Review into Garda pursuit policy following death of motorist on M7

Diane Harton's funeral in October of last year
Diane Harton's funeral in October of last year

There is a review underway of the Gardai’s policy specifically in relation to Garda pursuits, a court has been told.

Superintendent Martin Walker said that a “tabletop exercise” was held at the Garda Siochanna College in Templemore last week in relation to code 35.41 which deals with instructions for members of the force in relation to pursuits.

He was speaking at the inquest into the death of Diana Harton, who died last October.

He told the Coroners Court that he understood “certain recommendations have been made” and they are “being reviewed in HQ in relation to a complete policy change”.

Ms Harton was killed after her car was struck during a chase along the M7 motorway in north Kildare shortly before 9pm on October 23, 2014.

The deceased’s car was struck by a Volkswagen Polo which was being pursued by Gardai after being involved in an earlier incident.

It is not yet understood if the review of the Garda policy was established directly in response to the incident, and it is not yet known how long the review is underway.

Superintendent Walker also agreed with solicitor Stuart Gilhooly that the members of the Gardai presented in the Coroners Court for this inquest did not have “the necessary training” to deal with the incident.

The 43-year-old victim’s ribcage was shattered and her spine was fractured during the collision, according to the State pathologist  Dr Marie Cassidy who spoke at the sitting of the Coroners Court in Naas, Co Kildare earlier this morning.

She told the coroner, Dr Denis Cusack, that Ms Harton had died almost immediately from her injuries, which were predominantly to the abdominal and chest area of her body.

The pursuit, which last over 10 minutes, occurred over a distance of 19.5km.

Giving evidence to the court, Garda JP O’Brien- who was the radio controller in Portlaoise station on the night of the incident- said he was not aware of the Garda code in relation to the use of official vehicles in pursuits at the time.

The vehicle sped through Laois and Offaly and towards Kildare during the pursuit.

The court was previously told that all five men had been drinking, including the driver.

A number of other Gardai also admitted they were not aware of that part of the code at the time of the accident.

Garda Daniel Murphy attended the scene and he was the passenger in a patrol car which was struck by the green Volkswagen Polo that was carrying five men on the night of the accident.

Garda Murphy said he “felt physically sick”, suffered a “pain in his back” and went into a state of shock at the scene.

He was the passenger in the Garda vehicle that attempted to stop traffic on the motorway in attempt to intercept the vehicle, but he had “no training in vehicle pursuit”.

The Gardai involved in the pursuit did not block off the Junction 13 slipway which Ms Harton was travelling down when her vehicle was struck and flipped.

Garda Murphy told the court that they “had to make a call” and that he stands by his decision.

All of Ms Harton’s family were present in court, including her father, two brothers and two sisters.

The jury have now retired and are expected to deliver their verdict later this afternoon. 

Dr Cusack has asked them to consider a verdict of the cause of death and a number of recommendations which includes changes to the code which deals with how members are trained to carry out car chases.

Emma Jane Hade