'Carnage and devastation' - residents relive horror of Belfast crash involving stolen car
North Belfast residents witnessed scenes of "devastation and carnage" after the police pursuit of a stolen car ended with a horrific crash on Tuesday.
The PSNI said a number of people were taken to hospital after the road traffic collision on the Crumlin Road at around 6.55pm. Superintendent Muir Clarke said the crash had "involved a number of vehicles including a stolen black Audi A1".
"I can confirm that following a number of reports about the black Audi being driven erratically in the north Belfast area yesterday evening, police patrols were alerted to search for the vehicle," he said.
"Specially trained police officers subsequently located the stolen car. The car failed to stop, made off and police initiated a pursuit. The car crashed a short time later.
"As is normal practice, the Police Ombudsman's Office have been notified and are currently investigating the circumstances leading up to the collision, therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further pending the outcome of that investigation."
The Ambulance Service said four men were taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital, one woman was taken to the Mater Hospital and one child was taken to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Yesterday, the Belfast Trust would only confirm that one patient was critically ill and one had been discharged.
Others may be still be in hospital or may have been treated and discharged.
One resident who was sitting at the front of his house was forced to flee as a vehicle hurtled towards him, leaving the entrances to two homes in a wreck.
Retail manager Kevin Keenan (52), who has lived on the Crumlin Road for decades, was at the rear of his property when the collision occurred.
"When I opened the door it was like a scene from a movie set, complete chaos," he said.
"Cars overturned, cars completely mangled, police, everywhere taped off.
"If you had been out there you would have been completely obliterated.
"It was a scene of devastation, carnage and wreckage.
"I had been out the back and the car had passed through the front of my house into the next house.
"The car had mounted the pavement, took out a 15ft high tree which was at my neighbour's, and it ended up on down the road.
"Through everything that happened on this road in the Troubles, that's the worst I've ever seen. Our neighbour's window was smashed and it's three storeys up; the front gardens were destroyed and I have a crack in the middle window of my second floor.
"It certainly makes you think twice about how safe you are."
Mr Keenan said he was still in shock at what had unfolded, estimating it had caused thousands of pounds worth of damage.
"So many people use this road, it's miraculous that nobody has been wiped out," he said.
"I'm glad that it's just bricks and mortar and nobody died."
Referring to the death of mum-of-two Lisa Gow, who was run down by a stolen car which was being pursued by police in north Belfast in April, he said he felt police shouldn't chase cars in highly-populated areas.
"They should not be chasing cars - let them get out into somewhere that is more open, where there are less people about, and they'll get them eventually, but they shouldn't be chasing down here," he said.
"This road never stops, it's always full of traffic.
"I think there's an overwhelming sense of relief in the community. It could easily have been a fatality."
Neighbour Danielle Connelly (24) said her partner Connor McCarthy (26) had a lucky escape while sunbathing at the front of the house.
Danielle said: "Connor was sitting there on the bench. I had just left and two minutes later he came running in as the car was coming towards him. He feels lucky to be alive today."
Another eyewitness said that three men and a teenage girl had been pulled from one car.
He said that he had observed two other cars being hit - one belonging to a driving school and one containing a man and a baby.
The Police Ombudsman said: "Police notified us immediately after the crash as one of their vehicles had been in pursuit of the Audi car.
"Our investigators have been to the scene. Their focus will be to establish what happened prior to the crash, and in particular, the movements of the police vehicle."
North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey called for those responsible to "feel the full weight of the law".
He said: "In addition to the physical injuries, this will have been a very traumatic experience for all concerned.
"Those responsible for driving a stolen car at high speed down this busy arterial road are entirely responsible for the carnage and destruction that they caused.
"They had no regard for those who have suffered from their reckless and criminal actions.
"They must now face the full weight of the law.
"Sadly, this is only the latest example of the devastation which can result from the reckless driving of stolen cars in this area, coming just over two months after the death of Lisa Gow on the Ballysillan Road.
"Such crimes are entirely inexcusable."
Superintendent Clark said the PSNI's management of police pursuits policy "is a carefully considered process which balances the need to protect our communities from harm against the risks of engaging in a pursuit".
"Only specially trained officers, using appropriate vehicles and equipment are permitted to engage in pursuits," he said.