A Metropolitan Police officer admitted careless driving and making a “misjudgement” after hitting and severely injuring a man with his car as he fled on a bicycle, a court heard today.
PC Eugene Acheampong, 28, of Rainham Road, Essex, and a colleague were responding to reports of two men breaking into cars in Wood Green, North London on August 3, 2019.
When the suspect rode away on his bicycle, PC Acheampong followed in his marked BMW before hitting him and leaving him with multiple fractures, a collapsed lung, and a severed ear.
He denies causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
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Mr Acheampong today argued his driving standards only ‘fell below’ and not ‘far below’ those of a ‘careful and competent’ driver, which would have made his actions dangerous.
He told the jury: “At the time I felt that I was maintaining a safe distance. Damping the brakes several times to maintain a safe distance.
“Obviously I was showing consideration, I was constantly trying to brake to keep a safe distance behind him.
“Unfortunately the collision did occur. But I do not think my driving standards fell ‘far below’.”
In an emotional statement regarding Mr Taylor, he added: “Anyone that knows me intimately knows I would never hurt anything.
“To this day it hurts me that I caused injuries. I have had many sleepless nights about it, I am truly sorry to him.”
Describing the incident in detail Mr Acheampong said his colleague left the car to detain Mr Taylor, after which he followed putting “one foot” out of the opened door.
At this point the suspect fled by bicycle and got a “head start”, causing Mr Acheampong to begin chasing him in his car.
He added: “I did that to keep following, to keep an eye on him, to make sure he does not disappear from view.
“I knew there were other units on the same call, my intention was to stay with him until other units arrived. I was trying to show consideration and keep a safe distance behind him, at the time I thought I was a safe distance.
“As more units were coming it was more hope that he would see it and just stop and give up. He [Mr Taylor] was 100 per cent aware of my presence.
“He did have a head start on me, I followed him as quick as I can, I already had one foot out of the door when I tried to detain him.
“I accelerated to catch up as he had already disappeared from my view, then as I got close to him I tried to decelerate as much as I could.
“I am not looking at the speedo at the time, I did not think I was going as fast as I was. At that moment in time he disappeared from view.
“I was confused at that point. It was not until I felt the judder that I realised what had happened.”
Defence lawyer Edmund Gritt also posed a series of questions to the defendant to establish if his acceleration was due to a loss of temper, an attempt to frighten the suspect, or to beat him to the ‘wrap around’ on the road.
Mr Acheampong answered ‘no’ to all of them.
He was then cross examined by prosecution lawyer Daniel Fugallo who said cyclists were in a “vulnerable position” and therefore it is “particularly important to give cyclists plenty of room, that’s what the highway code says”.
Mr Fugallo then established the defendant’s ‘close proximity’ to Mr Taylor during the chase by referring to the body worn camera footage jurors were shown yesterday.
He asked: “What reaction time did that allow you?”
Mr Acheampong said: “Not much.”
Mr Fugallo replied: “Well it’s none isn’t it?”
When asked if he thought it was a ‘dangerous’ way to drive the defendant said “it was a misjudgement on my part”.
In the background on Mr Acheampong’s career as a police officer the jury heard he initially worked as a volunteer special constable before joining full-time to “help people”.
He said: “The police are very underrepresented in the ethnic minority community, I wanted to be someone who could build trust between ethnic minorities and the police.”
In a character statement colleagues of Mr Acheampong described him as a “genuinely decent and caring person” who did not seem “capable of nastiness or malice”.
Pastor Robin John of Christchurch Church, Newham, said: “He is a very humble, respectable, honest and mature man.”
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In the summary statement Judge Jandu instructed the jury to consider the offence of careless driving if they found Mr Acheampong not guilty of dangerous driving, also explaining they were not to consider any speeding offence.
He added: “It is agreed that the defendant caused serious injury by driving a car on a road, however, it remains disputed if he drove the car dangerously.”
In his closing remarks prosecution lawyer Mr Fugallo said it would be natural to feel sympathy for both Mr Acheampong and Mr Taylor, but to leave that out of the deliberation.
He added: “He had given himself no stopping distance at all between himself and the other user.
“In braking distance, in thinking distance, in reaction distance. As a result he had given himself no reaction time.
“If the cyclist in front of him slowed even for a moment a collision with Mr Acheampong’s car was not just possible but unavoidable.
“He was asked if his driving was dangerous, he agreed that it was.”
In his closing statement defence lawyer Mr Gritt told the jury they might not have expected to try a police officer held in such high regard by colleagues and trying to do his job, perhaps fearing much worse charges, “this trial is not that”.
He said: “By trying to do his duty he made a mistake, he made a misjudgement, and there was a terrible consequence for Mr Taylor.
“A consequence he never tried to bring about and one that he did admit.”
He finished by arguing body worn camera footage and data from the car showed Mr Acheampong’s error came in the three seconds on Hawkepark Road and not for the whole 14 second chase which began on Sirdar Road.
It was therefore up to the jury if his standards fell ‘far below’, rather than just ‘below’, the standard of careful and competent driving that justified a guilty verdict.
He added: “If you are not sure that PC Acheampong driving in those three seconds was not far below standard then he is not guilty.”
The trial continues.
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