HE is the police boss who appeared to take a hard line against his officers over their handling of traffic chaos on the night of a fatal road smash in Hampshire.
At first Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Hayes said the welfare of drivers was “not considered” as hundreds were stranded in their cars when a pony escaped on to the A31.
Many were without food, water or mobile phone signals during hold-ups that lasted up to seven hours and were left wondering how long they would be in queues that stretched across the New Forest to the M27 as little information on the length of delays was made available.
But Mr Hayes’ criticism of his force’s handling of the chaos is reported to have led to a backlash among the officers who dealt with the incident, which involved one of two motorcyclists involved in a collision with the animal being killed, while the other is seriously ill in hospital.
Mr Hayes challenged Hampshire’s chief constable Andy Marsh over what lessons could be learned from the situation as members of the public demanded answers.
Now the £80,000-a-year police boss appears to be in reverse over his early outburst – publically saying the police were NOT responsible for keeping motorists informed about the developing drama.
The Highways Agency insist it was the responsibility of police while the AA wants improvements in communications.
Following the crash on January 22 Mr Hayes told the Daily Echo: “I can understand why the road was closed, but I also recognise that hundreds of drivers had their journeys disrupted for a number of hours and I’m concerned that their personal welfare was not considered at that time.
“I’ll be challenging the chief constable on what could or should have been done to support people stuck in the jam and will be looking for answers.”
But yesterday Mr Hayes is reported as saying: “The issue is: is it the responsibility of the police officers dealing with a serious accident to go down the line of traffic letting people know what is happening? I think it is probably not the police’s responsibility”.
He did not clarify whether the welfare of drivers caught in the queues was the force’s responsibility on the night.
No criticism has been directed towards officers on the scene who were under great pressure during the incident.
Police halted traffic after reports of a horse loose on the carriageway – then advised drivers to proceed with caution. The crash that followed claimed the life of a 31-year-old Bourne-mouth man, while a 47-year-old Broadstone man was taken to hospital with serious injuries.
The entire matter is subject to its own investigation being led by Hampshire Constabulary.
Questions have been raised over a perceived lack of information and advice for stranded drivers.
An AA spokesman said: “I think perhaps if the commissioner is looking in to the whole incident then that is one aspect that needs to be looked at.”
Mr Hayes’s office said that he’s always been clear that he wants talks with relevant agencies to prevent a repeat scenario and that communications systems “need to be improved”.
Responding to claims of an angry backlash from police officers following his initial comments he said he “hasn’t had a change of response”.
Efforts were made to update radio stations and social networking sites during the crisis he said – adding that these methods were not foolproof.
His office added: “The PCC is not attributing blame ahead of a proper review of the events but, in his role as commissioner, he is able to facilitate a cross-agency discussion and put pressure on all parties to ensure similar events do not happen again.
“We are all keen to ensure that lessons are learned from these incidents but we must remember that a life has tragically been lost as a result of this incident and we need to allow for a full investigation before jumping to conclusions and blame. All agencies are keen to prioritise public safety by working through better ways of working together.”