PC Nick Dumphreys, a dad of two young children, died at the scene
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A police officer was killed after his BMW flipped on the M6 due to a fault the manufacturer had known about for years.
PC Nicholas Dumphreys was responding to an incident where a man had been attacked by people armed with knives. But while racing down the motorway, a crankshaft bearing in his BMW 330 engine failed.
As oil spilled onto the carriageway, the car swerved and its tyres and engine ignited. PC Dumphreys tried to correct the swerve but 'there was nothing he could do' and his car flipped onto its roof, an inquest heard.
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Passers-by tried desperately to pull the 47-year-old officer from the car but PC Dumphreys, a dad of two young children, was pronounced dead at the scene, near junction 44 for Carlisle, at 2.24pm on January 26, 2020.
An inquest into PC Dumphreys' death, held earlier this year, concluded on Tuesday (December 20) with Assistant Coroner Robert Cohen revealing that BMW had first known about the fault with the M57 engine in 2016, Lancs Live reports. The inquest heard that since 2014, five to seven crankshaft bearing failures had been reported each month which the coroner described as a "startlingly high failure rate".
Describing the circumstances of the crash, Mr Cohen said: "As PC Dumphreys drove down the M6 and passed J44 his vehicle failed catastrophically. We know the crankshaft fourth bearing had become overly worn and this allowed the bearing shell to rotate. This cut off the oil way.
"Supply of engine oil to the third bearing is by the fourth bearing. That bearing then failed. The connecting rod [the part of a piston engine which connects the piston to the crankshaft] fractured catastrophically, fragments of metal were thrown out puncturing the sump. Oil began to leave the engine.
"Some deposited on the road and wheels. Other oil ignited. The oil on the road and wheels caused the car to veer. He attempted to correct but there was nothing he could have done to recover the situation. The vehicle swerved and left the road and landed on its roof. Passers-by made heroic efforts to rescue PC Dumphreys but their efforts were in vain."
The inquest heard that BMW UK, which supplies vehicles to police forces, was first made aware of a fault with the crankshaft bearing in 2016 when a car burst into flames. BMW UK reported the incidents to BMW AG, the German company which has overall responsibility, and engineers issued advice to reduce oil change intervals and to increase the grade of oil used in the M57 engine.
As a result of the new guidance BMW UK contacted The National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) for this to be passed onto individual forces. However, the inquest heard that membership of NAPFM is not compulsory and Cumbria Police's fleet manager James Poole was not a member.
Crankshaft bearings in existing Cumbria Police vehicles fitted with the BMW M57 engine have since been replaced. Although criticisms were made of both Cumbria Police and BMW during the course of the inquest, the coroner said he was satisfied that the service history of the vehicle was appropriate and that maintenance issues reported about the BMW driven by PC Dumphreys before his crash were not connected with the failing which caused the engine to fail on that fateful day in January 2020.
Returning a conclusion of accidental death the coroner said: "The family and loved ones of PC Dumphreys have remained in my mind throughout and have my very sincere condolences. It is all too clear to me that they have suffered an unimaginable loss. As Mrs Dumphreys said, 'Nick Dumphreys was a truly brilliant human'."
The coroner also made two Prevention of Future Death reports which he will send to the National Police Chiefs Council regarding his concerns that membership of NAPFM is voluntary as he deemed it to not be a "suitable conduit" for sharing safety updates. He also requested the council consider implementing a formal end-of-life policy for police vehicles.
He said: "A vehicle which has been condemned by a police force might find its way to being sold into the open market and being used by a civilian user. There is a risk that unless a clear policy exists to prevent that happening this might happen in the future."
Mr Cohen praised PC Dumphreys' widow Kathryn for her dignity throughout the proceedings. He also requested Cumbria Police report back on the steps taken following PC Dumphreys' death which will be shared with his family.
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