Friends 'too scared of family' to report fatal crash to police
TWO men failed to tell police when a van driven by their friend crashed into a river, trapping him inside, because they were afraid of retribution from his family, an inquest heard.
Leigh Walters and Paul Berridge said they were passengers in the van driven by 14-year-old Patrick Piggott when it crashed into the River Derwent after driving along a path at up to 40 mph.
Berridge was later jailed for two years and Walters given 20 months' youth custody after both admitted being carried in a vehicle taken without consent.
Berridge told Derby and South Derbyshire Coroner's Court he had met Patrick and Walters in Alvaston Park on July 18, 2010.
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He got in the van and it was then driven down a cycle path at the side of the Derwent, before crashing into the water near Raynesway. Berridge and Walters got out but they could see no trace of Patrick.
When asked why he did not try to call the police, Berridge said: "I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't.
"I was being selfish more than anything. I thought I was going to prison.
"Patrick is from a family of travellers. Leigh was scared and so was I. I wasn't going to tell them that news."
Dawn Walters, Leigh's mother, said that Patrick's brother, Martin, had come round to look for Patrick at around 8am the next day.
She said: "He was threatening to put one of my sons in a body bag and that he was going to slit Leigh's throat from ear to ear."
Walters told the inquest: "When I saw Patrick's brother I told him I didn't know where he was. I just didn't know what to say to him."
PC Nigel Varney said no mechanical defects were found on the van and it was likely that erratic driving on the loose shale had led to it ending up in the river.
The inquest was told that Linda Prowse was almost hit by the van. She said that, after it had passed, she heard a bang and, when she went round the corner, the van was in the river. She saw two men manage to get out.
She said Berridge told her "We are all right – he has crashed the car," pointing at Walters. "We are OK."
In a statement read out to the court, she said: "In hindsight, I wish I had called the police but I didn't realise the seriousness of the situation."
An anonymous caller told police that Patrick was still in the van. His body was found the next day, July 19, in the back of the van after it was pulled from the river.
Coroner Dr Robert Hunter recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, with the cause of death being drowning.
He said: "On the evidence heard, it is not possible to state on the balance of probabilities who was driving."