There will be Police and there will be paramedics: the paramedics role is easy to understand – if you are really hurt a skilled medic will stabilise you and also stop you from dying if that’s the story of your day.

However, for the most part they will make sure you are going to survive, patch you up and cart you off to hospital. Meanwhile, the Police’s role is not so obvious.

No one is going to die

Their first aim is to make sure no one is going to die. If that is likely they follow a pretty set procedure, regardless of force. In England and Wales if there is a realistic prospect of fatality the first officer on the scene will call in a more senior rank or roads policing. The local officers will then do as much as they can to get basic information from witnesses – usually a very short statement (4 lines or 30 words is pretty typical), and contact details, while making sure no one moves vehicles or does that weird thing of sweeping everything up. You’d be surprised how often a well meaning bystander gets a broom out.

If no one seems especially likely to be bothering the Coroner the Police will usually check if there are road traffic offences that warrant a prosecution, perhaps run vehicles through the Police National Computer, check identities and run a computerised check on insurance. Next level CSI only kicks in if there is a likelihood of death, a serious road traffic offence has been committed, or alcohol/drugs found at the scene.

The forensics team comprises Police experts – usually roads policing officers – who undergo a huge amount of training and who deploy loads of expensive tech. And, even if on scene, if the hospital relay back no one is likely to die they stop work on that basis.

No legal recourse

So, for the civil claim, if the Police take no details, prosecute no one, run no checks, or let a miscreant drive away having left no details, you as the victim have no legal recourse. You can use the close to useless Police complaints system – but that is of little help if your civil claim can’t get off the ground. Clients regularly express disbelief that as they lie on the floor with busted limbs, the Police release everyone, authorise vehicles to move and never take a photograph. So why does this occur?

The first and obvious reason is their job does not involve securing evidence for potential civil claims. The second is experience; if an officer drafts a detailed plan or takes photographs of a collision scene, there is a good chance they will be summoned to court to ‘prove’ their evidence and be cross examined. Coppers are used to cross examination, and know it is not fun.

More often than not a careful Police report will decide if a case is worth running or defending, judges pay close attention to what people said to the Police, admittedly in very short form, before we lawyers get to put our finger prints all over it.

Judges like the immediacy of what is said to the Police so while the Police do not have to do much, when they choose to go above and beyond what is the minimal requirement it makes getting to the truth of what happened a lot easier.

Andrew Dalton

Bike Magazine – August 2021