A police officer who died along with a woman when his patrol car collided with another vehicle at high speed temporarily lost control of his vehicle just moments before the fatal crash, the police watchdog has found.
An inquest last week concluded that PC Dave Fields was travelling at 103mph when he lost control of his BMW police vehicle on the A57 in Sheffield in heavy rain on Christmas Day 2017.
A jury decided that his car aquaplaned before hitting a Citroen coming in the opposite direction.
Lorraine Stephenson, aged 61, died following the collision along with PC Fields, aged 45.
She was a front seat passenger in the Citroen being driven by her husband, Kevin.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has now published the findings of its investigation into the crash which said the officer also ‘temporarily lost control of his car on a roundabout shortly before the incident’.
The IOPC said: “He continued driving at speed, reaching 123mph at one point.
"PC Fields then lost control for a second time, at 103mph, and aquaplaned on surface water, spinning 140 degrees into the opposing lane.
"Mr Stephenson tried to steer out of the way, but was unable to, and the cars collided."
The report said that PC Fields had been responding to an emergency call about a street brawl involving up to 15 people on Gainsford Road, Darnall.
The IOPC said a collision investigation report concluded that the officer was driving ‘at an inappropriate speed for the weather conditions’.
It said that less than a week before the collision, officers including PC Fields had raised concerns about a loss of traction by some different police vehicles during a recent pursuit in snow.
The report said: “The views expressed in these emails were related to the handling of the car, traction issues and the rear end of the vehicle ‘kicking’ out during turns. It should be noted that during the pursuit in question, the conditions were wet with some snow.”
The inquest at Sheffield Coroner’s Court also heard that PC Fields had raised concerns with his wife Emma about the handling of the BMW cars.
The IOPC said South Yorkshire Police wrote to BMW over concerns around the handling characteristics of some of the fleet and a series of meetings were held between the force and the manufacturer.
But the report said: “Due to the tragic outcome of this incident, PC Fields cannot provide his rationale or his views about the handling of that vehicle on that night.
“However, the available evidence indicates the equipment provided by SYP was fit for purpose, provided it was driven in line with the applicable policies, procedures training and guidance.”
In summary, the IOPC said PC Fields’ BMW 330d ‘aquaplaned after at least one of its tyres lost traction.
It said: “Following a temporary loss of control at low speed in heavy rain, PC Fields subsequently reached a maximum speed of 123mph on a 50mph road.
“The evidence indicates that the speed at which PC Fields was driving, combined with the accumulation of water on the carriageway during these adverse weather conditions, combined to cause one or more of the vehicle tyres to lose traction, and the vehicle aquaplaned out of control.
“PC Fields appears to have been unable to regain control of the vehicle and it travelled across to the other side of the carriageway and collided with Mr Stephenson’s vehicle. Mr Stephenson tried to steer away from the oncoming police vehicle, however, he was unable to avoid the impact.”
The jury at Sheffield Coroner’s Court recorded a narrative conclusion and said the collision was as a result of a combination of factors – including wet driving conditions caused by heavy rainfall throughout the day and accumulations of water on the road.
They found on the balance of probabilities it was more likely than not that the police vehicle ‘aquaplaned’ and lost control on one of the pools of water.
Miranda Biddle, IOPC regional director, said: “Our findings in this case are clear, dispassionate and objective, as they should be. But this does not mean we cannot be empathetic in understanding the tragic circumstances of this incident – not least because of when it happened – and the impact that this has had on all those affected.
“It is evident that PC Fields made a series of errors that evening; he did not adjust his driving for the poor weather conditions, continued driving at speed, and it ended in the loss of Mrs Stephenson’s life and his own.
“Whilst we can offer concise evidence, and transparency as to what happened that day, I recognise that our conclusions will do little to ease the suffering of both grieving families. Our thoughts and sympathies remain with them.”