Police officer guilty over crash which left teenager with life-changing injuries

Pc Sarah De Meulemeester had reached speeds of 61mph in a 30-zone before hitting 15-year-old Khia Whitehead.

Pat Hurst
Friday 21 April 2023 13:42 BST
Pc Sarah De Meulemeester Liverpool Crown Court (Alamy/PA)
Pc Sarah De Meulemeester Liverpool Crown Court (Alamy/PA)

A police officer has been convicted of causing serious injury by dangerous driving in an incident which left a teenager with life-changing injuries.

Pc Sarah De Meulemeester was behind the wheel of a police car responding to an emergency call when it struck Khia Whitehead, 15, in Stockport on Boxing Day, 2020.

The 26-year-old, serving with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and based at Cheadle Heath police station, was found guilty on Friday following a trial at Liverpool Crown Court, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said in a statement.

Following a mandatory referral from GMP, the IOPC investigated the manner of driving by three GMP officers, who were responding to a report of a domestic incident involving a man with a knife.

That Pc De Meulemeester was responding to an emergency does not excuse the dangerous actions that have irrevocably changed the life of Khia, who was simply trying to cross the road

Catherine Bates, IOPC

Evidence heard during her trial showed Pc De Meulemeester’s vehicle reached speeds of 61mph prior to the collision on Garners Lane, where the speed limit was 30mph.

As a basic level police driver, Pc De Meulemeester was required to observe all speed limits and was not entitled to use the statutory exemptions available to police drivers who have received advanced training.

Her vehicle was one of three driving in convoy, having left the police station at the same time to attend the incident.

When information about the use of a knife came through on the radio, another officer who was trained and authorised to drive above the speed limit, overtook Pc De Meulemeester’s vehicle and switched on emergency lights.

Speed data from the police car showed Pc De Meulemeester initially slowed down slightly to allow her colleague to overtake, but then increased her speed again.

While following the other vehicle, she reached speeds of more than twice the legal limit.

She initially told investigators she had been travelling at a “normal road speed” and declined to answer further questions in interview about the manner of her driving and her reasons for it.

While on Garners Lane in Stockport, Pc De Meulemeester overtook a member of the public’s car and, in doing so, went on the wrong side of a traffic island and struck Khia as he was crossing the road.

Khia was left with significant injuries and requires around-the-clock care.

Pc De Meulemeester was prosecuted after the IOPC passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, which authorised a charge of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

She will be sentenced on May 19.

IOPC regional director Catherine Bates said: “This incident has had a catastrophic effect on the lives of Khia and his family and the last few years will have been incredibly difficult for them.

“That Pc De Meulemeester was responding to an emergency does not excuse the dangerous actions that have irrevocably changed the life of Khia, who was simply trying to cross the road.

“Her conviction will not erase the hardship he and his family have endured, and will continue to endure, but our independent investigation has ensured the officer responsible has been held accountable for her actions.”

The IOPC said they found Pc De Meulemeester and another officer, whose conduct was also under investigation, to have a case to answer for gross misconduct in relation to their driving prior to the collision.

It will be for GMP to arrange disciplinary hearings in due course, the IOPC said.

GMP have been approached for comment.

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