Serious and Fatal Collision Investigation | Suffolk Constabulary

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Serious and Fatal Collision Investigation

Collision

Serious and Fatal collisions investigation primarily rests with the Roads and Armed Policing Team (RAPT) and the Serious Injury Collision Unit (SCIU).

It is important to understand why a collision occurred and to bring any offenders to justice, the aims of an investigation are to identify who is at fault for the collision, identify if any person has committed an offence and to seek to prevent similar collisions in the future.

It is important that the police are able to provide answers to the families and those close to people who have lost their lives or been affected by a collision.

All fatal collisions are investigated by the SCIU who are a Joint Norfolk and Suffolk team based at Stowmarket and Wymondham.

Investigations are undertaken in line with the College of Policing approved professional practice guidance and the Police Code of Ethics.

What are the roles in serious and fatal collision investigation

There are a number of roles and each one has a separate set of responsibilities and qualifications. Further information relating to each role can be found here

Lead Investigator – This is the officer in charge of the investigation. At the scene of the collision this is usually the Roads Policing Sgt or Inspector. After the road is reopened and the formal investigation stage begins this can change if the investigation is allocated to the SCIU.

The Lead investigator is responsible for all key decisions regarding the investigation and scene management.

Forensic Collision Investigator – This is the officer/staff member who attends the scene and gathers physical evidence (similar to a crime scene examiner). They are different to a CSI as they can provide expert evidence to the court regarding the mechanics and causes of a collision.

Family Liaison Officer – This is a trained officer/staff member who will support the family and explain the investigation process. They are allocated to the primary family member for all fatal collisions and those that are likely to become fatal collisions.

Family Liaison Co-ordinator –Oversees all FLO deployments to ensure the correct service is being given to those affected by the collision and to manage the welfare of the police officer/staff during the deployment.

Investigating officer – The officer or staff member who is responsible for gathering the evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects and building prosecution and coroner’s files.

What happens at the scene of a fatal or serious collisions

Where the Constabulary are notified that fatal or serious injury collision has occurred it will immediately send police officers to the scene.

The priorities for the officers are:

Preserve Life – The overriding objective is to save the life of anyone injured. This means there is likely to be a significant amount of activity from the Fire and Rescue Services and Ambulance/Paramedic services. The police and other emergency services work to the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).

The police role will be to provide immediate lifesaving treatment until medical assistance arrives and to assist the other emergency services to protect and preserve life.

Preserve Evidence – There is a duty placed on the police to investigate offences and the reasons for collisions. This often means the road may be closed to allow the evidence to be gathered from the scene. The police use the term ‘golden hour’ as the period immediately after an offence may have been committed when material is readily available. Taking positive action reduces the amount of material and evidence that could be lost.

Identify suspects – This stage is a decision as to who may be responsible for the collision and if they have committed an offence. Some collisions are very clear as to who was at fault and the offence they have committed, whilst it may take some time to establish if this is the case in other collisions. This is the decision of the Lead Investigator throughout the investigation.

Identify witnesses- This is simply to identify those people who have witnessed the collision or anything which might help explain why it occurred. Sometimes people stop at collision scenes and some leave prior to police arrival, more often people remain and the police will speak to them.

Why are armed police sent to fatal and serious injury collisions?

The Roads and Armed Policing Teams are a mix of Roads Policing officers and Firearms officers. To provide the number of staff to deal with incidents on the Constabularies fast roads armed officers are trained to respond and deal with collisions as well as their armed policing role.

If you see officers with firearms at the scene of a collision there is very unlikely to be a firearms threat and far more likely that they have been deployed to support the investigation and management of the scene.

Firearms trained officers have a higher level of 1st aid training so often respond to provide initial life saving treatment prior to the arrival of other emergency services.

Why is the road closed for so long

Roads are closed for as long as is necessary to ensure that the evidence is collected and the road can be safely opened. The primary consideration is the safety of those working on the scene.

