Seven police officers under watchdog investigation over fatal Cardiff car crash

<span>Cardiff car crash victims (clockwise from top left): Darcy Ross, Eve Smith, Sophie Russon, Rafel Jeanne and Shane Loughlin. Ross, Smith and Jeanne all died.</span><span>Photograph: Facebook</span>
Cardiff car crash victims (clockwise from top left): Darcy Ross, Eve Smith, Sophie Russon, Rafel Jeanne and Shane Loughlin. Ross, Smith and Jeanne all died.Photograph: Facebook

A police watchdog is investigating seven officers over a car crash in which three friends died and two others were trapped for almost 48 hours.

The Gwent police officers are being investigated over how missing person reports were handled, how they dealt with family members, how searches were carried out and for remarks made at the scene of the crash. One officer is under criminal investigation for allegedly falsifying their witness statement.

Eve Smith and Darcy Ross, both 21, and Rafel Jeanne, 24, were found dead at the scene of the accident just off the A48 in the St Mellons area of Cardiff, south Wales, last March, almost 48 hours after they were all last seen.

Passengers Sophie Russon, 20, and Shane Loughlin, 32, who were seriously injured, were also found with the Volkswagen Tiguan they had been travelling in.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said the seven officers had been served notices informing them they were under investigation. The investigations concern:

  • Two officers concerning their review of missing person reports. One officer for potential misconduct and another, who was previously served at the level of misconduct, now for possible gross misconduct.

  • One officer for potential gross misconduct concerning their face-to-face communication with family members at a police station and how they dealt with the information received.

  • Two officers for gross misconduct concerning whether or not they carried out searches of the homes of two of the people reported missing. One of these officers is also under criminal investigation for allegedly falsifying their witness statement.

  • Two officers for misconduct concerning alleged remarks made at the collision scene.

The serving of these notices did not necessarily mean disciplinary or criminal proceedings would follow, the watchdog said.

The group were discovered just after midnight on Monday 6 March, 46 hours after the last contact from them. The five were the subject of inquiries by Gwent police after a missing person report made during the evening of Saturday 4 March.

Though the car was close to a main road and houses, it had found its way into a small copse and was hidden from passersby.

Two people who were driving the Tiguan during the evening prior to the crash have since been convicted of motoring offences. Loughlin was jailed for dangerous driving and driving the vehicle while disqualified. He was a passenger in the car when it crashed. Joel Lia was fined for driving the car without a licence or insurance an hour before the crash. He had left the vehicle shortly before the fatal collision.

The IOPC director David Ford said: “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with the families and friends of the young people who tragically lost their lives, those who were left seriously injured, and everyone affected by this incident.

“Since the start of our investigation, we have expanded our work to investigate a number of detailed complaints from the families affected.

“As a result, seven Gwent police officers have been advised that they are under investigation. We continue to analyse a significant volume of evidence and assess whether police actions following the missing person reports were in accordance with local and national policies and procedures.

“At the end of our investigation, we will make decisions as to whether any officer should face disciplinary proceedings and whether any matters should be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.

“While we have carried out additional work to address the concerns raised, we will conclude our investigation as soon as possible. It is important for all concerned that our independent investigation is comprehensive and thorough.”

An initial inquest hearing into the deaths of Jeanne, Ross and Smith heard they were declared dead at the scene of the crash. The inquest was adjourned to await the findings of further histology and toxicology tests.

The Gwent assistant chief constable Mark Hobrough said: “Our thoughts and condolences continue to be with the family and friends of Darcy, Eve and Rafel who tragically lost their lives and those who sustained injuries that night.”