A Met officer has been cleared over the deaths of a 10-year-old boy and his aunt following a police chase.
Pc Edward Welch, 34, was in pursuit of a stolen Ford Focus car when it mounted the pavement and hit child actor Makayah McDermott and Rozanne Cooper, 34, in Penge, south-east London, on August 31, 2016.
A second child, who was aged 10 at the time, was also seriously injured, the Old Bailey heard.
The court heard how during the six-minute chase through residential and one-way streets, Welch’s police BMW car reached speeds of more than 60mph.
The court heard the vehicle that was being chased was driven by a 19-year-old man called Joshua Dobby.
He lost control of the car on Lennard Road, crashing into a bollard and crushing the three victims.
Dobby was later convicted of two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence and one count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
Welch, from Chatham, Kent, denied two charges of causing death by dangerous driving, one count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, and an alternative charge of dangerous driving.
The married father-of-two told jurors that he joined the Metropolitan Police at the age of 20 and underwent training in advanced driving.
He said: “I have always wanted to be a police officer. It was my dream as a child. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
“I just wanted to help people. That is what police do – stop bad coming into the world, helping people.”
On August 31, 2016, Welch said he was notified that a lost or stolen Ford Focus had activated an ANPR camera on Penge High Street.
He responded with blue lights and sirens as he searched the local area including “crime hotspots” but did not locate the vehicle.
At about 2pm, he spotted it while he and his colleague were responding to a road traffic collision.
He told jurors: “There was traffic in front of us in Avenue Road, so I activated my blue lights and sirens to safely facilitate myself through the traffic towards the subject vehicle.
“I can categorically say he was driving at excess speed on Mackenzie Road.”
Asked what the aim of having lights and sirens on were, he said: “Alerting members of the public, pedestrians, and other road users of what’s going on.
“It’s a clear audible sign you have got a marked police vehicle behind and to stop.”
The defendant said he had been made aware the vehicle was involved in the theft of fuel but not about an earlier pursuit five days before in Kent.
The jury heard how Welch had assessed the risk at one point during the pursuit as “low”.
However, the prosecution alleged that on “any sensible analysis, the risk posed by the pursuit, taking account of the driving of both vehicles, was at a higher level of risk”.
When asked to explain his assessment at the time, Welch said his “visibility was good” and the road he was on was straight.
A jury deliberated for half a day to find him not guilty of the charges against him.
Welch sighed heavily after the unanimous verdicts were delivered and thanked jurors as he left the dock.
South Area Commander Chief Superintendent David Stringer said: “The deaths of Rozanne Cooper and her 10-year-old nephew Makayah McDermott have naturally left their families devastated.
“Our thoughts remain with them and we offer everyone affected by this terrible incident our sincere condolences.
“Police pursuits must be carried out in very careful and controlled circumstances in line with policy to ensure they do not put anyone at risk. The jury has found Pc Welch did not commit a criminal offence but misconduct matters will now be carefully considered.”
Pc Welch, who is on restricted duties, was charged following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
IOPC regional director Sal Naseem said: “Our sympathies go out to Makayah and Ms Cooper’s extended family and friends, the three injured victims, and everyone else who has been affected by this tragic incident.
“On conclusion of our investigation in 2017, we found that Pc Welch may have breached police professional standards in relation to his conduct and standard of driving during the pursuit and his actions after the collision. This was agreed at the time by the Metropolitan Police Service.
“Now criminal proceedings have concluded it will be for the force, in consultation with the IOPC, to review what action to take over the disciplinary hearing.”
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