The scene investigation consists of the early response and lifesaving activity, the investigation stage and then the recovery of vehicles and opening of the roads.

Each scene is unique and dependent on its size and severity will take a varying amount of time.

Vehicle recovery can cause some delays especially where heavy machinery is involved.

The Constabulary provide information to the local media on how long the roads are likely to be closed, where this is one of the main routes in the County it is advised to avoid travel in that area.

The investigation needs to be able to explain to those affected what has happened. The public should be assured that the road is only closed for as long as is necessary.

Who checks if the road design contributed to the collision

The agency responsible for the road will be notified of the collision and will review its design and layout to see if improvements should be made. The police traffic management officer (TMO) will also visit each fatal collision scene and provide an input as to any changes that could be made to reduce collisions in the future.

I was involved in a collision and don’t know if I am being investigated

You will be told at the earliest possible stage if you are suspected of an offence. The officer at the scene or investigating officer will inform you and explain what will happen next. If you are informed you are a suspect please read the section further down the page "I have been told I am under investigation for a fatal or serious collision". 

I am a witness to a collision – What can I expect

As a witness you may have provided an initial account at the scene. A more formal account may be required, the way this is taken depends on your personal circumstances and the importance of what you saw.

If you are worried about giving evidence or think you may be intimidated then you should tell the person dealing with your case. Vulnerable and intimidated witness can be provided special measures at court to allow them to give the best evidence. Further information can be found here.

If you witnessed a significant  event you may be recorded whilst your statement is taken, the person taking your statement will explain this in advance, you are not a suspect and the recording is to help the investigating officers show your evidence was taken in an appropriate and open way.

The majority of witnesses provide a written statement which is made with the person dealing with the case.

As a witness you may not be updated as regularly as other persons involved in the case, sometimes it can be a significant amount of time before you hear anything more. The person dealing with the case should agree with you how often to contact you and in what circumstances, they should also provide their name, contact number and email. Investigations focus primarily on the families of the deceased who are the first to receive any updates.

Investigating officers work shifts and as such may not be immediately available for questions, email is usually the best way to contact and the investigating officer as it can be responded to at any time and on their return to duty.

If you need any support or are having trouble coping please read this section here.

I was arrested for causing a serious or fatal collision

If you were arrested at the time of the collision this will have been explained to you and you will have been provided with the details of the officer dealing with the investigation and what happens next. You will either be placed on police bail to return at a set date and time or released under investigation.

Contact with the investigation team should generally be through a legal advisor (if you have one), the officer may call you to explain what is happening but they may not be able to answer any questions as you have and you have rights under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which prevent the officer or staff member questioning you without access to legal advice or properly cautioned.

If you have been charged or summons for an offence you must attend the court on the date and time specified.

I have been told I am under investigation for a fatal or serious collision

If you have are suspected of an offence you will be offered a formal interview. You will not be asked to make any further comments regarding your involvement prior to the interview.

Interviews take place at a police investigation centre, unless there is a necessity to do so you will not be arrested and will be a voluntary attender. This is a decision made by the lead investigator and is subject to scrutiny with the Custody officers and Inspectors who review the reasons for an arrest and authorised detention within a centre.

When you enter the PIC you will be seen by a custody officer and given the opportunity for free and independent legal advice. You can arrange to bring a legal advisor with you if you wish.

You may be informed you are a suspect and prior to interview told this is no longer the case, it will be made completely clear to you if you are a suspect or witness.

If you have any questions for the investigation team these should be directed through your legal advisor if you have one, if not you will have been given the contact details for the investigation team.

Why was someone not arrested immediately

Fatal and serious injury collision scenes are often complex and take time to establish the causes. Drivers are often traumatised or require medical assistance.

In the majority of cases the motorists involved in a collision have no criminal past or dealing with the police, often it is a momentary lapse which has caused the collision.

