New guidelines on window-breaking equipment set to be issued

Police officers are to be issued with new guidance and updated training on how to break the windows of vehicles that have been involved in accidents.

Feb 4, 2020
By Tony Thompson
Robert and Shirley Wigzell

It follows an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into the death of a London couple in South London in February 2019.

Robert and Shirley Wigzell, both aged 71, died when their vehicle was struck by a van being pursued by a police car.

An officer at the scene attempted to use a standard-issue life hammer to smash the window of the couple’s car to help them escape but was unsuccessful because the windows were laminated. Another officer then used his baton to gain entry to the vehicle.

Mr and Mrs Wigzell were pronounced dead at the scene. The van driver, Ben Ord, 41, from Eltham, has since been jailed for nine years after pleading guilty to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

Although a pathologist found no evidence that the delay in getting into the Wigzell’s car contributed to their death, an IOPC investigation found that life hammers become blunt and ineffective over time.

In a statement, the IOPC said it had issued a recommendation to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) that the “use of life hammers is monitored and that they are replaced when necessary”.

It added: “We also recommended that officers receive training on using life hammers and what alternatives may be more effective. We also recommended forces consider obtaining equipment that officers can use to break all kinds of windows, including laminated ones.”

The NPCC will now write to all chief constables in England and Wales advising them to consider the recommendations.

The IOPC investigation also found the pursuit was justified, necessary and proportionate, and carried out in line with procedures. There was no evidence of misconduct on the part of any of the officers involved.

IOPC regional director Sal Naseem said: “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with the family and friends of Mr and Mrs Wigzell and all those affected by the events that February evening.

“This was a tragic event and our investigation concluded officers made every attempt to assist Mr and Mrs Wigzell at the scene.

“As part of our investigation, we identified, on a national level, there was an absence of guidance surrounding the use of life hammers, specifically in relation to officer training and replacing the kit when they become ineffective.

“I am pleased the NPCC and MPS have accepted these recommendations and hope this will bring about change.”

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