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Crash victims were 'twice over limit'

Two young Belfast men who died after the car they had stolen crashed at high speed were both double the drink-drive limit, a court has heard.

Damien Joseph McDonald (19) and Paul Thomas Mathews (26) suffered a range of horrific injuries during the “catastrophic” smash, involving a total of five cars, which happened outside Magherafelt six years ago.

During an inquest yesterday, presided over by coroner Suzanne Anderson and Mr Dunlop Mc Cubbin — who headed up a Police Ombudsman investigation into the deaths — found there was “no criminality in regards to the police action” and “no misconduct”, after one unmarked police car followed the men at a distance.

The investigation — which began a day after the crash on the Castledawson Bypass on March 16, 2006 — showed there had been “no evidence that police had ... contributed to the deaths” of the two men.

Both men were originally from Belfast and had been working as double-glazers in Letterkenny.

The stolen white Honda Civic they were driving was first spotted by PSNI officers travelling at what was described as a “prosecutable speed” outside Magherafelt.

A court heard that the car was seen travelling at high speed by several witnesses and police officers before it struck at least one car at around 9.30pm and ended up on its side in a ditch.

It had been followed by one police vehicle which, according to witnesses, was 2-3 minutes behind the stolen vehicle, and was not pursuing the car at high speed.

Paul Mathews — who, according to the report, was driving — was two and half times over the legal drink-driving limit, and, according to deputy state pathologist Dr Alastair Bentley, had a “moderate to high concentration of alcohol” in his bloodstream.

Damien Joseph McDonald, a passenger in the stolen vehicle according to the Police Ombudsman’s report, was also twice over the legal alcohol limit.

Rita McDonald, mother of the late Belfast-born teenager, said that her hard-working son had “never been in trouble with the police” and had “never been involved in anything like this before”.

One witness, Dr Michael Carroll, said that the stolen Honda had driven past him with enough force to shake his own car.

Another driver, Connor Liddy, said he saw “the driver (struggle) to regain control of the vehicle”.

The inquest continues today.

Belfast Telegraph