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Police force urged to improve driver training following death of Leeds pensioner

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West Yorkshire Police apologised to the family of a Leeds great grandfather last week following the conclusion of an Inquest into his death.

Lester Morrill represented the family of Donald Bennett, who was 83 years old at the time of his death. Mr Bennett was eating an ice cream and enjoying the fine weather when he was struck by an unmanned police van in Pudsey Park, Leeds on 1 June 2013.

Wakefield Coroner’s Court heard how PC Claire Bugler of West Yorkshire Police had driven into Pudsey Park to attend reports of a disturbance. In her evidence she described how she parked on a slope and then left the vehicle to attend the incident. She claimed that she applied the handbrake but failed to put the van in gear.

The court also heard evidence from David Foster, a forensic collision expert for North Yorkshire Police, who told the jury that the lower slider on the right hand rear brake of the police van had been corroded and that this could have been a factor in its movement. However he told the court that, in his opinion, the handbrake in the police van had not been applied fully prior to the accident.

Following the Inquest Mr O’Leary (Mr Bennett’s son-in-law) told the press that he felt the Inquest had highlighted some ‘significant failures by West Yorkshire Police.’

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigated the incident and found that PC Bugler had not put the van into gear before leaving it parked on the slope despite this being a step which is advised in the Highway Code. The IPCC noted that the West Yorkshire Police driver training school did not teach a ‘stopping drill’ to students. This has led to the IPCC’s recommendation to the police force to implement guidance issued by the Highway Code, including putting vehicles into gear when parking on hills.

For the past two years the family have been fighting for the truth of what happened to Mr Bennett. The recommendations made by the relevant investigatory body are an important part of the “learning lessons” function of the inquest process. These shortfalls were explored at the Inquest which lead the Coroner being satisfied that changes had been made by West Yorkshire Police in line with the guidance from the IPCC, which will hopefully prevent a similar tragedy happening in future.

The family of Donald Bennett were represented by Rebecca Treece a member of our Specialist Inquest Team and Eleanor Fry of New Park Court Chambers, Leeds.

The Stroke Association was among a number of charities to weigh into the debate.

Alexis Wieroniey, a policy director, said: “The wide-ranging variation in the time it takes people to be admitted to a stroke unit across England is extremely concerning and it is unacceptable that too many people are still not admitted within four hours.

“Wherever they live, people must have an equal chance in getting the immediate treatment they need to make their best possible recovery from stroke.”

While standards of healthcare in the UK are generally very high, this doesn’t mean that things can’t go wrong – and when they do, the consequences can be devastating. At Lester Morrill, our experienced clinical negligence team can advise you on the options available. For more information about how our Leeds-based solicitors can help you, contact us today.