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Shortage of officers delays fatal school crash investigation

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PARENTS of Nuria Sajjad and Selena Lau have expressed frustration over the slow pace of the investigation into their daughters’ tragic deaths at The Study Preparatory School in Wimbledon.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner cites a lack of forensic officers as the primary reason for the delay, promising improvements.

Nuria and Selena, both eight-years-old, lost their lives when a Land Rover crashed into the school during an end-of-term tea party last July.

Although a suspect was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving, no charges have been filed yet. A 46-year-old resident of Wimbledon, who was arrested at the location under suspicion of causing death by reckless driving, is currently released on bail.

For Smera Chohan and Sajjad Butt, Nuria’s parents, the agonising wait for answers has been a relentless ordeal.

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“Occasions have come and gone in the last ten months from Christmas to New Year to Ramadan to Eid to Mother’s Day to her ninth birthday,” Smera told the BBC.

“And we have lived through all of those without knowing how or why our daughter was killed. This is how much time has passed. This is unacceptable, and it’s a horror that we live in.”

Butt said: “The only reason for this delay in this coming to the next stage is a lack of specialised resources to deliver a particular part of the investigation.”

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said investigators had interviewed more than 150 witnesses, analysed CCTV as well as conducted a forensic analysis of the vehicles concerned and interviewed the driver.

“I recognise that the investigation is not happening as quickly as the families would hope, and I apologise for the impact that this has had but I hope you recognise why it is important that the investigation is comprehensive,” he wrote in a letter to the families’ solicitor.

“There is currently only one path to qualify as a Forensic Collision Investigator (FCI) available in the UK, which is a six-year, part time course from De Montfort University.

“This means there are very few individuals who have the specialist skills needed to progress these investigations and the MPS currently takes up approximately 20 per cent of course places as we are seeking to increase the number of investigators.”

Chohan, however, rejected these claims as unacceptable.

“With the nature of this accident and the way we have been left, I don’t think it can be acceptable for any parent to hear that the reason you haven’t got any answers is there’s a resource issue,” she was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the families of the victims are urging London mayor Sadiq Khan to intervene, emphasising the need for prioritisation of their case by the police, more than nine months after the tragedy.

In an open letter by Trevor Sterling, a senior partner at Moore Barlow representing the families, he expressed concern that the prolonged delay is exacerbating the trauma experienced by those affected.

Sterling advocated for the establishment of a protocol to expedite investigations in cases of public interest, especially those involving fatal injuries to children.

He also urged Khan to arrange a meeting with the families to address their concerns directly.

Detective chief superintendent Clair Kelland, in charge of policing for south-west London, said: “Specialist detectives have worked tirelessly to establish the circumstances of that day, including detailed analysis of CCTV and the examination of expert reports. We have also sought early investigative advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“We recognise that the time taken has caused further distress but it is only right and fair to all involved that we carry out a thorough and extensive investigation.

“We have updated the families on one specific issue which has unfortunately added to the time this investigation is taking. This is around a lack of specialist investigators whose role it is to provide expertise in such investigations – an issue we are working to address.”

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