Police chase deaths have doubled in two years

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Deaths linked to high-speed police chases have risen to a record total with 22 people dying in road accidents over the past year, a report revealed yesterday.

Deaths linked to high-speed police chases have risen to a record total with 22 people dying in road accidents over the past year, a report revealed yesterday.

A lack of skill and poor judgement by some police drivers was blamed yesterday by the independent Police Complaints Authority (PCA) for part of the increase, which has risen from nine deaths two years ago.

The PCA yesterday suggested that police drivers should avoid breaking the speed limit when responding to most burglaries and other emergency calls involving property crimes.

At least one police force, Sussex, has abandoned setting a minimum response time to 999 calls after fears that their officers risked serious injury by using excessive speed in non-emergency cases.

The PCA also reported that only 16 of the 43 forces in England and Wales have fully implemented a recommendation to improve pursuit driver-training made in a 1998 report by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The PCA annual report, published yesterday, shows that the number of people who died during a police pursuit in England and Wales rose to 22, with 16 seriously injured, in the year to April 2000. This compares with 17 deaths in the year before and nine in 1997/98.

Sir Alistair Graham, PCA chairman, said: "There is worrying evidence that the skill and judgement of some police drivers are open to question and criticism."

He added: "We believe excessive speed can seldom be justified except where life is endangered or there is some other serious physical threat. We do not feel the public, and officers, should be put at risk in defence of property. While the law permits officers to breach road traffic regulations in operational situations this should only be when it is justified by the degree of risk of the emergency."

The issue of high-speed police pursuits was highlighted by the case of the broadcaster Sheena McDonald, who was left in a coma for 72 hours after she was involved in a collision with a police van in north London in February 1999. The officer involved was cleared of careless driving.

In February 1999 in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, an 83-year-old man was killed after a police vehicle following a suspect through a housing estate hit the elderly pedestrian. The police driver has been charged with causing death through dangerous driving.

In a recent case three women died in Huddersfield in August when a BMW being chased by the police hit them. A 39-year-old man has since been charged with manslaughter and drink-driving.

The PCA praised the Metropolitan Police for fitting aircraft-style "black box" recorders to some vehicles to aid the investigation of road traffic accidents and called on other forces to follow suit.

* The Police Complaints Authority said yesterday there was a 75 per cent rise in complaints of racially discriminatory behaviour by police officers in the year to April. The PCA said the 579 complaints probably reflected a greater public confidence that concerns would be treated seriously.

The PCA report also noteda big drop in the number of people dying in police custody or care. The number of deaths fell from 65 in 1998/99 to 47 in the past year.