Belfast Telegraph

Inquest told of last ditch bids to save PSNI officers from vehicle fire

By Joanne Sweeney

Frantic last ditch attempts were made to save the lives of four police officers when their vehicle went on fire, an inquest has heard.

As police and bystanders tried to smash the windscreen, open the doors and use fire extinguishers, they could hear the crack of ammunition going off inside due to the intense heat of the blaze.

One man told the Belfast inquest how he heard a desperate shout of 'Get me or us out of here' from his nearby home.

Witnesses said that those who tried to rescue the officers had to stand back in fear that the armoured Mitsubishi Shogun would explode.

However, by the time the fire service forced open one of the doors, it was clear that all inside had died.

All witnesses who gave evidence yesterday said there was nothing that could have been done to save the Kilkeel-based officers.

The men died from breathing fumes and from burns within minutes of the collision in the early hours of November 23, 2008.

James Magee (27) - who was the driver - Kevin Gorman (24), Declan Greene (39) and Kenny Irvine (30), were responding to an emergency call from a police sergeant who was facing public disorder in Rostrevor, Co Down.

According to post mortem statements, the officers would have survived had the rear of their vehicle not burst into flames.

Questions were raised over the safety training of officers and the use of certain vehicles.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson heard that Shoguns are not supposed to be used in an emergency as a first response vehicle and that the PSNI had an order in place that they should not be driven in excess of 60 miles per hour.

Evidence questioning the possibility that the vehicle's escape hatch at the rear could have been used by the officers due to the storage of their police kit in the boot was also heard.

The officers were one of two units using the 4x4 cars responding to calls for back-up due to a "drunk driver cutting up rough" amid fears the bystanding crowd would get out of hand.

As the four responded to the blue light call, the vehicle crashed into a low wall just beyond a windy stretch of Moygannon Road on the dark and damp night. No other cars were involved.

Driver of the other Shogun, woman police constable Tanya Clinghan, said that when she and her colleague came across the crash they were faced with the "horrendous situation" of the vehicle being engulfed in flames reaching five to six metres high with the interior of the car blacked out from the thick smoke.

She described how she heard "crackling sounds" coming off the vehicle as stored ammunition went off due to the blaze.

"There was no movement, no sound, it was a horrendous situation," she said. "I knew that there was nothing we could do but I still feel guilty about it."

The hearing continues.

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