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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Dan Haygarth & Chris Slater & Paul Britton

Teenagers filmed police in car chase before driver, 14, died in crash

A schoolboy died after crashing during a car chase that was deemed lawful.

Leo Gradwell, 14, was driving a stolen Fiat 500 but lost control and hit a Kia Sportage and then a Renault Clio on Ashton Road in Golborne on October 11, 2019. Leo, from Platt Bridge, Wigan, was taken to the town's Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, before being admitted to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

Leo's injuries were deemed unsurvivable, meaning his life support was withdrawn the next day. Two teenage passengers in the car - one aged 15 - were also injured in the crash,

READ MORE: Liverpool Councillor at centre of ECHO parking investigation quits

The inquest into Leo's death concluded at Bolton Town Hall on Wednesday (February 15). In a pen portrait read earlier at the inquest, Leo's mum Kirsty Gradwell described him as a caring, playful and loving child, who had never been arrested.

However, she admitted that as Leo got older, something changed and his behaviour got worse, which led him to being excluded from Byrchall High School and moving to Special Educational Needs school Newbridge Learning Community.

She said he loved motorbikes and wanted to be a professional rider when he grew up. She described the moment his life-support was switched-off as "the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with." She added: "I put my hand on his chest and felt his heart stop beating. I felt devastated".

The jury heard the car being driven by Leo was being pursued because it matched the description of a Fiat stolen in an armed robbery in Wigan the night before. A blue Fiat 500 was taken by two masked males, one allegedly carrying an axe. However, Leo was not alleged to be one of the assailants, reports the M.E.N.

Yesterday, the jury returned their findings and conclusion. They said that on the day of the crash, the Fiat was "the subject of a lawful pursuit by a marked police car with emergency equipment activated" and that none of the occupants were wearing seatbelts.

The inquest heard the collision occurred as a result of a high-risk manoeuvre that was attempted whilst failing to stop for the police". The car overturned, throwing the occupants from their seats, at which time Leo suffered a severe head injury.

The jury said: "The police pursuing the Fiat 500 stopped within a safe distance, extracted the three occupants from the wreckage and proceeded to administer emergency first aid". An off-duty nurse also stopped and administered first aid until paramedics arrived.

The jury recorded a narrative conclusion that: "Leo Ryan Gradwell died as the consequence of an unsurvivable head injury caused by a road traffic collision, thereafter, suffering cardiac arrest, leading to a decision to withdraw life support."

Tributes to Leo Gradwell left at the scene of the crash (Manchester Evening News)

Earlier in the inquest, Andrew Brown, then a temporary police sergeant but now retired, who was driving the Peugeot 305 police car which pursued the Fiat, said a front-seat passenger in the car appeared to be recording him and his colleague out of a window. Mr Brown told the jury that it seemed those inside the Fiat "were enjoying it" and said they were aware of the police behind them.

Mr Brown said at midday on the day he heard over a radio a PCSO reference a stolen Fiat 500 being driven erratically. He said: "That's the only information I received at the time. I did not know about the armed robbery - it was just that it was being driven erratically."

He said he went on to deal with a report of two missing youngsters being spotted at a McDonald's "to get them back to their parents" before a report came through over the radio a Fiat matching the description had been seen being driven erratically in Bickershaw. Mr Brown agreed with Senior Coroner for Manchester West Timothy Brennand, that the car may have been joy-ridden and could have been abandoned.

Mr Brown and his partner headed to the area where they said they saw the Fiat with no front registration plates on Warrington Road at about 1.25pm. He said, as the car approached, it was only on view for seconds.

He said: "As it sped past, I had a clear view that it had no plates on the front. By the time I looked down it had gone."

Jurors were told they turned the police car around and activated its emergency equipment. Mr Brown said it was a "spontaneous pursuit" and he was fully trained. He said he undertook a continuous risk assessment and sought permission over the radio to continue the pursuit, whilst providing a commentary.

He said it was "proportionate to continue at that time". At one point, Mr Brown said the Fiat was held up by traffic and it straddled the centre road line trying to overtake, before the driver "put his foot down" after spotting a gap. The officers reached speeds during the pursuit of 62mph, jurors heard.

The witness said: "We wanted a safe stop of that vehicle". He couldn't tell who was inside, but knew there were three of them.

Mr Brown added: "The vehicle tried to overtake a vehicle. He flipped the vehicle which sent him into the path of an oncoming vehicle which he hit head-on. Then the vehicle flipped onto its side." He said the pursuit lasted around two-and-a-half minutes.

Mr Brown said he was shocked to see two children struggling to get out of the Fiat's smashed glass roof. He went on to detail Leo's condition and said he put the teenager in the recovery position.

Representing the Gradwell family, barrister Mass Ndow-Njie said their position was because there had been previous 999 reports of "kids" driving the Fiat, it became the force's duty to ensure that 'crucial information' was passed on.

Mr Brown said officers "do not get every incident on handover" and they "couldn't physically listen to everything that is being relayed over the radio comms system". He said the only time he knew how old they were was when the car stopped.

He added: "I did not know until I got out of my vehicle and saw the occupants." He stated he had been made aware of all the information at the time, that the car had been stolen in an armed robbery, was being driven erratically and of the ages of those inside, it may have "affected his decision to pursue".

Summing up the evidence, Mr Brennand said PC Darren Sharpe, who was asked to review the incident, "considered the actions of his colleagues to proportionate and legitimate." Neville Lowden from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), also concluded the pursuit was "proportionate and legitimate".

At the end of the hearing, Mr Brennand told Kirsty Gradwell: "Nothing the jury have said can bring Leo back. But I hope an element of closure can feature as you come to terms with the enormity of your loss."

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