Family of crash victim Lisa Gow and witnesses slam police claims stolen car chase had ended
The sister of a "very popular" young mother who was killed after being struck by a stolen car in north Belfast says her entire family have been left devastated - and are furious at police denials over the circumstances of the crash.
Lisa Gow, aged in her 30s, died instantly on Thursday after being hit by an Audi A4 on the Ballysillan Road at around 11am. It had been reported stolen from the Cavehill Road a short time earlier.
Yesterday, as her grieving sister Becca collected some of her niece and nephew's belongings from their Silverstream Drive home just a few hundred yards from where their mother was killed, she described the heartache of losing Lisa.
"I read about it online and I just thought: 'That poor girl'. Then around five hours later I found out it was my sister," she said.
"We are all completely devastated, but there's also a lot of anger."
Ms Gow said the family were meeting police yesterday afternoon to discuss the many questions surrounding the PSNI's account of what happened.
"We want to hear what they have to say and we will give them that opportunity before we comment further."
She described her sister as a "very popular girl" who was "well liked by everyone".
Residents described the anguish they felt as Lisa's body lay at the scene for nearly five hours after the collision, which happened shortly after she dropped her two young children off at Ballysillan Primary School.
"All everyone wanted to do was sit with her, just to be with her, even though she was dead," one woman said.
"She didn't deserve what happened to her. It was horrendous."
It is understood that police were unable to identify the victim for some time due to the nature of her injuries.
It was only a receipt for a wooden floor that she had been clutching in her hand at the time which made it possible.
Yesterday her heartbroken parents Peter and Agnes stopped at the spot where their daughter died as mourners came to leave floral tributes.
They sobbed as one of the first witnesses on the scene tried to console them with assurances that Lisa did not suffer.
"The accident didn't just rob Lisa of her life, it robbed her of her last ounce of humanity. Her poor parents will never see her face again," the local resident said afterwards.
Another local said his 16-year-old son was left traumatised by the aftermath of the crash, which involved three cars and a lorry close to a lay-by opposite Ballysillan Leisure Centre. He said: "I was doing the dishes when I heard a crash followed by a bang and a lot of commotion.
"My son ran outside and returned immediately saying: 'She's dead daddy, she's dead'.
"What he witnessed was horrific, he was shaking after it."
PSNI Superintendent Melanie Jones said the stolen vehicle had been located just after 10.40am by the police helicopter, which followed the car towards Fortwilliam before it exited onto the Shore Road.
She said specially trained officers ended their pursuit once the car failed to stop on the Antrim Road and handed over to the helicopter.
But dozens of residents have strongly refuted that version of events, which is now the subject of a Police Ombudsman investigation.
"I heard the bang and looked out the window, the police car was right behind him," one man said.
A school minibus driver who was transporting pupils from Mercy College at the time said he witnessed police cars pursuing the vehicle at speed right up to the collision.
"I saw it with my own eyes. I even slowed down because there were four girls in the minibus," he said.
"The only way I can describe it is reckless."
Mercy College confirmed that four pupils have been offered counselling after witnessing the tragedy.
The minibus driver said he too had been left traumatised.
"I was shaking and I have felt sick ever since. It's awful that a young mother has lost her life in such horrendous circumstances," he added.
"The scene was horrific, but I am sickened just as much by the police denying that they were in pursuit of this vehicle."
Another resident claimed that a policewoman told her that a black Volkswagen Golf - understood to be an unmarked police car involved in the chase of the stolen car - caught the incident on its dash cam.
"She said she watched the footage and was convinced that death would have been instant, she was trying to console us," they said.
"But how would there be any dash cam footage if the car wasn't in pursuit?"
Local DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst also disputed the police claim that they were not in pursuit of the stolen vehicle at the time of the crash.
"I have seen video evidence which shows that they were and I am confident that the truth will come out," he added.
Last night, following a meeting with Lisa's family, Superintendent Jones issued a further statement.
"While we initially reported that the police pursuit of the stolen vehicle had ended prior to the collision, as the investigation has progressed and following consultation with the Police Ombudsman, the full circumstances of the pursuit will be independently investigated by the Police Ombudsman," she said.
"This will include whether or not the pursuit had ended at the time of the collision.
"Specially trained liaison officers have informed the family and will continue to support them at this tragic time."
A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman's Office last night said investigators had established that police had been in pursuit of the stolen car prior to the crash.
"Video from the police helicopter and from within the lead police pursuit car clearly shows that when the collision occurred, police were a matter of seconds behind the suspect vehicle," he said.
"Our investigation is continuing and will consider issues such as how police dealt with this incident and the manner of police driving.
"Police Ombudsman investigators have met members of the deceased's family and briefed them about its investigation."
The 39-year-old male driver of the stolen vehicle has been charged with a number of offences, including causing death by dangerous driving.
Martin Nelson appeared in court yesterday morning and was remanded in custody after the proceedings.