20 November 2012

Focus on... collision investigation

A day in the life of...PC Glen Braidwood and PC David Kirk

PC Glen Braidwood
Senior investigating officer  |  22 years' experience in Roads Policing

As a senior investigating officer (SIO) in the Serious Collision Investigation Unit (SCIU), I attend all fatal and life threatening collisions and incidents where my specialist skills are required to help other officers.

I deal with the ‘people’ side of a collision so when I arrive on scene, I’ll start to identify witnesses and get brief initial statements from everyone - what did they see, where were they when the collision happened, did they see anything leading up to the impact? We can also audio record statements from people later - not having to interrupt their recollections of the incident by pausing to take notes helps get a good account of what they saw.

We also try to identify the drivers involved and run a series of tests on them, including a breath and drugs test, to ensure they are fit and able to drive.

If the collision is fatal, I’ll put one of our family liaison officers in touch with the victim’s family and later on, go to see the relatives to explain how our investigations are going and what they can expect from us.

As SIO, I’m responsible for putting together the case files which outline what happened and support legal proceedings or inquests which I attend to give evidence.

Yesterday, I worked an early turn, 7am to 5pm and prepared for an inquest on Wednesday in relation to a collision which happened in January this year. I’m also attending crown court on Friday to hear the plea of a woman involved in a fatal collision earlier this year so prepared for that by reviewing all the evidence.

PC David Kirk

Forensic collision investigator  |  25 years' police service, 11 years' experience in forensic collision investigation

When I arrive at a scene, I’m looking to capture as much physical evidence as possible to help us explain what happened – this includes tyre marks, vehicle damage and road side damage.

This is our one chance to collect all the forensic evidence we need to help us piece together the cause of the collision. The information we gather supports any future legal proceedings and provides answers to the people and families of those involved. Once we reopen the road, the evidence is lost. So it’s important we get as much information as possible.

The ‘scene’ isn’t just the point of impact. I have to establish what led up to the collision and must take everything into consideration – road surface and weather conditions; the concentration and capabilities of the driver; traffic conditions and roadworthiness of the vehicle.

We have some specialist equipment to help us. Our newest kit is a laser scanner, which surveys a scene and later helps us build up a scale 3D image of a collision site. See our Flickr site for pictures.

Yesterday, I worked a 7am to 5pm shift, based out of Aylesford and finished writing up the report of a recent collision. The report includes details of our investigation at the scene, witness statements and calculations of the speed and stopping distances of the vehicles involved. It then outlines our considerations of what could have caused the collision.

Glen and I were also on call from home between midnight last night and 7am this morning.

How we deal with a serious or fatal collision

To any fatal collision, at least three members of the SCIU will attend - a senior investigating officer, a forensics collision investigator and an investigator.

Dealing with a scene typically comes in three stages.

Rescue phase. When we arrive at a scene, the other emergency services are usually already there, treating the injured and getting them to safety. We support them by putting cordons in place and initially diverting traffic until Kent County Council Highways arrive.

We get statements from witnesses and carry out a series of tests on the drivers to help with our investigation.

In the forensic investigation phase we want to establish what happened pre-impact so examine the vehicles, any damage and all the debris in the field. We’re looking for contact points ie any places the vehicles may have struck such as the central reservation. We’re also looking at the tarmac – often if there’s been a sudden change of speed for example, the tarmac will have been marked. We’ll be looking in close detail at all the vehicles involved – checking tyres and lights and looking at the position of the seats and seat belts.

We carry out house-to-house enquiries and examine CCTV to give us as much information as possible.

In the recovery phase, we clear up the scene so the road can be reopened. If the road surface or barriers need repairing, we hand the scene over to our council Highways colleagues so that the safety of other road users can be maintained.

Our traffic management officer colleagues visit the scene of every fatal collision in the days after to make sure the road is safe and there was nothing in place which may have contributed to the incident.

There’s more on them tomorrow with Sergeant Rob Dell.

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