Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland highlights shortcomings of investigation

A campaign by the parents of a teenage cyclist killed by a driver seven years ago that helped lead to the introduction of the offence of causing death by careless driving has also brought about a change in the way police in Scotland deal with road traffic accidents in remote areas.

Sam Beasley, aged 14, from Corrie, Arran, died in July 2003 after being struck from behind by a car driven by lecturer Catherine Munro, who was subsequently convicted of careless driving, receiving a fine of £500 and six penalty points on her driving license.

At the time, the law in both England & Wales and Scotland meant that unless the prosecution was able to establish that the standard of driving was dangerous enough to result in a conviction for causing death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment, the lesser offence of careless driving would apply.

The introduction of the offence of causing death by careless driving in 2008 brought an end to the situation whereby the fact that a driver’s actions had resulted in someone being killed not being taken into consideration as part of the charge or the punishment meted out to them if they were found guilty. That resulted in what road safety campaigners viewed as some absurdly lenient sentences in cases involving fatal accidents.

Now, Sam’s parents, Alan and Joyce Beasley, have been commended by the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland for their efforts in bringing about changes to police procedure when investigating accidents in rural areas, according to a report in The Scotsman.

Mr and Mrs Beasley had listed 20 complaints against Strathclyde Police arising out of its investigation of the accident that claimed their son’s life.

Although Commissioner John McNeill established that 14 of those had been dealt with reasonably, he found that in six instances, there had been shortcomings, the most serious of which was allowing the driver to leave the scene of the fatal accident in her car soon after it happened.

Mr McNeill also upheld five other complaints, which were failing to close the road following the accident, not placing the vehicle under cover, failure to use appeal boards and trace further witnesses to the incident, and not covering up a wheelie bin at the scene.

Mr Beasley told The Scotsman that he welcomed the fact that the Commissioner had upheld some of his complaints and that police training in rural areas had been improved as a result of his efforts.

However, the newspaper added that he remained concerned about the “integrity” of some of the police officers involved in the case.

Mr Beasley added that "We are also concerned that despite Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland recommending in 2006 that Strathclyde Police review its policy on the interviewing of suspect drivers in fatal collisions, the force has still not reached a final decision."

Mr McNeill’s report says that although there were individual shortcomings in how the accident was investigated, lack of guidance provided to individual officers meant that these could be categorised “organisational” failures, adding “I hope that my review will answer some of the questions which the parents have over the initial incident and the manner in which Strathclyde Police investigated their complaints.”

He continued: “I also hope that they will see that they have brought about real and positive changes in how the police now handle this type of incident.

"The only way to make real progress and increase public confidence in the police is when we reach a situation where the police complaints handling system is one that reflects a learning culture rather than a blame one.

"This is an area that the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and the Scottish Government are looking at through the Police Advisory Board for Scotland's Technical Working Group. I have made my views known to them and intend to continue to be pro-active on this subject,” Mr McNeill concluded.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.