Crash driver takes on the police - and wins

By Patrick Gower

An Auckland man whose car was hit by a speeding police van has won a five-year battle to clear his name, with police ordered to pay him $13,000.

Steve Brown was doing a u-turn on Mt Eden Rd when the van - which did not have its siren on and was described by one witness as fish-tailing just before the crash - smashed into him in May 2002.

Mr Brown was later charged with careless driving.

But the officer, who police conceded was partly to blame, was not charged with anything. Mr Brown could have admitted the charge and walked away with a fine, but chose instead to take on the police, spending thousands in hiring a lawyer and an expert crash analyst.

Mr Brown, a real estate agent, was eventually cleared after an appeal to the High Court, and last week a judge ordered police to pay $13,769.66 of his costs.

"The police expected me to just play the game and roll over," Mr Brown told the Weekend Herald.

"Well I didn't, and I hope this shows anybody else who is in the same position that they don't have to either."

The crash happened when Mr Brown pulled over to make a sharp u-turn while travelling south along Mt Eden Rd.

He made sure the way was clear in both directions, including back to a service station on the corner 85m behind him.

The police van, driven by Constable Daniel Rushton, was also travelling south at an estimated speed of up to or slightly over 80km/h to get to a burglary (the speed limit was 50km/h, and police are allowed to travel 30km/h over this under urgent driving regulations). The van's lights were on but siren off so as not to disturb the offender.

It came around the corner, braked, and "t-boned" into Mr Brown's car.

Mr Brown was hospitalised, suffering minor injuries.

The police visited Mr Brown's home after their initial investigation, saying "they could not attach blame in either direction" and suggesting both parties take a "knock for knock approach".

Mr Brown, who has a clean driving record, rejected this on principle, believing he was not in the wrong.

The police then went away and came to the conclusion that there was "no public interest in charging Brown".

But when the case went to the legal section, this was reversed, and Mr Brown was charged with careless driving.

Mr Brown commissioned an alternative report from Chris Marks, a crash analyst of almost 40 years' experience who acts for the police and Defence. He said the police's finding of careless driving was erroneous.

Two Justices of the Peace found Mr Brown guilty, but the conviction was later quashed after a High Court appeal.

Mr Brown's application for costs successfully argued that police failed to investigate properly, particularly in relation to Mr Marks' report, but still proceeded with the prosecutions.

Mr Brown told the Weekend Herald he still had no idea why police charged him and not Constable Rushton, the driver of the van, given their own admission there was blame on both sides.

"The police got to the point of no return, and just kept digging the hole deeper and deeper."

Mr Brown says he spent $30,000 defending the charge - against his lawyer's recommendation.

"My lawyer told me from the beginning that I should just take the money I was going to pay him and put a piece of artwork on the wall."

Mr Brown said he would now complain to the Police Complaints Authority.

Auckland City police were not available for comment yesterday.

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