Onese Power: ‘Intensity’ of police pursuit contributed to death

Father-of-three Onese Power, who died in August 1997. Picture: Ann Power

Father-of-three Onese Power, who died in August 1997. Picture: Ann Power - Credit: Archant

A second inquest into the death of a father-of-three who suffered fatal injuries in a high-speed police pursuit concluded today, with a jury finding the way the chase unfolded contributed to the death.

Onese Power died in hospital on August 17, 1997 after coming off his motorbike being pursued by two Metropolitan Police officers through Islington and Camden.

In February 1998 a coroner returned an open verdict on the case, which was quashed by the High Court in December 2017 after almost two decades of sustained campaigning by his family.

In February 1998 a coroner returned an open verdict on the case, which was quashed by the High Court in December 2017 after almost two decades of sustained campaigning by his family.

The fresh inquest opened at St Pancras Coroners’ Court on February 25 this year and the jury delivered a narrative conclusion this afternoon.

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They found that Onese Power had died in a road traffic collision, hitting a metal bollard at the junction of Royal College Street and St Pancras Way at 10.48am.

They noted: “The contributory factor to the road traffic collision was the duration and intensity of the pursuit.

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“The reasons for this were two fold: firstly, Mr Power’s decision not to stop his vehicle and thus end the pursuit, owing to his disqualification from driving in June 1997, and the motorcycle’s tampered registration plate.

“Secondly, the initiation of the pursuit [by police] was proportionate and in line with applicable guidelines. However, once a pursuit is engaged, ongoing assessment of risk is required. Further escalation of risk, particularly from Patshull Road onwards, was inadequately assessed and not communicated to the central command centre. This meant that the pursuit continued.”

They concluded that there had been no contact between the police car and Mr Power’s bike, but there was “insufficient evidence” to determine for certain whether the proximity of the car to the motorbike was a contributing factor to the crash.

Speaking after proceedings were formally closed, Ann Power, Mr Power’s widow, said: “As far as I’m concerned, my husband was chased to his death.

“In the words of the police driver, ‘The intention was for it to stop, however that was gonna happen. I mean there was always the possibility that he would crash.’ Make of that what you will.”

Mr Power, who was 51 at the time of his death, was a painter and decorator who lived and worked in Shepherds Bush. His family described him as a “loving, protective and supportive” family man, who was well-known and liked in the neighbourhood.

In the first three days of proceedings at St Pancras, coroner Mary Hassell received evidence from serving and ex-police officers and witnesses about the events of more than 21 years ago.

The jury heard that the pursuit, which was initiated by police because they believed Mr Power was speeding, ran through four sets of red lights, reached speeds of 80mph and saw Mr Power nearly come off his bike several times while going over speed bumps in Patshull Road.

Officers were repeatedly pressed on whether or not a “red mist” had descended during the chase, which they denied.

It was also heard later that the police driver nearly knocked over a member of the public on a bicycle, but this was not relayed back to the control room.

In contrast to the original hearing, this inquest also heard evidence of Onese slow down before the fatal crash, and that he was likely to have been doing a maximum speed of 59mph about 70 metres from the collision, braking very hard to slow down to probably 32mph.

It was indicated during the inquest that if police had terminated the pursuit before Royal College Street, the death would have been prevented.

Without legal funding at the original inquest, Ann Power had represented the family on her own, while an experienced barrister had acted for the police.

In 1998 police had refused to disclose witness statements to her, and it is alleged did not give her the chance to properly question officers on their “identical” accounts of the pursuit and collision.

Selen Cavcav, a senior caseworker for the charity Inquest, said: “If it wasn’t for the determination and tireless efforts of this family, the file containing the police’s version of events of what happened would have continued to gather dust, never to be opened again.

“Twenty-two years on, this inquest has provided the public an opportunity to scrutinise the circumstances of how Onese, who was described as a ‘coloured man’ by the police officer pursuing him, came to lose his life. These fresh findings highlight the importance of legal aid for bereaved families at inquests.”

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