Coroner criticises police actions

Former Hawera Coroner Simon Shera has criticised police action leading up to the death of three young people on the Normanby overbridge in 2005.

Mr Shera's long awaited report was released publicly yesterday, almost three years after the inquest was held.

The report says police showed "an error of judgment" in the plan devised by Constable Lincoln McCrea to catch drunk driver Raymond Hansen following an unsuccessful chase which had reached speeds close to 180kmh.

Police later had Hansen's car under surveillance, using Hawera's security cameras, shortly before he eluded them and crashed into a van, killing Aaron Hurley, 22, Paul Donald Cowper, 21, and Rochelle Lee Meads, 22.

Hansen was sentenced to nine years' jail for their manslaughter.

"In general terms, Constable McCrea decided to rely on the CCTV cameras, police radio and the other patrols to deal with the matter," Mr Shera said.

"He returned to the police station himself and was of the opinion that when advised that the car driver was returning to the vehicle he would be in a position to apprehend him. I say from the outset that it is my view that in taking this view, Constable McCrea was unwise."

Mr Shera added that he did not believe other police officers on duty in Hawera were made aware of Hansen's dangerous driving earlier that night and believed they thought his surveillance was a routine operation.

The constable was aware of Hansen's horrific driving and the fact he was, in all likelihood, drinking at a bar.

"All in all, it seems to me that there was every likelihood of the driver evading Constable McCrea coming from the police station after he had heard the driver was returning to the vehicle and of course this is what happened."

Mr Shera found Mr McCrea had spoken with a sergeant about his options in stopping Hansen from driving again but had discounted them.

He said in fairness to the constable, his plan was one that had been adopted previously by Hawera police.

"But I believe that his tactical plan showed an error of judgment."

Having already known Hansen's driving was "horrendous and very dangerous", Mr Shera said it was "obvious" under those circumstances that police's first priority should have been to stop the car being driven.

Instead, he believed Mr McCrea's priority centred on trying to catch Hansen driving, rather than preventing him from getting behind the wheel.

Much of Mr Shera's criticism mirrored that of former District Commander Mark Lammas who conducted an internal investigation in 2006 into police action on the night. Despite numerous failings, he found the police actions did not amount to misconduct or neglect of duty.

Mr Shera's report recommended police look again at how they deal with the decision to "prevent or apprehend, particularly in cases of this type".

The mother of Mr Cowper, Angela Chamberlain, said police need to take heed of the recommendation surrounding their actions. Still upset at police action that night, she is now advocating the mandatory clamping of any vehicle in similar circumstances.

"I think they were out for another chase and to be heroes but it didn't work out that way," she said. "The police still have a lot to answer for and I hope we see that in the Police Complaint's Authority report."

Central Districts Inspector Greg Hudson, of Palmerston North, would not comment on Mr Shera's report because the PCA investigation had not concluded.

Mr Shera found all three fatalities were due to injuries caused by the fire that broke out after Hansen crashed into the van.

Taranaki Daily News