Many years ago I was sat in my car on a road closure. Between me, my car and the live traffic was a line of cones and a large sign. Further down the road was a junction controlled by traffic lights. Cones and another sign were also placed here covering half the junction. This was to prevent traffic getting through to where I was but would allow any cars coming off a side street between me and the junction to get out. The signs were fairly vague and not very easy to understand. Much like the one here.
I sat at this location whilst accident investigation (AI) officers catalogued the evidence and documented the scene of a fatal road traffic accident. The officer in the case was working with AI and my role was simply to provide a barrier between them and the public/traffic whilst they got on with their job as quickly as they could. I glanced up at the junction to see a car come onto the wrong side of the road, around the cones at the traffic lights and drive up to my location. The driver stopped at the cones. He didn’t get out. He just sat there and then flashed his lights at me and beeped his horn. I looked at him wondering what on earth he wanted. He didn’t relent and then began to pull forward to try and squeeze through the cones. I alighted my vehicle and indicated for him to stop. I believe I shouted something along the lines of “Oi! What do you think you’re doing?”
I approached the driver’s door and he wound his window down. “Is the road closed officer?” I wont publish my reply. After some discussion I established he needed to get to the train station as he was collecting a relative. He lived locally and he even identified a number of alternative routes he could take to get to his destination. Notwithstanding he sat there and argued the toss about the road closure, how inconvenient it was and that we had no right to close the road.
In another situation I stood on a road closure. Not only had I coned the road but I had also put tape across the whole road and footpaths. Road closed signs were again out and all emergency lights were flashing. A pedestrian walked along the footpath, lifted the tape and walked on. I shouted for him to stop. He didn’t. I had to go and grab hold of him. “Why are you stopping me? It’s a free country and I can go where I like.” I pointed out to him that a little further down the road was a firearms incident dealing with a man with mental health problems who reportedly had a gun. He still wanted to walk down the street because it was his right. I lost patience and frog marched him back to the tape and put him on the other side of it. He continued to protest about his freedom rights before marching off in the opposite direction.
On another occasion I was called to a narrow lane. The lane ran along side a river and it regularly broke its banks after heavy rain. The signs were permanently left in the hedges nearby as they were used so regularly. I closed the road with signs and cones. Job done. The signs were council owned and also a little ambiguous as this one to the right. Just to add a little clarity there was also a triangular warning sign that said “flood”.
I left the area and got on with my job. An hour or so later I was called back to a stranded motorist. I got to the lane and the driver in a Vauxhall Nova (yes that long ago) had driven into deep water, stalled the engine and was now stuck in a raging torrent of swollen river. I was in a Range Rover and even I wouldn’t have driven through it. Police officers don’t have an option in such circumstances though. You can imagine the headlines. “Police Officer Stands By and Watches as Woman Drowns”. I had to do something. I collected the strap from the boot, drove into the water as far as I deemed safe then went on foot. I clipped the strap to the Range Rover then waded up to my knees in river water pulled the strap through the towing eye and doubled it back onto the Jeep (we always called the Range Rover “the jeep”). I then returned to the car instructed the driver on what to do then pulled the car slowly and carefully back to safety. The lady was not apologetic. She complained that the road always flooded and it was a liability. “I always walk my dog down here every evening and the council should fix this so the river doesn’t flood.” she said. It would be fair to say that standing in the cold, sopping wet and throughly p**sed off that a thank you would have gone a long way. No such luck. Just a ranting tirade of how she had been inconvenienced. She got a short sharp dressing down and told to go home.
Every police officer in the country will be able to recant anecdotal tales similar to all of the above. It is so common it is infuriating. There is a section of the public who believe we close roads just for the hell of it and then sit around the corner sniggering at those who are delayed. They refuse to abide by lawfully placed signs, ignore warnings and put themselves and others at risk.
There has been a huge backlash recently to the most selfish and narcissistic piece of journalism I have read this year. An article by the conceited Daily Mail hack Richard Littlejohn. You can read it for yourself HERE.
Mr Littlejohn has come for some criticism both from the public and police. Nathan Constable wrote a blog HERE and @_sLserenda an officer who deals daily with fatal accidents blogged HERE. Both of these blogs are excellent in their own right but sadly they are both police officers. Why is this a negative? Basically because the cynics of this world will say “Well you would say that wouldn’t you”. You only have to read through some of the sickening comments on the Mail article to see what we are up against. From an evidence perspective their view is hardly independent is it?
So in steps Mr Mike Rawlins who in his role as photographer was on a bridge overlooking the tragic accident scene on Christmas Day. His blog HERE blows a great big hole in everything Mr Littlejohn has to say and has been tweeted far and wide today.
Any human being with even an ounce of compassion and decency will understand what the police did on Christmas Day. I suspect the majority of those delayed on the motorway for hours on end were frustrated and upset but I would put money on the fact that most of them were thanking their lucky stars they weren’t involved.
There were even people drawing comparisons to the coach stopped this year after a terrorist alert that led to a motorway closure and large incident. Ultimately it came to nothing. Yet I can’t help but think what the headlines and criticism would be if Staffs Police ignored the threat, batted it off and the bus got all the way to London and exploded killing and seriously injuring many people.
So do we take too long to deal with road accidents? Could we be more efficient? Well it goes without saying that we could simply clear the road and let everyone carry on but that doesn’t serve justice and it doesn’t serve the requirements of HM Coroner. The bottom line is that we do all that we can, based on the circumstances, to secure all the evidence we can from the road, the vehicles, the victims and the witnesses. It takes time. Depending on the circumstances one accident may take much longer to deal with than another. How would the public feel if we dealt with a murder by collecting the body, mopping up the blood stains and clearing off without any investigation and forensics?
Maybe Mr Littlejohn is a minority. If some of the comments on his article are anything to go by then he has many who agree with him. Maybe the minority are all collected in one place? Whichever way I look at it I take my hat off to the motorway police officers, ambulance, fire, highways agency and recovery teams who dealt with what was no doubt a traumatic incident with professionalism and care.
Mr Littlejohn and his cohorts can rant all they like about road closures and how ridiculous they see them as being. Until of course perhaps it’s one of their relatives and the police show the lack of interest they advocate.
As my mum said to me as a kid.. “Its better to arrive late than not at all”
In the grand scheme of things in comparison to the poor family grieving over their tragic loss a late Christmas dinner is infinitesimally insignificant and Mr Littlejohn should know when to shut up. However, the bigger problem is not how the police investigate matters but the selfish and inconsiderate minority who don’t give a toss at all for their fellow mankind.
Shame on you.