A Police investigation into the Northland vehicle pursuit on 12 May 2003, which ended in two deaths, has found police actions complied with pursuit policy.
Eighteen-year-old Erin Burgess was killed when Kuran Bruntonâ€™s motorcycle crossed the centre line and collided with the car she was driving.
The investigation was headed by Detective Superintendent Steve Shortland from the Police Commissionerâ€™s office.
Detective Superintendent Shortland expressed the Policeâ€™s sympathies to the families of the two deceased and particularly to the family of Erin Burgess who had died due to the actions of Mr Brunton.
Mr Bruntonâ€™s motorcycle was clocked on radar at 147 kph in a 100-kph zone and he failed to stop when signalled to do so by a police constable. The motorcyclistâ€™s response to the activation of the flashing lights and the police vehicle pulling over to the side of the road was to slow down and then accelerate away. A pursuit then commenced.
The pursuit reached high speeds across the Ruakaka and Mata Straights. Mr Shortland said that while the speeds were undesirable, the road conditions were such that both the Communications Centre, who controlled the pursuit and the subsequent investigation, agreed that there was compliance with the Police Pursuit Policy.
The compliance test involved reaching a determination as to whether or not the safety of any person was endangered by virtue of the pursuit. Neither the Vehicle Pursuits Policy nor Police General Instructions place a restriction on pursuit speeds.
Police pursued Mr Brunton for 26 kilometres before deciding to abandon the chase on Smeatons Hill. Police witnesses say the pursuit was abandoned when Mr Bruntonâ€™s driving deteriorated. A second police vehicle pulled out in front of the motorcycle on the other side of Smeatons Hill with a view to slowing down or diverting Mr Brunton on to a side road away from WhangÃ¤rei. This police vehicle was overtaken at speed by the motorcycle, which then crashed into Miss Burgessâ€™ car shortly after completing this manoeuvre.
Detective Superintendent Shortland said that poor communication between the Northern Communications Centre and the second police vehicle led to that vehicle pulling out in front of the motorcycle after the pursuit had been abandoned. The pursuit was directed to be abandoned a second time when the police vehicle was overtaken. Mr Shortland said Police were still technically in pursuit at the time of the crash as there had been insufficient time before the collision for the overtaken police vehicle to comply with pursuit stand- down requirements. These requirements included the de-activation of sirens and flashing lights.
Mr Shortland said the police investigation found that the crash was a result of a combination of excessive speed on Mr Bruntonâ€™s part and the condition of the road. The bend on which the fatal accident happened was programmed for repairs the day after the crash. Those repairs were deferred until Police had completed their scene examination.
While the Pursuits Policy was complied with the investigation identified some areas where performance could be improved. These involved the issuing, receipt and implementation of "abandon pursuit" instructions. These would be addressed in training.
The investigation file was referred to the Auckland Crown Solicitor for an independent opinion on the question of criminal liability of those officers involved in the pursuit and that opinion concluded that there was no criminal or disciplinary liability.
A Coronerâ€™s Inquest is to be held in WhangÃ¤rei and the police file will go to the Police Complaints Authority who will review the police investigation.
Detective Superintendent Shortland said that as a result of his investigation he had recommended that the Vehicle Pursuits Policy be reviewed to extend the "abandon pursuit" instructions, in certain conditions, to all vehicles involved in a pursuit incident, whether in direct pursuit or not. These wider policy issues are currently being worked on by Police.