THE family of an 83-year-old Leeds great-grandfather who died after becoming trapped beneath a runaway police van have said they believe he would still be alive if “significant failures” by the force had been identified.
Donald Bennett’s son-in-law, John O’Leary, said the family were “disappointed” by a conclusion of accidental death at the inquest in Wakefield.
Mr Bennett, from Pudsey, died in June 2013 when he was hit by and trapped underneath a West Yorkshire Police van in Pudsey Park.
The four-day jury inquest at Wakefield Coroner’s Court heard that Pc Claire Bugler applied the handbrake to the van when she parked it on a slope but did not leave it in gear.
Around two minutes after the officer left the vehicle, it rolled down the slope, colliding with Mr Bennett, who died from chest injuries.
The inquest heard that guidance about parking had been issued to officers at West Yorkshire Police but training had not been implemented.
Eleanor Fry, representing the family, said there were “significant areas that could be improved” and made a number of recommendations regarding training.
Ian Mullarkey, for West Yorkshire Police, said some recommendations had been implemented since Mr Bennett’s death, including checking police vehicles and replacing parts every 60,000 miles.
Speaking outside the court after the conclusion of the inquest, Mr O’Leary said: “We are very disappointed at what we consider are some significant failures by West Yorkshire Police, especially as some of these failures were identified prior to and after dad’s death.
“And that if these were identified we would have anticipated that Donald would still be here.
“Our only comfort is that, since dad’s death, West Yorkshire Police will put into place certain procedures that will help prevent the torment and the distress we have had to endure over the past two years.
“We still miss our hard-working, funny and kind husband, father and grandfather Donald Bennett every single day.”
Mr Bennett’s grandson Simon Midgley told The Yorkshire Post: “The conclusion was accident which is not how we see it or the way in which the evidence pointed in our opinion.
“As a family we have waited over two years to start grieving and understanding exactly why our incredible granddad, father and husband Donald was taken from us in such a horrifying and easily preventable way.
“We hoped that by today we would have answers and reassurance from the police and those involved that our granddad’s death wasn’t in vain and acceptance of neglect during such a normal routine of parking on a hill would be recognised so that terrible incidents like the one on a sunny day in a packed park in Pudsey wouldn’t happen again.
“We have to put our faith and trust that the police make careful and considered decisions and in this case many of the actions taken were careless and irresponsible, therefore not an accident but faults made by a police officer.
“We we’re hoping to close a chapter this week but we’ve actual opened a whole new book. We miss our hard-working, funny and kind granddad Donald every day and will continue to support his wife and our grandma Marjory who still asks when he’s coming home.”
The inquest jury took one hour to reach its conclusion.
The foreperson said: “On June 1 2013, Mr Bennett, while walking in Pudsey Park, was struck by a moving police van. Mr Bennett was then trapped underneath the van and died from chest injuries.
“Mr Bennett died as a result of an accident.”
Members of Mr Bennett’s family ran from the court sobbing as the conclusion was read to the inquest.
Assistant coroner John Hobson said: “I want to express my condolences to you all, to the family. It’s highly apparent to me the distress this matter has caused and Mr Donald Bennett was a man who was greatly loved in life and certainly much, much missed in death.”
The inquest heard that Mr Bennett, who walked with two sticks following a hip replacement, went to the park to watch the bowls. His wife, Marjorie Bennett, had given him money for an ice cream.
Eye witnesses told the inquest how they saw the van roll slowly down the hill and hit the retired joiner and carpenter, dragging him underneath. He suffered 38 injuries, including multiple fractures to his chest.
Pc Bugler said she parked the van on the slope while she attended a 999 call in the park. She told the inquest she was not aware of Highway Code guidelines about parking on an incline.