Initial Thoughts and Planning
My initial thoughts and approach to this assignment began quite a while ago all the way back to the ‘Square Mile’, Assignment 1. Originally, this was going to be my “Square Mile” assignment, but I opted to document the changes to an old RAF Station, where I had been first posted back in the mid-90’s. RAF Manston has long since gone and now a MOD establishment. I left the RAF in the early 2000’s and began a new chapter in my life. I worked for both the Prison Service and later the Metropolitan Police Service.
Over the years of policing later prior to my retirement I had dealt with many routine incidents such as mental health, domestics, thefts, robberies and traffic related incidents to name but a few things. I had worked in various facets of policing from response, CID and Safer Neighbourhood Policing and amongst my career transferred from the Met to Kent Police and back again!
My time as a probationer with a response team was spent dealing with calls involving mainly crime and Road Traffic Collisions (RTC’s). The RTC’s were minor and other than a few injuries most walked away, however, I have seen some horrific injuries and fatalities across my time (10 years) and during my service London and Kent. I’ve sadly dealt with one or two travelling to work. The worst traffic collision was one I was personally involved in as the driver of a police vehicle and had seen a vehicle driving erratically earlier in my shift that subsequently crashed injuring four people. One passenger lost his leg and others suffered life changing injuries. I had to administer first aid at the scene and it is hard to process even now.
As a copper you really never switch off and you find yourself dealing with things even off duty. Early one morning on my way to work (Sidcup, London) I came across a collision involving two cars and a motorcycle on a quite country road leading to a small hamlet. At first, I just thought it was a rear shunt nothing terrible. But I realised very quickly that something wasn’t quite right and found an off-duty nurse kneeling down on a grass verge looking underneath the car. I spotted a motorcycle embedded in a hedge opposite and it suddenly dawned on me that the rider was trapped underneath the car. I tried to reassure him (the rider) that the emergency services were on their way. Of course, I had no idea if they were or weren’t, but without thinking started first aid. First aid might sound futile with a bloke laying on his back pinned underneath the sump of an engine. But I needed to establish if he was alive and had any serious bleeding or injuries. It felt like I was in the middle of a war zone. I managed to find a pulse although very weak. By a miracle he was alive.
I felt powerless all my police training could do nothing for him. The only thing I could do was to cordon off the road, manage a scene and wait for the emergency services to arrive.
I used to find people asking if they could ‘just get through’ or I just live there. I politely refused the request and on the odd occasion met with abuse. But the question they should ask themselves what if this were a member of their family, relative or spouse? What if he died or had life changing injuries?
The coroner will at some point hold an inquiry and the circumstances that led up to his death. The family also want to know what, why and how this accident happened. Despite all the efforts on this fateful morning the rider lost his life.
To this day it remains a mystery what caused this crash. The Serious Collision Investigation Unit never found the cause. Although new traffic calming measures were thought not to blame. The road surface and conditions did not contribute and neither did the actions of the other motorists.
When I was told that he had not survived in that instant, I thought of his family and the officer who would be tasked to tell them. It sounds corny but it’s a very long walk and I know that sounds a cliché and one that I have had to do, that is deliver a ‘death message’. You cannot predict what reaction you’ll receive and it’s a very difficult situation to be in. You are suddenly in their world delivering the most awful news. You see grief up close and personal. I wanted this project to reflect that loss, grief and sorrow for those who had died the world had changed in that split moment.
I started to think about how many other fatalities had occurred with a mile of my home because of the fact that my neighbour had his wall demolished because of a fatal collision. I live on a busy ‘A’ road located between Faversham and Sittingbourne most of which is a national speed limit.
In 2004, my friends and old neighbours at the time lived in the end cottage along our row of 8 cottages. They were awoken in the early hours one morning by a car, which had collided with their wall demolishing it and almost hitting the house. The driver of the Subaru Impreza clipped the wing mirror of an oncoming vehicle and subsequently lost control of the car before colliding with a telegraph pole coming to rest after he demolished a low stone wall. Both the driver and passenger were killed instantly. (Two die in A2 horror crash, 2004)
I thought back to the ‘square mile’ assignment. The principles I applied to the Square Mile could be used to document this assignment. I thought how I could tell the stories of those who had lost their lives in Fatal collisions? I used my experience of presenting evidence, recording, documenting a scene and telling a story to the court or in this case the viewer. Generally, presenting evidence to a court is formal in that it is exhibited and given some sort of identification, which can be referred throughout a trial. Presenting a set of photographs to a Court would be in the form of a spiral bound book. Perhaps, this could be one way of presenting this assignment rather than a set of prints?
I asked myself how could I bring all the elements of the same subject to each view in a unique view? I felt that I didn’t want to photograph one object from various angles or viewpoints or focus on one thing. I decided I wanted to walk someone through a scene from the approaching viewpoint to the point of impact or at least one overall view and then focus on one specific point.
During my research I read a very interesting article a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) magazine. (‘Mostly Left turns’, 2017). The article Mostly Left Turns documents the locations of all cycling fatalities involving motor-vehicles in London during 2015. Eight cyclists form the series of photographs and their last movements and all, but one was the result of lorries turning left, a known problem with a blind spot. (Graeme Weston — Photojournalist – Mostly left turns, no date)
Weston used the light trails to and empty roads to show the direction of travel and turned the light off at the point of the collision during the long exposure to leave an abrupt stop. I also felt that the angle and height was from a drivers’ perspective not necessarily a lorry or taller vehicle. Perhaps this was something I needed to consider.
During the rest of the assignments I have been adding to my research. I found a website called Ghostbikes and one example locally near Deal, Kent placed on the side of the road. Daniel Squire was killed in 2013 aged 18. What I was struck by in the news article was the comment “the area has become a shrine, with floral tributes and solar lights, laid by family members and some of Daniel’s many friends from Deal and Dover, where he went to school and played football.”
Daniel’s father said, “The family is now having a plaque made for the bike with the message “Cyclist Killed Here 7/9/2013”.
Mr Squire said the area is not allowed to become a dedicated memorial, and it is therefore not permitted for them to inscribe that the bike has been installed in Daniel’s memory.”(‘Ghost bike’ shrine to cyclist killed in crash, 2014)
Grief is an emotion that can last a lifetime and as I looked around the local roads I saw more and more evidence of shrines that had been left by the roadside. At this point it dawned on me this was my assignment 5 project, Fatal Consequences and to use my experience how to document each fatal collision site.
The next part of my research was quite easy using a website called Crashmap. Although I could not access all the data I was able to cross-reference with news articles. I found five significant locations consisting of two cyclists, two cars and one motorcyclist.