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Family's fury as thugs shun teen's inquest

By Deborah McAleese

A killer driver and an armed robber were last night branded "cowards" by the family of a teenage death crash victim for refusing to give evidence at his inquest.

Coroner Brian Sherrard was yesterday left virtually powerless to act after the two key witnesses failed to attend the probe into the death of Belfast teen Warren Allen (17) who died when the stolen getaway car he was travelling in crashed.

Mr Sherrard was forced to adjourn the inquest for up to 12 months in the hope that new legislation will be introduced to help ensure the attendance of the two witnesses.

Last night Mr Allen's family said the driver of the car, Matthew Barnes, and his accomplice, Gary Oscroft, were "cowards" and added that they desperately want to get to the truth about Warren's death.

Urgent calls have now been made for greater authority to be granted to Ulster's coroners to help ensure summonsed witnesses attend.

Barnes, who was jailed in 2005 for causing Mr Allen's death by dangerous driving, was summonsed to appear at yesterday's inquest in Belfast but failed to turn up.

Oscroft, who was in the car after helping Barnes carry out an armed robbery, is currently in Maghaberry prison on separate charges and refused to give evidence at the hearing.

Mr Sherrard said he was reluctant to proceed without Barnes (20), from Bloomfield Drive in east Belfast and Oscroft (22), formerly of Templemore Avenue, Belfast, in attendance.

"I have given this matter some consideration and I have decided to adjourn this hearing in order to secure the attendance of some very important witnesses and gather further forensic evidence," he said.

Under current legislation - Section 20 of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) - the only penalty for a summonsed witness who fails to attend is a maximum fine of £1,000.

"There is no point in giving a fine to those boys as they will never pay it. The Coroner needs much greater powers to ensure they attend," Mr Allen's grandfather, Sammy Allen, said.

"This is the second time the inquest has been adjourned. The first time Barnes attended but refused to give evidence and Oscroft did not turn up."

Mr Allen added: "They are cowards. What are they so afraid of? They have already served their time so they may as well just tell us what happened."

Mr Allen was in a stolen car which was being driven by Barnes - who was fleeing the scene of an armed robbery - when the car overturned and landed in a stream near the junction of the Lower Braniel and Glen Roads in Castlereagh on January 18, 2004.

Barnes and Oscroft fled, while Mr Allen drowned in the stream.

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