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14 September 2011, 14:58
A Police Constable has been cleared of causing the death of two pedestrians when his speeding Panda car mounted a kerb.
PC Kerry Smith, 25, put his head in his hands and friends and family in the public gallery burst into tears when he was found not guilty of two charges of causing the death of the Algerian men by dangerous driving.
The jury of 7 men and 5 women at St Albans crown court also cleared him of alternative lesser charges of causing death by careless driving, dangerous driving and careless driving. They had been considering their verdicts for three and a half hours.
The officer and an colleague were responding to an emergency call after receiving a report that three men were armed with a gun in Wedgewood Road on Luton's Lewsey Farm Estate at ten to midnight on June 4 last year.
Giving evidence, Pc Smith said that with his blue lights flashing and siren sounding he
drove up Leagrave Road in the town to answer the 999 call.
He overtook a Vauxhall Astra that had pulled over before approaching a Toyota Celica driven by chef Nizam Uddin.
PC Smith said the Celica indicated it was turning right into Holland Road, but he believed that when Mr Uddin saw his lights he turned off the indicator and turned back to the left to let him pass.
He said the Celica then pulled out to the right in front of him. The cars crashed and Mr Uddin's car went down the road while the police 1.4 litre diesel Astra mounted the kerb.
It hit and killed Algerians Reda Lecheheb, 35, and Sidali Melal, 27, who had been out for a meal with two friends. The police Astra crashed through garden walls and smashed into the front of a terraced house.
After the crash Pc Smith said a large crowd gathered and he saw the two dead men. "I saw the Celica driver and said to him: 'Look what you have done.'"
In the witness box the officer said he was a trained Standard Response Driver with a clean licence, having passed his test when he was aged 19. He said he had never had any complaints about his driving.
Since the crash he said he had been treated for a nervous breakdown, post traumatic stress and depression.
When he received the emergency call he said he would have been driving the car along Leagrave Road at between 50 and 60 miles per hour. After going past the Astra he said: "I saw the Celica up ahead. Its indicator was indicating it was going right into Holland Road. I approached the vehicle in the centre of the road. It angled to the left slightly and its brake lights came on. The vehicle was slowing down and its indicator stopped flashing. The driver was originally intending to go into Holland Road but due to his reaction it pulled left and stopped indicating. I was sure he had seen me. So I changed the position to the offside and attempted to overtake the vehicle. As I made the decision to overtake and then I saw the car pull out in front of me. I moved the police car as far to the right as I could. I was sure that he had seen me. I would never have completed the manoeuvre if I was not sure."
PC Smith said: "It was not dangerous at all. I would never have overtaken that vehicle had it not changed its path."
Asked by his barrister Mark Fennels how he felt about the accident he said: "I can't even imagine how the families are feeling because of the loss of two people. He told the jury: "I completely understand why I am here I need to tell you what happened for the sake of the families. I did not drive carelessly or dangerously."
Earlier Mr Uddin, who works as a chef at Tring in Herts, refused to answer questions about whether he was on a mobile phone at the time of the crash.
After the case PC Kerry Smith said: "I want to say that my thoughts and sympathies have always been with the families of the two men who died that night. I am satisfied with the outcome today and valued the opportunity to explain what happened that night especially as I wanted the families to know the exact circumstances of how their loved ones died. Two young men have lost their lives and I will live with the consequences. Nothing I can say will ever help those families, but I do hope that now they have heard all the evidence this may in some small measure help them."