A police officer who was driving a car which hit and killed a pedestrian in Brighton can continue to serve after being found not guilty of gross misconduct.
PC Richard Harris, 29, has instead been found guilty of simple misconduct by a Sussex Police panel following a four day hearing this week.
He was investigated by the IOPC following the crash which killed David Ormesher, 79, on August 25, 2017. The IOPC passed their findings to the CPS in August 2018.
However, in March 2019, then home secretary Sajid David said he was intending on passing a law protecting officers involved in crashes while responding to emergency calls from prosecution – and in September 2019, the CPS decided not to prosecute, a decision upheld even after Mr Ormesher’s family asked them to review the decision.
The IOPC shared their report with Sussex Police and it was agreed that there was a case to answer for gross misconduct, where the threshold for bringing disciplinary action is lower than those of criminal charges.
The hearing this week heard PC Harris was en route to a distressed woman in the water by the Palace Pier when the crash happened at 1am.
PC Richard Harris, based at John Street police station in the city, faced five allegations when he appeared at the four day hearing, which commenced on Monday at Sackville House in Lewes.
It was alleged that he breached standards of professional behaviour relating to duties and responsibilities, all relating to the manner of his driving on August 25, 2017.
It was alleged that PC Harris’s speed as he drove through Brighton was not necessary, reasonable or proportionate in the circumstances and during the blue light run, he had narrowly avoided collisions with two other vehicles.
On Thursday (July 16), having considered the evidence and heard a number of submissions and statements in PC Harris’s defence, the panel decided that three out of the five allegations were proven, amounting to misconduct and that he should receive a final written warning.
Assistant Chief Constable Jayne Dando said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Ormesher’s family and friends who have had to wait nearly three years for this matter to be resolved and I would reiterate our profound and deepest sympathies for this tragic incident.
“PC Harris was understandably extremely shocked by the incident and we accept that he was seeking to do his job and was en route to deal with an emergency.
“However, the panel has found that his actions were not in keeping with the very high standards that we set all of our officers and staff, especially in such circumstances where we expect them to adhere to the high levels of training that we provide.
“Every single day, we look to our officers and staff to make rapid decisions and perform to the very high standards that we expect and train them to carry out. Every single day, hundreds of them do so, but on this occasion events conspired to bring about this desperately tragic result.”
Matt Webb, Chairman of Sussex Police Federation, said: “Sussex Police Federation notes the findings today in the case against PC Richard Harris. Our thoughts remain with the family of David Ormesher, who sadly lost his life as a result of the tragic accident in August 2017.
“The stated outcome at this hearing means our colleague PC Harris can now finally get on with his career, having been investigated over this incident for the past three years. It’s no exaggeration to say that this ordeal has had a significant impact on him.
“Police officers have no issue with being held accountable for their actions – we are the most accountable of public services. And it is only right that following a tragic death the circumstances are fully examined.
“But how can it be just or justified to have a police officer’s life put on hold for so long? This should never have been looked at as potential Gross Misconduct – why was it treated as such? Sussex Police and the Independent Office for Police Conduct need to be asking that question today.”
Matt added: “At this hearing, PC Samantha Cooper, who was a passenger in the police car that night, said PC Harris had been treated “appallingly” throughout the criminal and subsequent disciplinary investigations and labelled his treatment “disgusting”. We fully concur.
“The Police Federation has consistently been arguing for the need for time limits on such investigations. The negative impact of this prolonged uncertainty on a police officer, their families and their colleagues cannot be underestimated.
“As a society, we must give police officers the support required when they carry out these roles, even if the worst sadly happens.
“We must pay credit to our colleague PC Harris for maintaining his professionalism and dignity throughout the extremely stressful process. We also thank his legal team for their hard work.”