Police officers should have stopped high speed chase which ended in teen’s death, jury says

A high-speed police chase which ended in the death of a teenage boy should have been stopped, an inquest jury has concluded.

Thomas Patrick Connor, 19, known as Tull, was driving when his Vauxhall Astra van was being chased by officers from GMP, who mistakenly believed it had been involved in a burglary.

The van ploughed into a railway bridge on Red Bank in Manchester city center in 2019, killing Mr Connor. His family of him had raised concerns about whether the decision to continue with a chase was proportionate, particularly after the van had developed a flat tire.

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A jury concluded after a three day hearing at Manchester Coroners Court that Tull died as a result of a crash during a ‘high speed’ police chase with a deflated tire under the influence of alcohol.

And while the jury concluded the decision by police to initiate two separate chases was appropriate, and the level of alcohol Tull had drunk and speed he was driving were significant factors in the crash, the communication between the pursuing officers and the control room was deemed not appropriate.

The decision to continue with the second chase when it was found a tire on Mr Connor’s van was destroyed was also not considered appropriate.

Tributes at the scene of the crash on Red Bank

“The speed was excessive with a tire out,” the jury foreman said. I have added that the flat tire “in our view led to circumstances where it was justified to end the pursuit”.

Tull had been employed as a landscape gardener and had been planning to move to Australia, having previously traveled there and to Canada. Laura Kelbie, Tull’s sister, told the Manchester Evening News following the inquest that their lives have not been the same since his death.

Ms Kelbie revealed that she had brought up Tull, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, after he lost both his mother and father as a child.

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She said: “Tull is so incredibly loved and missed. The impact of his loss has had a profound effect on so many, he will never be forgotten.

“Such a happy soul, a young man with everything to live for, so full of life and plans for the future. Our lives will never be the same without him.”

Pal had swapped seats minutes beforehand

On the evening of April 6, 2019, Tull and his friend Thomas Price, who was 17 at the time, had been drinking at Steven Charles Snooker Club on Cheetham Hill Road. Both had been drinking beer before leaving to drive to a Co-Op in the Green Quarter to buy more alcohol around 10.45pm.

Price, who had no license and had been disqualified from driving, and who later told police he’d drank at least five Heineken beers, drove the van away from the shop.

Summing up the evidence, assistant coroner Sally Hatfield QC told the court that the van was then spotted near Derby Street, off Cheetham Hill Road, by PC James Forshaw.

Thomas 'Tull' Connors
Thomas ‘Tull’ Connors

PC Forshaw, who is trained and authorized to carry out pursuits, was on patrol in the area and believed the van may have been involved in a commercial burglary nearby.

He tried to stop the van but it drove away ‘at speed’. PC Forshaw previously told the inquest that the ‘speed and the indicator’ on the van suggested ‘panic and overthinking’ by the driver.

PC Forshaw tried to catch up with the van but lost it. The court heard that Tull and Price then got out of the vehicle and noticed that the van had a damaged tire.

Price said they should abandon the van but Mr Connor wanted to take it back to the travelers site he was staying at on Dantzic Street.

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The scene of the crash under the tunnel on Red Bank
The scene of the crash under the tunnel on Red Bank

Tull, who was found to be nearly double the legal drink driving limit, was now driving the vehicle when it was spotted again by PC Forshaw, who made a U-turn to begin pursuing the vehicle for a second time.

The court heard PC Forshaw ‘considered the risks’ of pursuing the van again and proceeded with it but that he ‘couldn’t get close enough’.

Ms Hatfield said that PC Forshaw believed the van appeared to be handling well despite the damage to the wheel, so the pursuit was continued. At one point the van went ‘straight over’ Cheetham Hill Road, gaining some distance on the pursuing police car.

The officers managed to catch sight of the van traveling into a tunnel on Red Bank before seeing that it had crashed and the driver was seriously injured.

Many eyewitness reported seeing the van traveling at high speed, followed by a police car a few seconds later, before hearing a ‘loud bang’ when the van crashed.

Tributes to Thomas Patrick Connor
Tributes to Thomas Patrick Connor

Emergency services performed CPR on Mr Connor, 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.

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 court previously saw bodycam footage of the chase, during which PC Forshaw could be heard shouting ‘you f*****gt**t, where is he going.’

Representing Mr Connor’s family, Sam Harmer, raised concerns that ‘red mist’ thinking had clouded PC Forshaw’s judgement.

No disciplinary action against officers

However, 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.

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IOPC investigator, Colin Bishop said he had “not identified that the officer committed any criminal offense or breached the professional standards” set by the force.

An IOPC spokesman added: “We concluded that while police presence may have affected the manner of Mr Connor’s driving, the evidence indicated the actions of GMP were in line with the applicable policy and procedure and there was no indication any police officer had behaved in a manner that would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings or committed a criminal offence.”

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.

Mr Wilson said he believed the deflated tire was a significant factor in the crash.

A toxicology report found 146 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of Thomas’s blood, nearly double the drink driving limit of 80. The court also heard that Tull was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision.

His cause of death was recorded as ‘multiple injuries’ resulting from the collision.

IOPC Regional Director Amanda Rowe said: “This was a tragic incident in which a young man lost his life and our thoughts remain with his family, friends and all those affected.

“Our investigation was independent of the police and aimed to understand events leading up to the collision. We found the officers acted appropriately and in line with procedures.

“The evidence we gathered was provided to the coroner to assist with the inquest proceedings, which we hope has helped answer some of the families’ questions about that day.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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