Chase crash officer cleared

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 05:00 13/07/2014

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A police officer who crashed a patrol car during a chase has had his conviction for dangerous driving overturned on appeal.

Constable Robert Mash argued he was trying to protect the public when he followed a stolen Subaru down the wrong side of Auckland's Oteha Valley Rd on the morning of November 17, 2012.

Mash was the lead vehicle of three police cars speeding at up to 130kmh on a 60kmh road when the Subaru crossed through a gap in the median strip onto the wrong side of the road.

Mash attempted to follow the car through the "chicane" but clipped the concrete edge of the median barrier. He lost control and careered across two lanes narrowly missing two oncoming cars.

The driver was apprehended but Mash was charged and later convicted of dangerous driving.

The police investigation into the pursuit found that Marsh's police car was "not of a warrantable standard" due to a brake fault.

During the trial, Mash said his training in the UK was different to New Zealand where police were told never to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Mash said he could not see any oncoming traffic so he made the "split-second decision" to follow the car. He said he intended to stop in the lane behind the Subaru with his lights and sirens activated to alert oncoming traffic.

Mash said he feared that if he continued on the right side of the road, oncoming vehicles would look at his car with its sirens and flashing lights, rather than at the speeding, stolen car coming towards them in their lane.

"By positioning my vehicle behind the stolen vehicle they'd be looking directly down towards me and see the stolen vehicle between me and them [and] move out across the road," he told the court.

Justice Geoffrey Venning ruled that the district court judge who found Mash guilty did not properly assess Mash's intention to stop behind the Subaru.

"If that was his intention, then, in the situation of emergency he faced I consider he lacked the requisite fault for the conviction to be sustained," Venning said.

The district court judge also failed to deal with the police car's brake failure.

"If, despite the braking, Mr Mash's car was not slowing as much as it should because it was not at a warrantable standard and was experiencing brake failure, the failure to slow down in those circumstances could not be said to be due to any failure by Mr Mash as driver," Venning said.

He quashed the conviction and dismissed the charge.

Mash told the Star-Times he could not comment on the case but "the appeal court came to the right decision".

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Police Association president Greg O'Connor said Mash had been punished for "a split-second decision made in good faith".

O'Connor applauded the judgment saying it showed a judge taking all the relevant factors into account, including the constable's intention to protect the public.

He said it also demonstrated the willingness of police to "throw the book" at officers who transgressed.

Police declined to comment.

- Sunday Star Times

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