Fatal NSW Police crash inquest begins

Perry Duffin

The coronial inquest into the high-speed pursuits and crash that claimed the life of "loved" and "respected" police Sergeant Geoffrey Richardson in the NSW Hunter Valley has started in Sydney.

Sgt Richardson's patrol car was snaking along the country roads west of Maitland on the night of March 5, 2016, trying to catch up with a pursuit further into the valley.

Paul Johnson, then aged about 34, was leading police through Greta, seven kilometres away, in his white Ford Falcon.

The Falcon, with stolen licence plates and suspected bullet holes through the windshield, had first grabbed police attention two days earlier but managed to escape, the NSW Coroner's court heard on Monday.

Sgt Richardson, who'd driven from nearby Port Stephens area command to help, was carrying road spikes and was preparing to use them to bring the already 35-minute chase to a swift end.

"He was trying to, in his own way, catch up to where he thought he could intercept those vehicles," Police Commissioner's representative Ray Hood told the court.

But Sgt Richardson became lost on the dark, winding roads between Cessnock and Maitland and radioed for assistance.

They would be some of his final words.

Realising he was late to where he needed to be to help his fellow officers, Sgt Richardson drove down Lovedale Road and into a sweeping left bend.

His patrol car, crash investigators calculated, was travelling between 136km/h and 151km/h, left the road and smashed into a tree.

He died at the scene.

Johnson was eventually arrested and jailed for his role in the pursuits but was not convicted of any charges relating to Sgt Richardson's death.

The court heard the crash had claimed a "much-loved family man" and "respected" police officer.

The inquest will examine the role of radio communications, police training and - critically - whether the pursuits should have been called off.

As council assisting the coroner Tim Hammond noted, Sgt Richardson would not have been driving to deploy his spikes had the second pursuit been stopped.

The inquest is expected to continue for three days.