Boy died crashing stolen car during police chase, inquest jury closes

Boy, 14, died after crashing stolen Fiat 500 during a ‘lawful’ police chase after armed robbery, inquest jury concludes

  • Leo Gradwell suffered from unsurvivable injuries and passed the following day
  • He was believed to have been driving when the car crashed in Golborne, Wigan

A 14-year-old boy died after crashing during a ‘lawful’ police chase, an inquest jury have concluded.

Leo Gradwell was behind the wheel of a stolen Fiat 500 when he lost control and collided with a Kia Sportage and then a Renault Clio on Asthon Road in Golborne, Wigan.

Leo, from Platt Bridge, was initially rushed to the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan, before being taken to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

However, his injuries were considered unsurvivable and his life support , of the ‘much-loved son and brother’ was withdrawn the following day. 

Two teenage passengers in the car – one aged 15 – were also injured in the crash, the inquest heard.

Leo Gradwell, 14, was behind the wheel of a stolen Fiat 500 when he lost control and collided with other cars on Asthon Road in Golborne, Wigan

Balloons and tributes have been tied to a lamp post at the scene of the crash on Ashton Road

The car was being pursued as it matched the description of a Fiat stolen in an armed robbery in Wigan the night before. 

The inquest heard a blue Fiat 500 was stolen by two masked males, one allegedly carrying an axe, however, Leo was not believed to be one of the assailants.

Yesterday, a jury who began hearing evidence in the case last week, returned their findings and conclusion. They said that on the day of the crash, October 11 2019, 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 collision occurred as a result of a high-risk manoeuvre that was attempted whilst failing to stop for the police,’ they said, with the car overturning, throwing the occupants from their seats, at which time Leo suffered a severe head injury.

‘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.’

Earlier in the inquest, Andrew Brown, then a temporary police sergeant but now retired, who was driving the Greater Manchester Police-liveried 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.

His sister said: ‘Leo I love you so much. I’ll always think of you and you’ll never be forgotten. Lots of love your baby sister Casey Moo’ 

‘Most kindhearted lad’: People took to social media to also share tributes to Leo who passed away

Mr Brown told the jury that it seemed to be those inside the Fiat ‘were enjoying it’ and said they were ‘aware of the police behind them’.

‘They were aware that we were there,’ he said. ‘Immediately as they saw the police car – the vehicle was gone.’

Mr Brown, giving evidence at the hearing at Bolton Town Hall on February 9, said at midday on the day he heard over a radio a PCSO reference a stolen Fiat 500 being driven erratically. 

The retired police sergeant added: ‘That’s the only information I received at the time,’ he said. ‘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 being ‘joy-ridden’.

With his partner, the jury was told they headed to the area, where Mr Brown 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. ‘As it sped past, I had a clear view that it had no plates on the front, he said. ‘By the time I looked down it had gone.’

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.

One balloon reads: ‘Rest in peace Leo. Gone but never forgotten. Love you loads’ which was tied near the scene of the crash 

‘We wanted a safe stop of that vehicle,’ the witness said, adding he couldn’t tell who was inside, but knew there were three of them.

‘The vehicle tried to overtake a vehicle,’ Mr Brown said. ‘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 last around two-and-a-half minutes.

Mr Brown said he was ‘shocked’ to see two ‘kids’ 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 said officers ‘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.

‘I did not know until I got out of my vehicle and saw the occupants,’ he said. 

He claimed that had he been made aware of all the information at the time – that the car had been stolen in an armed robbery and were being driven erratically – and said it may have ‘affected his decision to pursue’.

Read More: Pictured: Boy, 14, killed when a ‘stolen’ Fiat 500 he was driving crashed during a police chase

Summing up the evidence, Mr Brennand said GMP 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’, the hearing was told.

In a pen portrait read 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.

He loved motorbikes and said he wanted to be a professional rider when he grew up, she said. She described the moment his life-support was switched-off as ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with’.

‘I put my hand on his chest and felt his heart stop beating. I felt devastated,’ she said.

At the end of the hearing, Mr Brennand told her: ‘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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