DARREN Ryan Franey 15, and Scott Veach 15, as the court heard were the driver and passenger of a stolen Vauxhall Vectra motor vehicle, which collided with the rear of a Mercedes HGV after the final bend in the North Tube of the Mersey Kingsway Tunnel just before the Liverpool Portal in a major car accident.
The collision occurred early in the hours of March 2, 2002. The vehicle in which they were travelling was one of two Vauxhall Vectra cars stolen from a house in the Chester area earlier that night. The vehicles travelled to Liverpool along the M53 and through the Kingsway Tunnel. The driver of the lead vehicle, Paul Maguire is serving a five and a half-year sentence of imprisonment for dangerous driving and car theft arising out of this incident and other matters.
Maguire put the speeds of the vehicles in the tunnel at between 100 and 120 miles an hour. Other witnesses put the speed at a lower level. A Merseyside Police car was followed the two stolen cars at high speed as the chase was monitored on CCTV through the Tunnel.
At the Liverpool Portal Tunnel Officers positioned two police vehicles with lights on facing into the two-lane tube. Officers were then instructed by their Sergeant in the information room to move a Mercedes Heavy Goods Vehicle from the inside lane into the outside lane.
The first Vectra in which Maguire travelled, avoided the HGV but collided with the Tunnel Police vehicle, before attempting to flee the scene. The second Vectra ‘anchored on’ as it passed the bus and collided with the HGV.
Pursuant to s 8 (3) (b) Coroner’s Act 1988 I was required to hold this inquest with a Jury as there was reason to suspect that the deaths resulted from injuries caused by (a) police officer(s) in the purported execution of his or their duty. When a coroner sits with a Jury the Coroner is the judge of the law and the procedure and the jurors are the sole arbiters of the facts.
As you are aware Rule 36 Coroner’s Rules 1984 provides: -
The proceedings and evidence at an inquest shall be directed solely to ascertaining the following matters, namely -
a) Who the deceased was
b) How, when and where the deceased came by his death
c) The particulars for the time being required by the Registration Acts to be registered concerning the death.
Neither the Coroner nor the Jury shall express any opinion on any other matter.
And Rule 42 Coroners Rules
No verdict shall be framed in such a way as to appear to determine any question of-
a) Criminal liability on the part of a named person, or Civil liability
The jury heard evidence for seven days in which the jury were left four possible conclusions namely: - Unlawful Killing (on the basis of gross negligent manslaughter for both or causing death by dangerous driving for Scott Veach alone), Accidental Death, Accidental Death and neglect in relation to a defect in a system contributed to the cause of death or an Open verdict. After two days of deliberation the jury returned verdicts of unlawful killing in respect of both youths.
An investigation had been undertaken under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority Member Wendy Towers, which was submitted to the coroner.
As indicated in court :-
“Matters that have been revealed during the course of this inquest, which I believe will cause public disquiet. The Mersey Tunnel Police Force does not appear to be a Police Force in the sense that the public would understand. I do not doubt the officers and the management are dedicated and carry out a useful function. However the public and perhaps the Home Secretary will have to ask whether this function is the function of Police Constables?
Either Mersey Tunnel Police recruits or trains its officers to national policing standards or
“the Accord” (Between Mersey Tunnel Police and Merseyside Police) must be revisited with regard to Merseyside Police taking over all policing responsibility, leaving the Tunnel Authorities to ensure effective safe traffic flow management strategies are implemented. In which I will be notifying the Home Office of my findings.”
As the Rule 43 letter was announced in court, so as to avoid any misunderstandings and rumours and to maintain transparency, this letter has been released to the media.
Pursuant to rule 43 Coroners’ Rule 1984. – A coroner who believes that action should be taken to prevent the recurrence of fatalities similar to that in respect of which the inquest is being held may announce at the inquest that he is reporting the matter in writing to the person or authority that has power to take such action and he may report the matter accordingly.