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Court hears legal bid to quash verdict in fatal collision inquest

Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

Lawyers representing two police officers involved in a fatal collision appeared before the Supreme Court this week in a bid to quash an inquest verdict that found two Spanish nationals had been unlawfully killed in the 2020 incident.

The two-day claim saw lawyers for the two officers, identified as Officers 1 and 2, challenge jury directions given by the Coroner, Charles Pitto, regarding the officers' duty of care during the night time chase that ended in the fatal collision.

Mohamed Abdeslam Ahmed, 40, and Mustafa Dris Mohamed, 49, from Ceuta sustained multiple injuries when their RHIB was involved in a collision with the Royal Gibraltar Police interceptor Sir John Chapple in Spanish waters.

The jury in the inquest unanimously returned a finding of unlawful killing, believing it was more likely than not that the RGP officers breached their duty of care to the RHIB’s occupants and that the deaths were a reasonably foreseeable outcome based on the consequences of the police boat’s actions.

At the time, Mr Pitto told jurors that in order to reach that conclusion, they had to be satisfied the actions of the coxswain of the police vessel, Officer 1, more likely than not contributed significantly to the deaths of the two men and that they were grossly negligent and amounted to manslaughter.

But the claimant's lawyer, Jamas Hodivala, QC, told the court the Coroner erred in his directions to jurors.

He said Mr Pitto should have asked them explicitly to consider whether the officers, given the circumstances of the chase and without the benefit of hindsight, should reasonably have believed during the chase that there was “a serious and obvious” risk of death as a result of their actions.

He said “the bar was set too low” and had created the risk of an “unjust ruling” of unlawful killing.

With a “proper direction”, a jury could have concluded that the officers had not breached their duty of care to the RHIB’s occupants, even if there may have been errors of judgement in a fast-paced situation.

Mr Hodivala asked Chief Justice Anthony Dudley to quash the verdict and consider referring the matter to a fresh inquest.

But in countering the claim, Christopher Finch, who represented the families of the deceased, told the court the Coroner had not erred in his directions.

He said the substance of Mr Pitto’s directions and the facts of the case supported the verdict, adding the families required justice.

Mr Justice Dudley reserved his judgement, which will not be delivered until after the summer.

Mr Hodivala was assisted by Charles Bonfante.

Neil Costa appeared for the Royal Gibraltar Police assisted by Julian Warwick.

The inquest held last year was a fact-finding exercise to establish what happened in the collision that led to the deaths of the two Spanish men during a chase at sea.

The inquest did not attribute civil or criminal liability to any person or organisation.

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