Family of dead woman ‘more angry with gardaí’ than killer

Diana Harton family questions Garda tactics used to stop drunk driver in 160km/h chase

The scene of the crash on the M7 near Junction 13 in which Diana Harton (43) was killed after her car was in collision with a car being pursued by gardaí.

The scene of the crash on the M7 near Junction 13 in which Diana Harton (43) was killed after her car was in collision with a car being pursued by gardaí.

 

The family of a woman killed when her car was in a collision with a vehicle being pursued at high-speed by Garda vehicles are more annoyed with gardaí than the man who caused her death, a solicitor speaking on their behalf has said.

It has also emerged that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman investigated some of the gardaí involved in the incident and sent a file to the DPP, who decided no criminal charges should be pursued.

Diana Harton (43), Claregate Court, Co Kildare, was killed when her Citroen car was struck on the M7 motorway in Co Kildare as she was returning from a shopping trip on October 23rd last year.

A green VW Polo driven by John Joyce (21), St Brigids Lawn, Porterstown, Clonsilla, Dublin, was being pursued down the same stretch of motorway and hit Ms Harton’s vehicle, causing it to overturn. Ms Harton died in the crash.

The jury at the inquest into her death on Tuesday recommended that sections of the Garda code relating to high-speed chases should be reviewed and updated.

During the hearing it emerged that the procedures for chases were not adhered to on the night in question.

Solicitor for the dead woman’s family, Stuart Gilhooly, said Ms Harton’s family was devastated by the death of the “fun loving, single woman” who was very close to her father and four siblings.

He said the family was annoyed at Joyce and also the gardaí because they believed the death was avoidable.

Mr Gilhooly said Ms Harton’s family believed gardaí were there to protect people and that “they didn’t do it in this instance”. He said the family felt they had been frustrated in their attempted to get answers but was satisfied with the “thorough” Garda Ombudsman Commission investigation.

Mr Gilhooly said none of the gardaí he cross-examined during the inquest were aware of what the relevant Garda code 35.41 section said about high-speed chases and some of them did not know of that section’s existence.

The solicitor told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 there appeared to be a “shocking” lack of Garda co-ordination during the chase.

He added when the vehicle - driven by Joyce and carrying five occupants, all of whom were drinking alcohol - went through a toll booth in Portlaoise without paying it appeared clear the vehicle was about to cause “serious damage” unless stopped.

“So Laois control room sent out a couple of cars and then subsequently Naas were contacted and they sent out a couple of cars. The problem was that none of these were actually talking to each other.

“[Joyce] was on drugs and had had considerable drink as well, to the extent that he didn’t recall anything about the day, much less about the accident afterwards,” Mr Gilhooly said.

“He was being chased by a number of Garda cars who were doing so in what can best be described as an unco-ordinated fashion.

Mr Gilhooly said the difficulty the Harton family had was the way the pursuit was organised and the absence of “serious co-ordination, direction or organisation”.

Mr Gilhooly said the family was concerned about how Ms Harton’s car was allowed onto the motorway when three Garda cars were in pursuit of Joyce’s car.

He said the family believed that slip roads joining that stretch of motorway should have been closed to prevent other vehicles joining the motorway.

“So [the family] went and made an awful lot of effort - particularly with the Garda Ombudsman’s office who investigated this fully - and they found out quite a bit about what had occurred.

“As the inquest went on they became determined to find out more and more. And so did the Coroner, who was very interested in the case.”

Mr Gilhooly said the family’s view was that gardaí could have blocked the slip road to ensure no other vehicles went on to the motorway while Joyce was being pursued.

“I think that’s a very valid point. The difficulty is that there was nobody in control.

“The guards in the car were doing, to be fair, what they thought was right; but with no direction.”

He said at one stage Joyce was driving at 160km/h, with Garda cars travelling at similar speeds in a bid to catch him.

Joyce later told gardaí he had been drinking all day and continued to do so in the vehicle. He had also taken drugs and was “on weed”. Joyce said subsequently he could recall almost nothing about any part of the day.

Mr Gilhooly said given Joyce had been driving very dangerously prior to the crash, there were “question marks about why the guards didn’t become aware of this prior to him breaking through the toll bridge” around 10 minutes before Ms Harton was fatally injured.

“It only became apparent to me just how little training and how little co-ordination took place were the guards,” he said of representing the family during the inquest at the Kildare Coroner’s Court.

“There is also a code which sets out how these are to be co-ordinated. Firstly, there is no doubt that this code was not followed in any way.

“It is absolutely shocking that a pursuit of this nature should be underway where nobody knew what the rules were and nobody was training in it.”

He questioned this tactic and insisted the lack of co-ordination of pursuits needed to be resolved immediately.

The jury had been very careful to make that recommendation and he was hopefully it would be taken seriously by the authorities.