A police officer who knocked down a pedestrian while responding to what he thought was a terror attack has quit the force due to the stress of continuing disciplinary action, which may now be dropped altogether.
PC Russell Kyle was given a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to careless driving in January this year, with the judge describing his actions as an “unfortunate error”.
But the disciplinary action over the incident, which happened three months after the London Bridge attacks in September 2017, continued and he quit in March.
The hearing finally began yesterday, but was adjourned after Sussex Police agreed to downgrade the charge from gross misconduct to misconduct – but the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) requested an opportunity to also review the charge in the light of fresh representations.
These included a Home Office press release from May 2 which announced Home Secretary Sajid Javid was pursuing a change in the law to give police officers responding to emergencies more protection from lengthy investigation and prosecution.
And while adjourning, the chair of the panel urged both Sussex Police and the IOPC to consider whether Mr Kyle’s actions even amounted to misconduct, let alone gross misconduct.
Chair Mark Hansen said: “The circuit judge seemed to me to come fairly close to saying this isn’t even careless driving. The sentencing remarks but also the recent Home Office press release that indicates that this area of law is subject to an ongoing reviews seems to us a very good reason to review the charge.
“Emergency drivers are held to the same standards as ordinary motorists without full allowance being made for the fact they are acting in the public interest in responding to often quite serious emergency incidents.
“We would urge the reviewing parties to review whether this is misconduct at all. It seems to us there’s a serious question as to whether it’s indeed misconduct.”
Representing Sussex Police, Louise Ravenscroft said: “The original decision was based on the original CPS charge of dangerous driving and we have all that the position has changed.
“The circumstances have changed quite significantly not just in this case but with the Home Office publication.”
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Kyle’s lawyer Mark Aldred, who also represented him at court, said: “The officer was responding to what appeared to be marauding attackers with weapons. He made his way – unarmed – to the scene whilst members of the public were running away from the danger.
“The evidence suggested that a man appeared on the crossing, froze then jumped back into the path of the police car. At worst the officer failed to anticipate that possibility and adapt his driving – in difficult circumstances.
“Mr Paterson – the man on the crossing – said that ‘it was an accident’ and at court he declined to support any prosecution or give evidence.
“Momentary lapses in driving skill in unpredictable environments whilst under extreme pressure brought about by brave and well motivated conduct should not be characterised as gross misconduct.
“But the IOPC may insist that the force argue it is gross misconduct – thereby insisting upon a full blown hearing a public expense to determine whether an officer who has already resigned should be tried in his absence for gross misconduct.
“This notwithstanding the force appear to accept the conduct could not amount to gross misconduct and the panel imitated its preliminary view was that the evidence did not prove gross misconduct and maybe not even misconduct.
“This is after a judge has already indicated Mr Kyle was not deserving of any punishment and refused to put points on his licence.
“Who would drive a police car?”
A spokesman for the IOPC said: “Representations from the Sussex Police Federation lawyer were made on the day of disciplinary proceedings and subsequently Sussex Police, who are responsible for scheduling proceedings and presenting the allegation of gross misconduct, decided to review its decision to pursue the gross misconduct charges.
“Given these representations were not made in advance of the hearing, both Sussex Police and the IOPC had no prior opportunity to consider them. If they had been, they could have been considered without a panel being convened and public money being spent.
“But it is worth noting that criminal trials and disciplinary hearings serve different purposes. The former is to determine whether the law has been broken, in this case it was. The latter is about whether police standards of professional behaviour have been breached.
“There are examples where police officers acquitted of criminal offences have been found to have breached professional standards at gross misconduct level.”
The incident happened on September 19, 2017, when then PC Kyle was called to men brandishing an axe and a hatchet near the i360 on Brighton seafront.
While driving along Kings Road, he passed onto the wrong side of the road to avoid queuing traffic and hit tourist Gary Paterson who had been walking across a pedestrian crossing. Mr Paterson’s ribs were broken but he made a full recovery.
Nine months later, PC Kyle was charged with dangerous driving after the IOPC completed its investigation.
The IOPC report also concluded he may have committed gross misconduct, which kickstarted the Sussex Police disciplinary process.
However, Mr Paterson later told investigators that it had been an accident, and refused to testify, which led to the charge being downgraded to careless driving.
Yesterday’s hearing was told that PC Kyle had decided to plead guilty to the charge after hearing it would be adjourned for another six months if he denied it.
In sentencing at Hove Crown Court, Judge Andrew Goymer said it was not unreasonable for PC Kyle to have believed he was heading to a terror attack, but that he had made the wrong call in terms of how to avoid Mr Paterson on the crossing, describing it as an “unfortunate error”.
Two of the men who took part in the brawl, Abdul Alim and Michele Manganaro, were later convicted of affray and possession of offensive weapons – Alim an axe and Manganaro glass bottles and a wooden pole.
Alim, 33, of Kingswood Street, Brighton, was jailed earlier this year for more than two years for those charges and other drug offences .
Manganaro failed to turn up to be sentenced, and a warrant has been issued by the court for his arrest. It’s believed he may have fled to France.