Belfast Telegraph

'No cover-up' over claims police car struck teen's body

BY AMANDA FERGUSON

Claims that a police vehicle drove over the injured body of a pregnant teenager have been "tackled head on" and there has been no attempt to cover up anything, an inquest has heard.

Nicola Russell (16), from Harcourt Drive in north Belfast, died at the Royal Victoria Hospital following the collision in Newcastle, Co Down, shortly after 2.20am on January 1, 2000.

She was 14 weeks pregnant at the time.

The inquest, which reopened yesterday after being adjourned in March, heard from retired and serving police witnesses.

On New Year's Day 2000, two RUC officers in an unmarked Ford Mondeo were in pursuit of the red Ford Sierra Nicola was a passenger in.

They followed the car for three miles when it crashed on the Ballagh Road. The teenager's body was thrown from the vehicle and she suffered a fatal head injury.

The driver of the vehicle, Gerard Rogan (25), was jailed for causing Nicola's death and later took his own life.

Coroner Jim Kitson is determining whether Nicola was hit by an RUC car while on the ground.

In March retired RUC reserve constable Rodney Hanna told the court he had slowly driven past Nicola Russell's injured body on arrival at the scene of the crash.

He added: "I did not hit Nicola."

But a further statement taken from the retired officer since March could not be admitted as evidence yesterday as he was not present in court.

Mark Robinson, a barrister for the PSNI, told the court there was "no attempt to cover up" anything after concerns were raised that Nicola's body had been struck by a police vehicle. He said the issue had been "tackled head on".

Meanwhile, more than one of the police witnesses told the court they had no recollection of a conversation with a colleague claiming he had been told at the time "the boys think they hit her".

The inquest continues.

BACKGROUND

In March Professor Jack Crane, State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, told the Coroner's Court Nicola Russell's death was caused by bruising and laceration of the brain associated with fractures of the skull. He had also said there was nothing to suggest a wheel or wheels of a vehicle had gone over her body.

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