Sussex PC cleared over road death

6 July 2010, 17:21 | Updated: 8 July 2010, 16:15

A road traffic police officer was cleared today of killing a young man through careless driving after his car slid on a freezing country road.

It skidded into Luke Bland, 20, of Lime Close, Uckfield, killing him instantly. Mr. Bland landed in a garden pond and was pronounced dead at the scene of the collision on the A26 at Little Horsted.

Sussex Police officer Stewart Chalmers was found not guilty of causing death by careless driving following a trial at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent.

Following the verdict, Superintendent Steve Barry of Sussex Police's operations department, said: "This is a desperately sad case for everyone involved and I should like to express our sincerest condolences to Luke's family and friends."

He went on to say that although PC Chalmers had been found not guilty the consequences would remain with him for the rest of his life, and added a warning: "The events of that night back in February 2009 demonstrate that all road users have an enormous responsibility for their actions when they take to the road and that a moment's lapse can have serious repercussions for the even the most skilled and conscientious of them."

Jurors heard that witnesses described the noise of the off-duty PC's Lotus Exige as sounding "like an aeroplane coming into land'' as it careered towards where Mr Bland was standing, at the scene of an earlier crash.

Stewart Chalmers, 31, said he was just under two miles from home when suddenly his two-seater sports car started to skid and rotate anti-clockwise in a "completely unexpected'' manner.

Jurors heard how Luke Bland had been at the scene of the earlier crash with a group of people whose Peugeot 206 had left the unlit rural road on a bend and gone into a hedge outside a cottage.

Its owner, Damon Jones, called police to report the accident, despite the occupants of the vehicle saying they did not need the help of the emergency services.

Prosecutor Tony Prosser said that as Mr Jones and his wife stood outside their home talking to the officer who attended, they heard another vehicle approaching.

He said they described it as making "an amazing loud noise'' and was "very loud and sounded like a racing car''.

Mr Chalmers, a former member of the British Army, said he was possibly doing 55mph on the 50mph road after finishing a shift at the Hove road policing unit. Giving evidence during the five-day trial, he said he attempted to steer out of the skid and added: "At the time I tried to correct it, I realised that I was on course with the other car.''

Asked by defence counsel David Jubb how he felt after learning someone had died, Chalmers replied: "I can't really describe it to be honest. I think I said numb.''

He added: "I had been moved into an ambulance, then for some reason they wanted to move me to another ambulance and at that point I could see a body under a blanket.

"It knocked the wind out of me, to be honest.''

He said he tried to help at the scene by clearing debris but was advised by a police officer not to get involved and sit inside a police car.

Police officers specially trained in road accidents attended the scene and found there was a sheet of ice across the road a short distance from the crash scene. This was believed to have been caused by a water main which had been leaking underground and onto the road for two weeks.

The court heard that Mr Blackford was treated for severe injuries and had a blood sample taken, which showed that he had been drinking and, even four hours after the collision, was over the legal drink-drive limit. Tests also showed he had taken cocaine.

However, Mr Prosser said that due to the extent of his injuries it was decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute him over the incident.

Sussex Police will now consider whether PC Chalmers should face disciplinary action.