A volunteer from Devon Freewheelers, Ian Hopkins, 49, from Exeter has been cleared of all charges of breaking the law whilst responding on a blood bike to an emergency call for a hospital in Plymouth at Exeter Magistrates Court today. He was found 'not guilty' by a District Judge who heard the case and took nearly three hours to reach a decision.
Ian Hopkins was stopped by a traffic officer whilst travelling under blue lights and sirens when he was responding to a 'life at risk' call to the Plymouth Nuffield Health Hospital on the A38 in October 2017. The case which has taken nearly nine months to reach a conclusion was found in favour of the volunteer rider after all of the evidence was presented to the court.
Howard Cuthbert from Nuffield Health Hospital Surgical Sterilisation Unit (HSSU) in Tiverton which also services the NHS, received a request from a surgical team at the Nuffield Hospital in Plymouth for an emergency surgical set to be transported under a blue light for the treatment of a patient whose life was at risk. Mr Cuthbert contacted the Devon Freewheelers and passed on the blue light authorisation to the dispatcher, and Ian Hopkins voluntarily responded.
On completion of the delivery, the surgical team realised that some of the equipment hadn't been ordered and sent a second emergency request to the HSSU for further equipment to be sent down to Plymouth, again with a full blue light authorisation. A second volunteer was dispatched to do the collection and a hand over of the equipment to Mr Hopkins was arranged at Kennford near Exeter to save time.
Upon handover, Ian Hopkins once again made his way back to the city of Plymouth via the A38 Expressway, a dual carriageway with a national speed limit of 70mph. During his journey, there was an incident on the A38 at which a Devon & Cornwall Police traffic vehicle was providing safety cover to a vehicle that was broken down in a dangerous position. Mr Hopkins began filtering the traffic queue and used a siren that was fitted to the motorcycle to warn members of the public of his approach as a point of safety and passed the scene of the incident with a wave from one of the police officers attending acknowledging his presence.
One of the traffic officers on that scene, MPC Oliver, decided to leave the scene he was protecting and pursue the volunteer rider down the A38 with two fifteen-year-old children who were on a work experience placement sat in the rear of his response car. Devon & Cornwall Police Policy is that no persons under the age of 18 should be taken out on operational duty, however in court today MPC Oliver declared that the pursuit with the children 'was authorised' by his Inspector.
It is reported in the police officers statement that he reached speeds of 105mph, which he determined by 'glancing' at his vascar unit fitted to the vehicle in order to catch up with the blood bike. There was no evidence to suggest that blood bike was travelling at the same speed, otherwise, it would not have been possible for the police vehicle to catch up with the motorcycle. On seeing the approaching police vehicle Mr Hopkins recalled 'he came flying up behind me, indicating for me to stop - so I did.'
The officer then approached Ian Hopkins and told him 'you have no exemptions'. Ian explained to the officer that he's on an emergency call and that a hospital is waiting for his arrival but regardless of which he was detained for questioning. In an effort to make matters worse for all concerned the location of the stop was unsafe, and the vacuum caused by a passing large goods vehicle pulled the emergency response motorcycle of its stand leaving it lying on the ground now damaged with a smashed windscreen, wing mirror and damage to the panniers and fairing.
MPC Oliver then decided to seize the surgical instruments and finish the response himself stating 'I won't be using my exemptions'. The whole incident has been extremely traumatic to the volunteer, and at the time was even fearful for the patient to which he was responding. In court today Mr Cuthbert confirmed a life was at risk and it is our belief that the actions of the police officer could have jeopardised that life even further. Mr Hopkins couldn't believe what was happening and commented 'who is he to decide what is or is not a medical emergency, he's playing God with someone's life'.
The charity was left with a significant repair bill to put the machine back into operational duty.
Daniel Lavery, Chief Executive Officer for the charity says "This whole incident just beggars belief, and it's one officer. In the nine years we've been operating we've had a perfect working relationship with the force, but this officer has now tried twice to destroy our credibility and jeopardise the services we provide to the public we serve. The rest of the force (Devon & Cornwall Police) is fine and actually works with us, but MPC Oliver tried once before in 2014 to prosecute a volunteer who was on a transplant call and failed, the case never made it to court. On this occasion I believe it was like a red rag to a bull, and no matter what the cost to public safety, police procedures or the Devon & Cornwall Police Code of Conduct he was determined to pull the bike over and try and make an example of another volunteer who was simply doing his job and acting under legitimate instruction to save a life. In the world of emergency response, this is called 'Red Mist'. He endangered the lives of our volunteer, other road users, himself, the incident he was protecting in the first instance, the patient we were responding to and the children sat in the back of his police car being subjected to speeds over 100mph in an unlawful pursuit."
The District Judge, Jo Madson, who heard the case described police evidence with regards to the speeding as 'weak and tenuous in character'. The Vascar Unit fitted to the police vehicle had been removed from another traffic car five years previous and had never been calibrated. In order to ascertain a vehicles speed. the police vehicle must match the speed of the target vehicle over a certain distance and even that is only admissible if certain calibrations and checks are done before and after each use. Mr Hopkins was charged with 'exceeding the speed limit' but there was no evidence of what speed he was supposed to be doing save from the officers description that he had to travel at 105mph to catch up with him. The speeding allegation was dismissed after District Judge Jo Madson said Ian had "no case to answer".
The next allegation was the fitment of a siren to a blood bike. The District Judge accepted that even though written legislation did not cover the journey purpose on this occasion or was she even concerned that Ian Hopkins was using a siren, the point of law is does the bike qualify for the exemption in its primary use to have a siren fitted. The District Judge adjourned the court to review the evidence and refer to the legislation and took nearly three hours to deliberate her findings. In summing up she decided that the blood bike satisfied 'ambulance purpose' and that the fitment of the siren was legal and found Mr Hopkins 'Not Guilty of all charges'.
This was a significant case that could have jeopardised the variety of services we provide to the public. Harry Bowyer along with his colleague Helen Newbold are specialist transport Barristers from Smith Bowyer Clarke Associates who defended Ian Hopkins and Devon Freewheelers, and they have spent a significant amount of time building this case which was prepared to go all the way to the High Court of Appeal if necessary over the last nine months. The national impact on all blood bike charities across the country was always on their minds and every corner of the case needed thorough investigation. This court case was a precidentary case and could have meant a withdrawal of some of our services and we are delighted the District Judge ruled in our favour.
Our gratitude and thanks go out to Smith Bowyer Clarke, Mr Hopkins and his family for the distress suffered over the last nine months and the judicial system for restoring our faith in righteousness and fairness.
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