Police admit errors after fatal crash charges withdrawn

Southern District Police admit they got it wrong charging a Taranaki woman over the death of her aunt in a van crash in 2017.

Kura Wijnschenk was on holiday in south Otago when the Toyota Hiace campervan she was driving collided with a station wagon, killing the passenger her aunt Cherie Bidois instantly.  

Wijnschenk was charged with careless driving causing death.

Southern District Commander Superintendent Paul Basham told The Hui reporter Ruwani Perera that he unequivocally apologises for the effect the police prosecution had on Wijnschenk and her wider family.

"I'm here today to acknowledge and express profound regret about what took place in the context of this prosecution. So whatever we can do to reduce the profound sense of hurt and loss of trust in the Police.

"We want to be better. We want to provide a high degree of reassurance that we will be better."

After the accident, police senior crash analyst Senior Constable Alastair Crosland concluded that Wijnschenk crossed the centre line into the path of the other driver - something her defence rejected. Her lawyers hired an independent crash investigator who found the other driver at fault.

Police then commissioned an external review of both crash investigation reports, leading to Wijnschenk's careless driving causing death charge being withdrawn.

But although Wijnschenk no longer faced charges, the other driver couldn't be prosecuted because it was too late. By law, careless driving causing death charges must be laid within six months of an accident. 

District Commander Superintendent Paul Basham told The Hui that Police took advice on re-opening the case, but were told that legislation didn't allow it.

"That's for the legislature and politicians and judges. We work within the law. [But] six months is quite a tight timeframe." 

The impact the tragedy has had on Wijnschenk over six years has been profound, affecting her health and crippling her financially.  

It's cost Wijnschenk tens of thousands of dollars, even though the charges were withdrawn.

"I don't feel there's been justice yet for my aunty, that's something that I carry. They say I'm not at fault, it was the other person who caused the accident, but no one can be charged. It doesn't make any sense," said Wijnschenk.

Supt Basham acknowledges the toll this has taken on Wijnschenk and her whānau.

"We're willing to sit down with the whānau and talk about how we might be able to come to some sort of resolution around that [financial debt]." 

In June, Police representatives travelled to Waitara, Taranaki, to meet Wijnschenk and her whānau to apologise in person.

Supt Basham told The Hui that he was also willing to meet with them. 

"I think [this interview with The Hui] is an opportunity for me as the District Commander to provide further reinforcement of the deep regret that sits with Police, Nga Pirihimana."

He said the whānau had been affected by the prosecution and, "the lack of the right outcome".

"So we unequivocally express our regret and apologise to Kura, obviously, Cherie and their whānau for what has occurred."

Supt Basham said Southern District Police have invested more resources in crash investigations to spread the workload, and put in greater checks and balances to prevent this kind of error from happening again.

"We're aware of these shortcomings. We're aware of some issues that were of concern. We did take action."

The crash investigator who wrote the original report, Alastair Crosland, retired in 2020. He told The Hui he stands by his original finding.

He said he is unaware of any dispute around his investigation, despite the charges against Wijnschenk being thrown out.

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