A Beautiful Sunday morning in Devon. I’m single crewed with guns in the safe and some traffic and Armed units out and about. We are dual rolled in Devon and Cornwall. Blessed with a lower crime rate than many but just as many fast roads so Traffic and Armed response go hand in hand.
10 o’clock and the scenery is passing much more quickly as I am on my way to a collision between a car and a pedestrian. It’s in a car park so can’t be too bad surely. My armed response is there. I strain at the radio to hear their tone of voice. Hard as nails when they need to be, but soft as pussy cats when you bring in humanity, real people and families.
I hear it’s serious and I get there 20 minutes later. I walk through the gateway to the gravel car park and I see the air ambulance has arrived. I see the back of Andy, one of my police officers crouching on the ground with his shoulders moving up and down. It’s a rhythmic motion I have seen before and it’s not a good sign. The sunny day has just turned a little greyer as I quicken my pace towards him. The paramedics from the air ambulance are working on someone with Andy. They are putting tubes in to someone, oxygen bags and drugs. As I get nearer I see a little pair of feet lying motionless with an occasional jolt as his body is being worked on. One shoe, and some very little feet. I notice some bare legs and then some juvenile knobbly knees and as I get to Andy and the paramedics I see the little boy, my 6 year old son.
I freeze and my thoughts clear to see it isn’t Rowan my son after all, but he looks just like him, his same frame, his same head, his same hair and age. And with this emergency unfolding in front of me, I notice the parents standing over the little boy, watching his life ebb away in front of them. Holding the hand of the mother was another little boy, slightly older, perhaps 11 years old, motionless, gazing down towards his little brother. As still as three statues, I had never seen in the past such expressions on faces as on theirs, of sheer unadulterated horror, powerless, watching the frenzied activity of the heroes in Red and Andy still trying to pump some life into this little boys heart. The faces of those men in red looked up at me for a fraction, I’m sure I see a shrugged shoulder, I know from their faces there is very little hope.
The boy is strapped to a stretcher and taken away in the helicopter. I know previously with these things the paramedics would probably have called time if it were anyone else but they have to try that little bit harder for a little one even though it is futile with the parents hoping against all hope, pleading for life for their little son, just one more chance, it simply wasn’t to be.
I arranged the witnesses to be interviewed, I arranged the security of the scene and even a short TV interview to plead for a crucial witness to come forward, which they did, but my interview was choked. I had just seen a child the same age as my son die in front of me. I had seen his family fall apart at the seems, but I knew I had to pull myself together and find out what the hell had happened here.
I knew that Andy, the officer who had been carrying out CPR for a considerable time also had a 6 year old son. I said,
“Andy, I don’t want you to be my Officer in the Case, I’m going to ask one of the others”.
He looked at me with a haunted cold stare in his eyes and said with a determination I didn’t feel like arguing with, “No Sarge, I will be OIC on this one. I want to sort this one out”.
I had a suspect, sat on the side of the pavement with his head in his hands. A scene of devastation around him. There were some other children around him of similar age that had also come from his car. It was his own son’s birthday as well and I knew that he would not only celebrate the birthday of his own son every year, but he would know that was the day he killed another little boy his sons age. A constant reminder. He was arrested and I interviewed him several times over the weeks, but I didn’t think he would make the court day as he seemed to be an ordinary father with his own child and his sons friends out for a day of fun, and he was in a state that was beyond reaching. How could he ever live with this? I really feared he would commit suicide before the court day.
I arranged for a forensic post-mortem on the little lad. I was present when it was done. The feeling of seeing this little doll on the slab was interestingly not as upsetting as the scene I had seen in the car park. I was in investigation mode now. The buck stopped here. No more time for emotion, time for hard work. There was a solemnity I had never felt at a post mortem before. This was different, and he was given the utmost respect by all the mortuary staff and Scenes of Crime team. That post mortem proved how the little boy was running when he was hit by the car, and where exactly he was hit on the car bumper, in other words whether the driver could have seen him and avoided him. The driver had repeated that he had been hit by a car at the junction outside, and when he had slammed his brakes on in the collision, his car had gone out of control. Unfortunately it had then careered through the hedge of the car park and hit the little boy who was kicking a tennis ball whilst running across the car park.
The parents had seen the event unfold in front of them and had shouted to their son to run towards them, but he was not quick enough. The driver, had been dazed by the collision, and had hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and with his own 6 year old son in the car, had hit the boy with full impact, throwing him some 11 meters forward, before then striking him again.
The post-mortem confirmed he had been beyond help, and I was able to tell Andy that, to hopefully dispel any ‘what if’ questions he may have had lingering. We could have had an Intensive Care Unit there at the scene and he still wouldn’t have lived.
The little boys family eventually went home that night. They would have opened their front door to the cold silence of their once happy home, and they would have eventually taken the courage to go up to his room. His empty bedroom with the pile of toys in the corner left from when he had been told off by Mum for not tidying up. Each family member would have individually stood in the doorway of the bedroom and listened to the ghostly echoes in their heads of past conversations and disputes, but nothing would ever move in that room again. The soul had been sucked from the room like a vacuum, and all the weeping would not change that. They were now a single child family.
Many tough cops would ask me how it was going with the investigation, ask how we were, and when I spoke to them, some had tears in their eyes even though they had not been at the scene. I knew they were thinking of their own children. I knew they couldn’t contemplate it.
It went to Crown Court, to be heard by a jury and the right decision was made as he was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving. It was a reflex and terrible error he had made with no intent or neglect. CPS had said it was too important to make a decision without going to court and although terrible for the driver, he was the cause of the death after all and the child’s family were able to see the full details of the incident and more importantly, the investigation which I think gave them some comfort at least.
Ironically it was a smashed wing mirror on the driver’s car which had meant he had not seen an inexperienced driver making an overtake on him as he was trying to turn into the car park. The car had hit his driver’s door and it should have ended there, but he was stunned and pushed the wrong pedal, panicking and panicking more, desperately pounding at what he thought was the brake pedal in the hope the car would stop, but of course it was the accelerator he was pushing.
What it boils down to of course, is if his wing mirror had been complete, would he have seen the car before he turned right in front of it? Would he have avoided the collision? Would the little boy have given his tennis ball one more kick and safely climbed into the back of his parents car to go home after a fun day out?
Like so many instances we attend be it traffic or armed response, we shall never really know.
The events are from the memories of Sgt Harry Tangye over one particular incident. Details have been retained for the protection of the family.