an hour-and-a-half for police to arrive at the scene.
Mr Wilson also said there were visible marks on the top of the bridge wall, as well as a car radiator lying on the river bank.
But despite receiving Mr Wilson’s call at 1.26pm, police did not arrive at the bridge – known as an accident black-spot – until 3pm, travelling less than 10 miles from their station in Magherafelt.
Two officers, who eventually attended the scene, concluded that the vehicle involved in the collision had left the scene.
Inspector James McClarence, the senior investigating officer, apologised for the trauma caused to Mr Gordon’s family saying: “If the fact that the car was not found for a week has caused the family further anguish, then I do apologise. I hope today can bring some closure.”
Sean McCarry from the community rescue service, who was tasked by the coroner to give his analysis of the accident, said the evidence of debris at the bridge led him to believe that a car had entered the river.
In her findings, coroner Donnelly criticised what she termed the “inappropriately relaxed attitude” of the investigating constable Martin Tang – who she said had failed to respond to both her and the family’s solicitor’s requests for pictures and video evidence from the crash scene.
She also said she will be reporting the death to Chief Inspector Roberts.