Father ‘paid a very high price’ when he died in a crash near Church Lawford, hears inquest

Flowers left at the scene where Richard Lilley crashed near Church Lawford.
Flowers left at the scene where Richard Lilley crashed near Church Lawford.

A coroner said a father ‘paid a very high price’ when he died in a road traffic collision near Church Lawford after speeding and being two and a half times over the drink driving limit.

On Sunday, September 4 2016, Richard Lilley, 43, of Harlequin Court, Whitley, Coventry, died at about at 3.20am as a result of a road traffic collision (RTC) on the A428.

The inquest, which took place today (Wednesday, November 29) at the Warwickshire Justice Centre in Leamington, heard how Mr Lilley’s car hit a tree and then went up the embankment next to the railway bridge in Coventry Road.

Mr Lilley’s parents George and Bridget Lilley and his son Ethan Lilley attended the inquest.

The post-mortem established that Mr Lilley had died of positional asphyxiation as a result of the crash.

A toxicology report also revealed that the 43-year-old was two and a half times over the legal drink drive limit.

The incident was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for investigation because a police officer was involved.

The inquest heard how Mr Lilley had been travelling at least 74pmph when he went around the tight bend along Coventry Road and then hit a tree and ended up the embankment next to the railway bridge.

PC Ian Took, who is a forensic collision investigator with West Midlands Police, said: “The car left the road and came to rest by the railway bridge. There was no evidence that the car hit the railway bridge and the car was found upside down.

“The damage to the car is consistent with what you expect to see in a motorway collision at 70mph.”

Mr Lilley, who worked in road maintenance, was spotted driving his blue BMW vehicle ‘erratically’ by Pc Christopher Betchelder around 3am.

Pc Betchelder, who is based at Rugby police station, was sat in a marked Vauxhall Astra police car at the traffic lights on the A428 Lawford Road when he saw the BMW turn onto the road from Oliver Street using the wrong side of the road and travelling ‘faster than the 30mph speed limit’.

The officer followed Mr Lilley, who then stopped at the bus stop opposite Townsend Lane. When Pc Betchelder stopped behind the BMW and began to get out of the car the BMW moved off.

Pc Betchelder said: “He accelerated off and was a few car lengths in front and he began to accelerate more when I put the blue lights on. He was continuing to pull away so I contacted the control room.

“The BMW disappeared out of sight when I was having a conversation with control and continued along the A428 towards Coventry.”

The inquest heard that during Pc Betchelder’s conversation with the control room he asked whether he should stop or keep eyes on the car to which he was told “keep eyeballs on him. Do not pursue. Do not pursue”.

Pc Betchelder is known as a standard driver, which means he should not be engaging in pursuits unless otherwise instructed.

Pc Betchelder said: “I decided to keep eyeballs on him as I had a feeling he was a possible danger to himself and others. I felt if I had turned around or stopped and something happened I might have a case to answer for. As police we have a duty to protect people and the public and I felt by carrying on that was what I was trying to do.”

According to Keith Lloyd, who works for Continental Automotive who examined the black box data from the police car, that while attempting to follow the BMW the police car reached a top speed of approximately 92mph and during this period the car’s blue lights were off.

Pc Betchelder said when he was travelling down the road to follow the BMW he had to brake because of the tree in the road. He then found the BMW next to the railway bridge and called the control room to send emergency services. He then attempted to get the driver door open.

After the arrival of more police officers the driver door was opened but ‘life was pronounced extinct’.

During the inquest his actions were called into question.

As a result of the IPCC investigation, Pc Betchelder was recommended for misconduct for breaking force policy of going above the maximum prescribed speed of 90mph.

After attending a misconduct hearing it was ruled that Pc Betchelder had ‘no case to answer for misconduct’.

Warwickshire Coroner Sean McGovern ruled that Mr Lilley had died as a result of the crash.

He said: “Richard Lilley died last year on September 4 at 43 years of age. He died at approximately 3.20am in his car on A428 on Coventry Road in Long Lawford. The post-mortem report says that he died as a result of a road traffic collision and of positional asphyxiation. The blood tests shows that the amount of alcohol would have had an effect on his driving.

“Mr Lilley lost control of his car which went off the road onto the embankment.”

When addressing Mr Lilley’s family, he said: “You have lost a son and you have lost a father. Your lives changed dramatically last September. All I can say to you, no matter the circumstances, is that I give my condolences to you Mr and Mrs Lilley and to you Ethan.

“Mr Lilley paid a very high price and you have also paid a very high price.”

Warwickshire Coroner Sean McGovern also highlighted in the inquest that he has concerns about future deaths in regards to the ‘ambiguous’ response given to Pc Betchelder.

“I have got in my mind a report of future deaths. It was ambiguous whatever way you look at it. I will send a report to the Chief Constable of Warwickshire Police.”