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"Pursuits bill" wins cross-party support at Parliament

A senior backbench MP has called for a change in the law to prevent police and other blue light workers from being prosecuted for responding to emergencies.

Sir Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, highlighted the fact that too many officers have been hauled before the courts and accused of dangerous driving simply for "doing their jobs" and while following approved tactics. Their advanced driver training is not taken into account and they are judged by the universal standard of a "careful and competent driver".

The Federation's pursuits lead, Tim Rogers, has led an effective campaign on the issue culminating on Tuesday with Sir Henry introducing his Emergency Response Drivers (Protections) Ten Minute Rule Bill and winning cross-party support for a change in the law.

Welcoming the progress, Tim said: "It was good to see this issue getting the support at Parliament that it deserves. There is still a way to go in this process but I am optimistic that, after seven years of watching our members falling foul of the law just for doing their jobs, we will get legislation that supports them in the difficult job they do."

In the Commons debate, Sir Henry cited a number of examples in which officers had faced disciplinary procedures for doing their job including the case of PC Richard Jeffery, a Norfolk officer who pursued a stolen car being driven by a drunk driver. The vehicle crashed and the driver was killed. PC Jeffery was suspended and investigated for gross misconduct for two years by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Sir Henry said: "The key point is that the Crown Prosecution Service and the IPCC could not look at the extra training and expertise of the police officer. This officer faced a dilemma. He could easily have said, 'It's the end of a long day, I won't take the risk, I'm going back to the police station'. What would have then happened if this car, which was being driven by a driver four times over the limit with broken lights and on a wet road, had gone off the road and killed several people? He would have had that on his conscience forever so, of course, his training kicked in, as one would expect."

He told MPs about the case of a police pursuit commander who was suspended for 18 months (so far) and forbidden from leaving his home for more than three days. And a moped rider "doing wheelies and going up the wrong side of a dual carriageway" who injured himself but it was a police officer who was pursuing who was suspended and then investigated for grievous bodily harm.

Sir Henry added: "The driver recovered from his head injuries very quickly, and two weeks on was committing further crimes, while the police officer, who was doing his duty, ended up being suspended. There are many other cases but what runs through them is the significant impact they have on the officers who are doing their duty to and serving the public, and the forces.

"The Home Office guidelines are not working. Time and again, the IPCC takes the view - perhaps while wrapped up in the emotion and under a lot of pressure from families - that it should take action, but it says, 'We won't deal with it, we'll let the courts look at it'. That, I think, is a cop out. It is quite wrong that these officers are being prosecuted in this way."

Sir Henry assured MPs that his Bill is not a charter for blue light drivers to act irresponsibly but would protect officers who are following their training and exercising their professional judgment. The bill was accepted with cross-party sponsors and no dissent. The bill is due to have its second reading in Parliament on Friday 16 March 2018.