Officers 'trapped in blaze vehicle'
Four police officers killed in a horror road crash in Northern Ireland six years ago were unable to escape from their burning vehicle, a coroner's court has heard.
Constables Declan Green, 39, Kenny Irvine, 30, Kevin Gorman, 24 and James Magee, 27, became trapped inside their Mitsubishi patrol vehicle after it hit a wall and burst into flames in Co Down.
An inquest which opened in Belfast today was told how others who had tried to save the four officers were forced back by the intensity of the fire.
Ronan Daly, counsel for the coroner's service said: "After the crash these four officers inside could not get out of the vehicle and others outside attempting to assist could not make their way inside. That was due to intense fire, flames, smoke and damage to the police vehicle and it blocked the escape route."
The accident was the single biggest loss for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The case is being heard before a jury of six women and five men who were sworn in as relatives of all four officers looked on.
The court was told that the officers, all from the Mourne area of Co Down, had been responding to an emergency call out during the early hours of the morning when the accident happened on a stretch of winding coast road between the harbour towns of Warrenpoint and Rostrevor.
Mr Daly said: "They had been on a blue light run which is an emergency response run. There was an emergency public order situation in Rostrevor."
No other vehicle was involved and there were no witnesses to the crash which occurred just before 4am.
Constable Magee had been driving, the court was told.
Two of the men, Constables Declan Green and Kenny Irvine, worked as part time police officers with the PSNI. Their widows Roisin Green and Andrea Irvine spoke briefly during the hearing to confirm personal details including dates and places of birth and occupations.
Jacqueline Gorman who was Constable Kevin Gorman's mother and Bawn Magee, the father of Constable James Magee also took to the witness stand for a short time.
The inquest, which is expected to last until next Friday, is due to hear from senior PSNI officers including Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd and Superintendent Sam Cordner as well as engineering experts, firefighters and civilian witnesses who arrived at the scene in the immediate aftermath.
Maps and more than 100 photographs of the road, crash site and damaged vehicle have been submitted as evidence and the jury is expected to be shown dvd footage of the area.
Pathologists have recorded the cause of death for all four officers as inhalation of smoke and burns, the court heard.
Addressing the jury, Mr Daly said they had been selected to be "independent and impartial".
Warning them not to research the high profile case online, he added: "Your duty as the sworn jury is to diligently inquire into the deaths of the deceased and give a true verdict according to the evidence you hear in the courtroom."
The jury was also told it was not within their remit to apportion blame or liability.
Adjourning the case until tomorrow Coroner Suzanne Anderson reiterated warnings for jurors not to carry out independent research.
"You must make your findings solely on the evidence you hear in this court. Please do not research this case, read about it or discuss it with anyone," the coroner said.
The hearing will resume tomorrow.