Lorry driving through fatal crash road closure sparks police warning
PUBLISHED: 12:16 28 January 2020 | UPDATED: 09:20 29 January 2020
A "disturbing" incident which saw an articulated lorry drive through the scene of an accident has triggered a reminder to drivers to abide by road closures.
At the inquest of Diane Dutton on Wednesday, January 22, senior coroner for Norfolk Jacqueline Lake raised concerns over safety and the impact on police investigations after hearing an articulated lorry drove through the crash scene, spreading debris and potential evidence over the carriageway.
Mrs Dutton, 68, died due to her injuries after the four-vehicle crash on the A148 at Sculthorpe in April last year.
At the inquest, Mrs Lake said: "It's disturbing. Some other vehicles were not patient enough to find another way round the closure and carried on and drove through the scene. I would think it could possibly hinder investigations and could go on to cause further injuries. There is also the loss of witnesses."
Sergeant Chris Harris, of Norfolk and Suffolk's roads and armed policing team, said it was an issue officers came across while dealing with serious and fatal road traffic collisions.
Since the start of the year there have been seven fatal and 11 serious crashes.
Sgt Harris said: "Ultimately we realise closing any road is going to disrupt the public - if we can avoid closing the road we will. There are a number of reasons we close a road, the road is impassable, it's not safe.
"We could be losing that evidence or the safety of the officers at the scene. Working on the road can be dangerous. Injured people will always take priority, that means getting people safe and the safety of emergency services. We do not want them to come to any harm.
"You only have to speak to the officers on a road block, they do get a mixture of responses."
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In December, a drink-driver was arrested on the A146 at Beccles after being found to be twice over the limit. She had ignored a road closure put in place because of a crash.
At the time of the incident, officers said: "Incredibly, despite cones, signs and blue lights a driver has failed to see the closed road. It could have been very serious had one of us been hit as we worked at the collision."
Sgt Harris said if motorists came upon a road block, they should have patience and follow diversions.
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He said: "The thing for me is we do not close the roads for no reason. In the back of our minds is 'how can we get the road reopened as quickly as possible'?"
Last week, the A47 in King's Lynn was shut for five hours following a fatal collision involving a cyclist and a lorry.
Behind the scenes a dedicated scene manager, such as Sgt Harris, would have been reviewing when the road could be reopened and working with other organisations such as councils, highways and recovery.
Sgt Harris said decisions had to be justified and proportionate to the incident.
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In the instances where a forensic team is required, time is needed to ensure all evidence has been collected.
Sgt Harris said: "We preserve the scene so it is sterile for [forensics]. This is the only chance to preserve that evidence. Once we reopen the road the marks on the road disappear under the cars going over them."
With the reports used in court and by coroners to determine a cause of death, the sergeant said it was important to ensure they have everything they need.
Sgt Harris said: "It needs to be the best evidence, it cannot be contaminated evidence. The coroner will have questions, the family of that person will be asking what happened.
"That is what the investigation is trying to find out, how did that collision occur? Could it have been avoided?"
In the case of shutting a major road such as the A47 or A11, police request a closure at the junction before the scene.
Some police cars have tow ropes which can move vehicles off the lanes to allow for partial reopening. Sgt Harris said it is a "labour intensive operation".
Sgt Harris said: "We have people at the scene, people going to the hospital, people on the road block, sending people to the next of kin.
"We need to make sure there is not going to be any other accidents and it is completely clear.
"The officer on a road block is there to stop traffic going down there for a reason."