Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Policy on police pursuit into no-exit streets needs review - coroner

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Police need to review their pursuit policy and abandon vehicle chases if the offender is heading into a no-exit street, a coroner has recommended.

But police say it is difficult to balance the dangers of stopping offenders with the damage the fleeing driver might cause if police stop the chase.

Coroner Ian Smith made the recommendation after the death of Timaru man Leith David Barnes, who crashed his high-performance motorbike at the end of a suburban Wellington cul-de-sac.

The 28-year-old held a learner's licence that limited him to riding a 250cc bike, but was riding a 900cc Honda motorcycle at the time of the crash, Coroner Smith said.

The week before the crash, Mr Barnes had evaded police on the same motorbike in Hawkes Bay during a pursuit that reached speeds of more than 200km/h before the chase was abandoned.

About 4pm on January 13, 2010, Senior Constable Stil (eds: no first name) clocked Mr Barnes travelling at 121km/h on State Highway 1 north of Wellington and followed him, intending to pull him over.

Mr Barnes turned into suburban Johnsonville but refused to stop for the officer, who had his lights and siren going.

Mr Stil told the coroner that Mr Barnes was travelling between 60 and 70km/h in a built-up area, went through roundabouts the wrong way and drove on the wrong side of the road at times.

Mr Stil said it appeared Mr Barnes did not know where he was going.

Mr Barnes turned into Ladbrooke Drive, which surprised the officer because he knew it had no exit at the other end.

When Mr Stil arrived at the end of the road, Mr Barnes was fatally injured on the ground, and died at the scene.

Coroner Smith recommended to Police Commissioner Peter Marshall that the pursuit policy should be reviewed in terms of when an officer knew a fleeing driver was turning into a no-exit street.

''... then the pursuit should be called off for public safety reasons.''

Road Policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said police were already in discussions with the Independent Police Conduct Authority regarding ongoing refinement of their pursuit policy.

"Police always face a difficult balance in trying to apprehend motorists who choose to flee police and put their own and other road users' lives at risk, versus the risks that pursuing them may generate,'' he said.

"We are committed to making our policy as safe as it possibly can be, given that this is always a dangerous and unpredictable situation.''

- APNZ

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