Sunday 16 June 2019

Natasha Carruthers crash death case upgraded to murder investigation three days after incident - court

Natasha Carruthers
Natasha Carruthers

Michael Donnelly

The case of a young woman who died in a car crash after a high-speed chase in Co Fermanagh was upgraded to a murder investigation within three days, a court has heard.

Natasha Carruthers (23), a mother-of-one from Co Fermanagh, was killed in the accident just before midnight on October 7, 2017.

Police initially thought that her death was the result of a "single vehicle road traffic accident" as there was "no obvious reason" as to how her Vauxhall lost control on a straight stretch of road and smashed into a tree.

The blue Corsa was being driven by Nathan Phair (23), from Castlebalfour Park, Lisnaskea, as he was attempting to evade Cavan man Padraig Toher in his black BMW over an alleged failed drug deal the previous evening.

While Phair denies, among other charges, causing Natasha's death by dangerous driving, Toher (28), from Bawnboy, Ballyconnell, whose car "bumped and nudged" the Corsa as they raced along the rural road between Letterbreen and Derrylin, has admitted her manslaughter.

At Dungannon Crown Court yesterday a police inspector told defence QC Brian Macartney that by October 11 she had noted in her log "intelligence reports" indicated the "presence of another vehicle as having caused the collision and the increasing complexity of the investigation requires additional specialist knowledge and resources".

Mr Macartney had put it to the inspector the case upgrade came about because of suspicions "the people in the BMW had deliberately come into contact" with the Corsa and that this was a possible way "of causing the accident".

The inspector agreed that "there were a number of lines of investigation", before the lawyer then added that the accident investigation "then proceeded as a full-blown murder inquiry" and was handed over to a major investigation team.

Earlier the court heard that although the two cars were captured on CCTV at various points during the chase, afterwards Toher's BMW was never picked up by any security cameras and looked to have "disappeared".

A detective who viewed the various CCTV clips, some 20 minutes before and after picking up the two speeding cars, said he found only one other innocent vehicle captured on the footage.

However, the officer told the defence he was not aware that the reason why the CCTV clips were discovered in the first place was because a passenger in the BMW had alerted police to the route the cars had travelled.

Mr Macartney also revealed those in the BMW "were CCTV aware" and knew which routes were covered by cameras and which were not. The officer said he was "not provided with that information" and that it would have nothing to do "with my tasking", which was to review all of the CCTV footage and took him over a weekend to do so.

Defence counsel then suggested the reason why police had found no footage of the BMW after the fatal crash was because they had taken a "route where they knew there would be no CCTV... they were very cute".

The detective later said while he was not briefed about any possible contact between the BMW and Corsa, he was aware this may have happened

However, again, while not part of his remit, if he had come across any such footage, "I would have commented upon it". The trial continues on Tuesday.

Belfast Telegraph

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