The decision on whether to arrest a driver immediately after a collision rests with the lead investigator and the unique circumstances for each investigation. The law requires the officer arrested to ensure the arrest is legal, necessary and proportionate.

I am a family member or close friend of the victim of a fatal collision

A Roads  Policing family liaison office will be appointed in every fatal collision in the County. FLO’s are not routinely deployed to serious injury collisions but can be in exceptional circumstances.

The FLO will usually be deployed to contact the next of kin, where there is a large or extended family the FLO will arrange contact with one member of the family who will be asked to pass on any information to the others.

What is a Post Mortem and what is a Home Office Post Mortem

A post mortem may be required to establish the cause of death, this can sometimes be achieved through other medical records or practices however in most collisions where the death has occurred at the scene or shortly afterwards in hospital a post mortem is likely to be needed.

Post Mortems are conducted by pathologists at a medical establishment with suitable facilities.

A home office post mortem may be required where the cause of death has to be established and there is other evidence which may be required. This may be marks on the deceased or injuries which cannot be explained.

If post mortem is required the family liaison officer will be able to explain the type and reasons.

Who decides if someone is charged, summonsed or that no further action will be taken

Both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service can make decisions on cases, there is strict guidance provided to the police on when a police officer or staff member can make a decision to charge or summons someone.

The circumstances are explained on the CPS website here.

How long does it take for a decision and/or court proceedings

This all depends on the circumstances of the collision and the number of current investigations. The Coroner will set an initial hearing date which the police will work towards, if this cannot be achieved the police will inform the coroner and the family as to why.

If you are a family member you will be informed of when a case is being submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service

What happens at Magistrate, Crown Court

If you are concerned about going to court then let the FLO or investigating officers know and they can arrange for a familiarisation visit to the court to help you.

The courts have separate facilities for both the defendants and the witnesses and family members so you wont be expected to sit in the same areas. They also provide witness services at many Courts.

Advice on which cases are heard at court and giving evidence can be found here

What happens at Coroners Court.

The Coroner is required to open an inquest into any sudden and unexplained death, when the cause is unknown of the death is unnatural.

A coroners officer will usually deal with any questions from the next of kin.

The Coroners inquest is to ask 4 questions:

  • Who died
  • Where they died
  • When they died
  • How they died

The inquest can be with or without a jury and witnesses. The type of inquest and who attends is discussed with ‘interested parties’ which include the families of the deceased. It does not include witnesses.

The Coroner has the power to summons a witness to court if required.

How will I be kept updated

This will depend on if you are a suspect, witness of family member. Please see the sections relating to these areas.

I have some information regarding a fatal or serious collision – Who can I contact

You can contact the police through a number of platforms. The advice is to contact the police through the following link if there is no one at risk of harm.

Please do not update Facebook or other social media, this is not monitored all the time and the message may not be passed to the correct team.

Can I meet the investigation team, CPS or Coroner

If you are a family member of someone who has died in a collision then you will be offered a visit to the SCIU to meet the Lead Investigator, investigating officer and FCI.

If there is a prosecution in relation to a road traffic death then the Crown Prosecution Service may offer meetings at key stages of the process. You will be contacted by either the investigation team or CPS to arrange these.

Prior to an inquest family members will be offered a meeting with key members of the investigation team to explain the findings of the investigations.

The Coroner may hold a meeting with families prior to any inquest.

All meetings can be discussed and arranged with the family liaison officer.

We do not currently offer any services for witnesses or persons suspected of causing a collision to meet the teams.

I have a complaint

If you complaint is in relation to the police then you should first speak to the officer who is dealing with the investigation or their supervisor. Normally any complaints or issues can be resolved at an early stage.

If you wish to make a formal complaint details of the process and how to do so can be found here.

The police do not deal with complaints surrounding other agencies, the Crown Prosecution Service or the Coroners Service. If your complaint refers to one of these agencies then please visit their respective websites for advice on how to make a complaint.