Belfast Telegraph

Tearful officer admits noting wrong time of crash that killed Nathan Gault and Debbie Whyte

By Jane Scott

A female police officer who investigated a fatal road crash in Co Fermanagh which left two schoolchildren dead has tearfully admitted that she got the time of collision wrong.

Sergeant Melanie Hicks told the inquest into the deaths of Nathan Gault (15) and Debbie Whyte (14) it was "truly regrettable".

The Devenish College pupils were struck by a Renault Megane being driven by Yvonne Seaman as they walked home along the unlit Croaghrim Road at Florencecourt on November 27, 2008.

Nathan's body was found in his aunt's garden an hour and a half after the collision.

Debbie was rushed to hospital where she died the following day. Another friend, Wayne Manley, was uninjured.

Sgt Hicks admitted yesterday that it had been the first time she had investigated a fatal collision involving pedestrians.

She told the inquest sitting in Laganside Court that she had not interviewed Ms Seaman at the crash scene as she had been gathering information.

Constable Paul Morgan breathalysed the driver who returned a negative reading and she was allowed to go home.

All three teenagers had got off a school bus around 6pm and Sgt Hicks admitted that she hadn't spoken to the bus driver or seized the tachograph to prove the time they were dropped off.

"If I thought for one second that he had witnessed the collision, I would have interviewed him. Knowing what I know now I should have been more specific," she said. 

Nathan Gault

She said that she had initially believed the collision had occurred at 6.40pm when it was reported to police, but now accepted that it had in fact been 30 minutes prior to this.

"I accept that it wasn't the right time. That is truly regrettable and I'm sorry," she said.

The inquest had also scrutinised the mobile phone activity of Ms Seaman who made two unanswered calls to her sister, Florence Graydon, while parked in a nearby lay-by shortly before the crash. No evidence of these two calls was found during an examination of Ms Seaman's phone.

Ms Hicks told coroner Suzanne Anderson she had no proper training in relation to procedures to follow in relation to mobile phones at crash scenes. Sgt Hicks accepted that there had been a six-hour delay in seizing Ms Seaman's mobile phone which was handed to her at around midnight, but she hadn't looked to see if it was on.

A mobile phone expert previously told the court that the phone seized may have been corrupted because it was left on. Police have admitted mistakes were made in not properly isolating the phone.

Two forensic scientists yesterday agreed that Ms Seaman's car was travelling at around 42mph with dipped headlights on. They said this meant she would have been able to see a person from 18 metres away but her reaction time travelling at that speed would be one second.

The scientists added that they believed all three teenagers had been walking side-by-side with their backs to the vehicle.

With the inquest concluded, the coroner said she will deliver her verdict at a later date.

Belfast Telegraph

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