Jill Pirrie death: Top police warned of car chase danger

Senior police officers including the former chief constable warned against getting involved in high-speed pursuits in the months before the death of a nurse in Edinburgh.

Police carry out investigations after the accident in which Jill Pirrie died. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Four teenage boys were detained after 33-year-old Jill Pirrie was hit by a Ford Ka being chased by a marked police vehicle in the capital on Thursday evening.

The incident is now being investigated, but the pursuit appears to have seen the fears of senior Police Scotland figures realised.

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Commenting on housebreaking in Edinburgh last year, Sir Stephen House said the theft of cars and motorbikes left police in a “difficult situation” where pursuits could lead to injuries.

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House, who retired as chief constable in December, told the Scottish Police Authority in June that “low-value” vehicles were being stolen in Edinburgh before being used in other crimes and then abandoned.

He said: “That can lead us into difficult situations around pursuit. That happens a lot with motorcycles in Edinburgh.

“In Edinburgh you get youngsters on motorbikes and they will ride around fairly openly. That gives my officers a particular problem because we have very strict rules around engagement in pursuits for obvious reasons on proportionality, particularly so with motorcycles when the riders are young, reckless and may not be experienced. Frankly, a police pursuit in those circumstances is going to lead to injury.”

His comments were echoed by Superintendent Alan Porte, who led Police Scotland’s housebreaking initiative, Operation RAC.

Speaking in July, Porte said if a pursuit resulted in a deadly crash and led to a fatal accident inquiry (FAI), his position would be “totally indefensible” as he would have been aware that the criminals were not experienced drivers.

While denying there was a “we will not pursue them” policy, he said: “I want to chase them with every bone in my body, but imagine if there was a pedestrian killed, or one of the kids, and an FAI was held. It would find my decision to chase underage teenagers without driving licences indefensible.”

Thursday’s incident is now being investigated by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

In March, the Pirc submitted a report to the Crown Office in connection with its investigation into the death of 57-year-old Mary Laurie in November. She was killed on the way home from her son’s wedding after a car chased by police hit her taxi.

Commenting on the latest incident, a spokeswoman for the Pirc said: “A police vehicle was following a silver Ford Ka when the Ka was involved in a collision which resulted in the death of a 33-year-old woman in Edinburgh.

“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has instructed the Pirc to carry out an independent investigation into the circumstances leading up to the incident.”

Chief Superintendent Kenny MacDonald, Edinburgh divisional commander, said: “Road policing officers are highly trained to dynamically risk-assess unfolding situations and take appropriate and proportionate measures.

“The circumstances of this incident are currently being reviewed by the Pirc, therefore it would be inappropriate to comment.”