Family’s anger at inquest verdict

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A SOLDIER and his girlfriend died after their car veered off the road as they argued following a night out.

Jamie Hall, a lance bombardier with the 4th Regiment of the Royal Artillery, and Michelle Swinton, were both over the drink drive limit when the vehicle careered off the A1086 Coast Road in Blackhall and struck a concrete fence before crashing into trees.

The inquest concluded it would never be known what had happened in the car to cause it to lose control and although speeding, there was no explanation why it came off the road.

Miss Swinton’s family pushed for a verdict of unlawful killing at an inquest into both deaths yesterday after a statement from her sister said Mr Hall, 23, had driven off with her in the car as they argued and she tried to get her mobile phone back from the vehicle.

Coroner Andrew Tweddle said he could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt that was the right verdict because of evidence available, and instead said both deaths were an accident.

After the hearing, a statement from the 22-year-old mum-of-one’s devastated parents John and Christine, from Attlee Crescent, Blackhall Rocks, said: “The verdict is a great shock and disappointment to us all, as our daughter’s death was both untimely and no way any fault of her own.”

They added: “Few can understand the hollow, wrenching and enduring agony parents silently suffer when a child pre-deceases them.”

They said Miss Swinton’s son, Jack, four, and the support they had been given had helped them through their agony.

The inquest at Chester-le-Street Magistrates’ Court heard the couple had been out in Hartlepool on Saturday, February 5, and returned to the home they shared in Hardwick Street, Blackhall, in separate taxis within the space of five minutes of each other at around 11.30pm.

Detective Constable Jane Aubrey, from Durham Police, read evidence from interviews with Miss Swinton’s sister Laura, who had been babysitting.

She told how there were tensions on their return and after they went outside, Miss Swinton, a call centre worker, reached into the car and shouted for her phone.

She said: “It happened so quickly, the door was shut, Michelle was in and the car sped off.”

Taxi driver Steve Owen had pulled up on the Coast Road to let out a passenger and said his vehicle shook as the car sped past and believed he saw two wheels come off the road.

PC Andy Edgar, who investigated the accident, said tyres only leave the road when on a bend, and the Coast Road was straight.

The car was not seen to swerve, but PC Edgar suggested it may have looked as if it had lifted if the car was rocking.

He said the car was travelling at more than 50mph, in the 30mph zone and believed Mr Hall’s driving was the cause of the collision.

He added had Mr Hall, a trained HGV driver from Arnold Avenue in Blackhall, survived he could have faced a charge of death by dangerous driving.

Checks were made for any of Miss Swinton’s prints on the steering wheel and handbrake, in case her actions gave any clues to the reason for the crash, but none were found.

Geoffrey Hall, Mr Hall’s father, queried if she could have pulled at his arm, and said while the couple’s relationship had been “beautiful” he admitted it had “issues”.

Post mortem examinations found Miss Swinton, who had been wearing a seatbelt, died of chest injuries, while Mr Hall, who had not been secured and had 95mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, 15 mg over the limit, had sustained a blunt head injury.