POLICE officers involved in fatal road crashes are to be investigated by a new independent watchdog after an overhaul of the system, MSPs have been told.
The handling of previous investigations has prompted concern among bereaved families, including a recent high-profile case which saw a constable cleared in court over the death of a 65-year-old taxi driver.
The Police Independent Review Commissioner (PIRC) will lead future inquiries after the creation of the new national police force last month, prosecution chiefs said yesterday.
Holyrood’s justice committee also heard that revised guidance should ensure bereaved families are given access to police reports about fatal accidents which claim the lives of their relatives.
Margaret Dekker, of the Scottish Campaign against Irresponsible Drivers (Scid) told MSPs the family of taxi driver John Lacon, killed after being hit by a police officer answering an emergency call, had yet to get any information about his death.
Criminal proceedings ended in the case last year, when PC David Brown was cleared of causing death by dangerous driving.
Labour MSP Graeme Pearson said there “can be a conflict” when police officers have been involved in road fatalities and investigate each other.
“I know of one case that’s been raised with me where there’s a real angst among the family and relatives about how it was handled,” he said.
“Are there ways there can be an improvement in the way these accidents are handled and is there a way of engaging some form of impartiality to remove fear that there was a conflict of interest?”
Stephen McGowan, deputy director of serious casework at the Crown Office, said that such cases would now be handled by the PIRC.
Previously, a neighbouring force would have been brought in to carry out the inquiry, but this would still have seen “police officers who were investigating police officers”, he said. “So you have the independent commissioner and you have the independence of the Lord Advocate and procurator fiscal guiding that investigation as a whole,” Mr McGowan said.
“So it’s a different landscape from what there was before.”
Superintendent Iain Murray, head of road policing with Police Scotland, said he had no concerns over the way investigations had been carried into officers in the past.
But Mr Pearson said: “Although you’re not concerned, you will be aware many families were and, in itself, you have a duty to try and deal with that.”
Scid is campaigning for bereaved families to be given open access to police accident reports where their loved ones have been involved in fatal crashes.
Ms Dekker told the committee road deaths were “sudden and violent” and cause more “acute” pain for the families involved. “Families bereaved by road crashes need to know that they can access information if they so wish,” she said.
“Having access to investigation documents empowers bereaved families to work through the finality of a death.”
The Crown Office said its guidance was changed in April last year and prosecutors now aimed to give this information to relatives, although they may need to wait until any trial is over.