A teen killed in a horror crash during a police chase swapped seats with his pal just moments before he ploughed the van into a railway bridge.
Thomas “Tull” Connor was 19 years old when he drove his Vauxhall Astra into the underpass of a railway track in Manchester city center in April 2019.
Greater Manchester Police pursued the vehicle because they mistakenly thought it had been involved in a burglary, Manchester Evening News reports.
Though Mr Connor was driving at the time of the collision, his friend was at the wheel when the chase began, an inquest at Manchester Coroner’s Court has heard.
Thomas Price, who was 17 and already disqualified from driving at the time of the tragedy, was in the driver’s seat until they got a flat tire, which was when Tull took over.
After the death of his friend, Price complicated matters further by lying at police interview, telling officers Tull had been behind the wheel at all times.
But the 17-year-old’s web of lies were untangled when CCTV revealed he was the original driver.
In the hours before the crash, the pair had visited the Steven Charles Snooker Center in Cheetham Hill Road.
The inquest heard that the pair had been drinking beer, although a member of staff said Tull seemed ‘normal’ and did not appear to be drunk.
After leaving the venue, Mr Connor and Price visited a Co-op store in the Green Quarter at about 10.45pm, where they purchased more beer.
During a police interview, which was read out to the court, Price said he had ‘panicked’ when asked why he initially lied to officers about his role in the chase.
“I believed the car to be Thomas’ car. He was my friend and I had known him a good while,” Price said in his interview.
“Thomas Connor drove to the co-op. I said give me the key because I wanted to sit in the van. I don’t know what went through my mind to jump in the driver’s side.”
The police officer conducting the interview asked Price on a scale of zero being sober and 10 being paralytic, how drunk he was that evening.
“I wasn’t paralytic. I was drunk but not paralytic. Probably about a six,” he said.
“I had drunk five pints of Heineken but I am not a big drinker.”
Price told detectives he had been behind the wheel when they saw a female street worker, who informed them that they’d seen police in the area.
“I saw a Panda car at the top of the road,” Price said.
“I turned right and went down a bit and they came behind me. There were blue lights. I couldn’t really hear any sirens.
“I panicked. We just took off. There wasn’t hardly a word. The pair of us were in shock because it had never happened to us before.
“I just kept going and then I remember hitting some curb with it. I went left into the estate and parked the van up.
“I knew I had popped the tyre. I looked at it and felt it was soft.”
Price told investigating officers that he began to walk away from the van, but claimed Tull wanted to get back in the vehicle.
“I told him I would fix it in the morning but he said no. He wanted to drive so we started again from there,” he said.
“I don’t know why I jumped in the car. I was drinking. It was a stupid idea and I shouldn’t have done it.”
The inquest heard that as Tull drove the Vauxhall in the direction they had just come from, they were spotted by the same police car and the chase restarted.
Now driving with a flat tyre, just minutes later, the van smashed into the bridge – leaving Mr Connor with catastrophic injuries.
Emergency services performed CPR on him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Price was arrested nearby and taken to hospital after being found hiding inside an industrial bin, having fled the scene of the smash.
He was later charged with dangerous driving, driving whilst disqualified, driving without a licence, driving without insurance and failing to stop for police.
On November 18, 2019, he was sentenced at Manchester Magistrates Court to a youth rehabilitation order, 100 hours unpaid work and disqualified from driving for 12 months.
The jury was told that unlike Price, Mr Connor did have a license and was insured to drive the vehicle.
PC Robert Wilson, a Forensic Collision Investigator, told the inquest the van had been traveling at a speed of around 49mph shortly before it collided with the bridge on Red Bank.
“The driver was unable to negotiate the left hand bend and it struck the curb and collided with a concrete pillar,” he said.
“There was no evidence to suggest any emergency braking. Had it been applied it would not have made much difference because of the failed tyre.
“I would not have driven on a tire that is degraded to such an extent I would say that is dangerous.”
Mr Wilson said he believed the deflated tire was a significant factor in the crash.
PC James Forshaw had been on patrol in the area and said he suspected Mr Connor’s vehicle might have been involved in a commercial burglary nearby.
Mr Connor’s family have raised concerns about whether the decision to continue with the chase was proportionate, particularly after the van had developed a flat tyre.
Bodycam footage of the chase was played to the jury, during which PC Forshaw could be heard shouting ‘you f*****gt**t, where is he going.’
Representing Mr Connor’s family, Sam Harmel put to PC Forshaw that officers should try to avoid becoming angry in chase situations.
Mr Harmel put forward a submission on behalf of the family that PC Forshaw could have stopped and should have stopped the pursuit before the crash occurred.
To which PC Forshaw said: “I was going on the suspicion that they were involved in a burglary. The fact they drove off from me arose my suspicion more.”
Following the incident, a mandatory referral was made by Greater Manchester Police to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) who carried out an investigation.
Tull – the youngest of eight siblings – had been staying at a traveler’s site just yards from the crash scene at the time of his death.
His sister, Laura Kelbie, told the hearing at Manchester Coroner’s Court that he had dreams of moving to Australia.
Ms Kelbie revealed she had brought up Tull, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, after he lost both his mother and father as a child.
She described him as a ‘good boy who had never been in trouble with the police’.
Assistant coroner Sally Hatfield QC is presiding over an inquest into Tull’s death at Manchester Coroner’s Court.
The quest continues.