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Call warning police chase was high risk ‘failed’ before two died in crash

Child actor Makayah McDermott, 10, who was one of two people killed by a stolen car which was being pursued by a marked police vehicle in south east London (Brown and Mills Entertainment/PA)
Child actor Makayah McDermott, 10, who was one of two people killed by a stolen car which was being pursued by a marked police vehicle in south east London (Brown and Mills Entertainment/PA)

Officers claim their radio did not connect to warn a pursuit was “high risk” before the suspect collided with pedestrians and killed two, a misconduct panel heard.

Metropolitan Police officers Pc Edward Welch and former Pc Jack Keher were chasing a stolen Ford Focus when the driver lost control and mounted the pavement, striking a group of pedestrians and killing child actor Makayah McDermott, 10, and his aunt Rozanne Cooper, 34.

Retired chief inspector Graham Horwood was the head of the London telephone and radio control centre that ran police pursuits at the time of the collision in Penge, south east London, on August 31 2016.

Penge car crash
Police at the scene in Lennard Road, Penge in south-east London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Giving evidence at the misconduct hearing on Monday, he said operators in the control room were “entirely reliant” on the drivers to relay information about a chase.

Officers on the ground were expected to inform the radio control centre Met Command and Control (MetCC) about changes in the pursuit and categorise it as low, medium or high risk with each update.

It is alleged both officers committed gross misconduct for failing to accurately assess and communicate the risks of the chase to MetCC when they were pursuing Joshua Dobby, then 19.

Last week Gerry Boyle KC, representing the Met, told the panel that Pc Welch and former-Pc Keher did not tell MetCC that the Ford Focus drove through a no entry sign, left past a no left turn sign, the wrong way down a one-way street at “considerable speed”, and over multiple roundabouts “at high speed”.

The chase was not categorised as high risk at any point, he added.

Pc Welch has claimed he attempted to tell MetCC that the pursuit was high risk but the airways were blocked, Mr Boyle said on Monday.

Penge car crash
People lay flowers in Lennard Road following the incident (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Horwood said that a clear “busy tone” would sound alerting the officers if that was the case, and that radios had emergency buttons that would clear the airwaves for 10 seconds.

He added that there was also a 60 second window at the start of a pursuit where the channel should be cleared to allow the responding officers to summarise the situation.

Despite the protocol Met staff occasionally continued to use the radio and the lines could get jammed, leaving the responding officers in a queue to speak, he said.

During pursuits officers should be continuously conducting a “dynamic risk assessment”, he said, adding: “Every time you go around the corner you assess whether that road, these pedestrians, this traffic situation is suitable to continue a pursuit.”

“Wrong side of the road, on the curb – you need to tell someone straight away because if you don’t you run the risk of something happening (when) you haven’t told someone what’s going on”, he added.

Pc Welch joined the force in 2008, trained as a responder driver in 2011 and an advance driver in September 2013.

Penge car crash
Police at the scene in Lennard Road (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

By the time of the incident new guidance had been announced on the force intranet that introduced the low, medium and high risk categories.

Officers generally did not take refresher courses for advance pursuit training for several years, the panel was told.

As a result Pc Welch had not receive in-person training on the new categories at the time of the pursuit.

The new system helped clarify communication with MetCC staff who may not familiar with the road layouts and speed limits, Mr Horwood said.

He added that the control room had become “more streamlined” because of “a number of staff reductions”.

Mr Horwood said that prior to the new categories “it was hard to describe precisely the risk levels so that everyone understood – if I said to you 60mph down this road but you don’t know the road it means nothing to you, but if I say high risk (it does)”.

“You should be on the same page.”

It is alleged both officers also committed gross misconduct by leaving the injured pedestrians to chase Dobby on foot and failing in their duty to protect life and limb.

Mr Keher, who was in the passenger seat, is also accused of not challenging Pc Welch’s driving.

And Pc Welch is accused of failing to assess if continuing the chase was proportional, and not ensuring Mr Keher provided MetCC with accurate information.

The hearing continues on Tuesday at Palestra House, Southwark.