Volunteer Blood Biker found not guilty nine months after incident

Ian Hopkins was stopped by MPC Oliver on the A38 in October 2017

Volunteer Blood Biker found not guilty nine months after incident

A VOLUNTEER BLOOD BIKER has been cleared of breaking the law while responding to an emergency call, nearly nine months after the incident took place.

Ian Hopkins, 49, from Exeter appeared at Exeter Magistrates Court on Tuesday July 24th, where a District Judge took three hours to find him 'not guilty' of breaking the law during the incident on the A38 in October 2017.

Hopkins, of the Devon Freewheelers, had been authorised to travel under blue lights and sirens while responding to a 'life at risk' call and delivering emergency surgical equipment to the Plymouth Nuffield Health Hospital when he was stopped by traffic officer MPC Oliver.

Oliver was attending an incident on the A38 Expressway, using his Devon & Cornwall Police traffic vehicle to provide safety cover to a vehicle that was broken down in a dangerous position. Hopkins filtered the traffic queue using his motorcycle’s siren to warn members of the public of his approach and passed the scene of the incident with one of the police officers waving to acknowledge his presence.

However, traffic officer Oliver decided to leave the scene he was protecting and pursue the volunteer rider, reaching speeds in excess of 100mph. He did this while two fifteen-year-old children on a work experience placement were sat in the rear of his response car – a clear contravention of Devon & Cornwall Police’s Policy, which states that no persons under the age of 18 should be taken out on operational duty. In court MPC Oliver declared that the pursuit with the children 'was authorised' by his Inspector.

In his statement, Oliver claimed to have ‘glanced at his Vascar Unit’ and noticed it was reading 105mph. However, the unit in question had been removed from another traffic car five years previous and had never been calibrated to the new vehicle.  There was no evidence to suggest that blood bike was travelling at the same speed, as it would not have been possible for the police vehicle to catch up with it. In court, District Judge Jo Madson described police evidence with regards to the speeding as 'weak and tenuous in character' and dismissed the speeding allegation, saying that Hopkins had "no case to answer".

In court, Hopkins said of the chase: ‘[Oliver] came flying up behind me, indicating for me to stop - so I did.' Oliver told Hopkins ‘you have no exemptions', and detained him for questioning, despite the Blood Biker explaining that he was on an emergency call and the hospital was awaiting his arrival. MPC Oliver reportedly decided to seize the surgical instruments and finish the response himself stating 'I won't be using my exemptions'.

During the stop, in a location later deemed ‘unsafe’, the vacuum caused by a passing large goods vehicle pulled the emergency response motorcycle off its stand and on to the ground, smashing the windscreen, wing mirror and damaging the panniers and fairing and leaving the charity with a significant repair bill.

With regards to the charge of the fitment of a siren to a blood bike, the District Judge adjourned the court for nearly three hours to review the evidence and refer to the legislation to determine whether the bike qualified for the exemption in its primary use to have a siren fitted. In conclusion she decided that the blood bike satisfied 'ambulance purpose' and that the fitment of the siren was legal and found Mr Hopkins 'Not Guilty of all charges'.

The incident and the following nine months of court proceedings were extremely traumatic for the volunteer, and at the time the delay caused in delivering the equipment left the patient ‘fearful’. In court Howard Cuthbert from Nuffield Health Hospital Surgical Sterilisation Unit, who had requested the Blood Bike delivery, confirmed a life was at risk and that he believed the actions of the police officer could have jeopardised that life even further.

Hopkins reportedly couldn't believe what was happening and commented 'who is he to decide what is or is not a medical emergency, he's playing God with someone's life'.

It later transpired that MPC Oliver had previously tried to pursue a Blood Biker in court and Daniel Lavery, Chief Executive Officer for Blood Bikes, believed this incident to be like a ‘red rag to a bull’.

He commented: "This whole incident just beggars belief, and it's one officer.

“In the nine years we've been operating we've had a perfect working relationship with the force, but this officer has now tried twice to destroy our credibility and jeopardise the services we provide to the public we serve.

“The rest of the force (Devon & Cornwall Police) is fine and actually works with us, but MPC Oliver tried once before in 2014 to prosecute a volunteer who was on a transplant call and failed, the case never made it to court.

“On this occasion I believe it was like a red rag to a bull, and no matter what the cost to public safety, police procedures or the Devon & Cornwall Police Code of Conduct he was determined to pull the bike over and try and make an example of another volunteer who was simply doing his job and acting under legitimate instruction to save a life.

“In the world of emergency response, this is called 'Red Mist'. He endangered the lives of our volunteer, other road users, himself, the incident he was protecting in the first instance, the patient we were responding to and the children sat in the back of his police car being subjected to speeds over 100mph in an unlawful pursuit."

Chief Inspector Adrian Leisk - Head of Roads Policing issued Visordown this statement:

“We respect the decision made by the Judge. We await the full court summary to identify any learning from the case.

“It would initially appear that the Prosecution have failed to satisfy the court, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the speeding offence was made out.

“We fully support and value the roles performed by volunteers in adding value to public services. We will continue to engage with such groups to ensure they are fully conversant with Road Traffic Law in relation to the use of vehicles on a road.

“I would like to stress that there was never a patient or life at risk. Mr Hopkins was delivering surgical instruments to a private hospital. This was to enable elective operations to be performed. The officer took the instruments to the hospital where this was confirmed by the Theatre Manager who received them.

“Motorcycles account of 2% of road users and feature disproportionately in over 20% of collisions where someone is either killed or seriously injured. It is absolutely right that we continue to ensure that only those who are trained or legally entitled to use exemptions from the Highway Code do so.

“By way of context, Devon & Cornwall Police train only 20 of 3000 officers to drive motorcycles in a response capacity, using exemptions under Section 87(1) Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. This recognises the increased risks around motorcycling and the unpredictable way in which other motorists may react to the presence of a vehicle using emergency equipment.

“During this investigation we identified a localised practice which was not compliant with Force Policy around the carriage of persons in police vehicles. This practice has ceased and Management Action taken against the officers concerned.”

When asked to comment on the ‘management action taken’ a spokesperson for the Devon and Cornwall Police added: “We have issued you our statement. We are not adding to this.”

If you would like to join us in pressing the force for further information, you can contact them here: www.devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk/getting-in-touch/. And if you would like to support the Blood Bikers by making a donation click here.

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