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Onese Power: Inquest re-launches two decades after motorcyclist's death

PUBLISHED: 18:51 25 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:14 26 February 2019

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

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Fresh evidence was heard for the first time in more than 20 years today surrounding the death of father-of-three Onese Power, who died in 1997 after a high-speed police pursuit.

Onese Power, who died in August 1997. Picture: Ann PowerOnese Power, who died in August 1997. Picture: Ann Power

Fresh evidence was heard for the first time in more than 20 years today surrounding the death of father-of-three Onese Power, who died in 1997 after a high-speed police pursuit.

Family members, supporters, and current and ex-police officers were present at St Pancras Coroner’s Court for the start of an anticipated two-week exploration of the circumstances of Mr Powers’ death.

The painter and decorator, from Shepherd’s Bush, died at the Royal Free Hospital aged 51 on August 17, 1997.

An inquest at the same court in February 1998 had returned an open verdict, but the verdict was quashed in late 2017 and a fresh inquest ordered, with a jury.

St Pancras Coroner's Court, where the first inquest into Mr Power's death took place in 1998, and where the new inquest has now begun. Picture: Polly HancockSt Pancras Coroner's Court, where the first inquest into Mr Power's death took place in 1998, and where the new inquest has now begun. Picture: Polly Hancock

On the morning of his death Mr Power’s motorbike had collided with a bollard at the junction of Royal College Street and St Pancras Way.

On the first day of proceedings, Stephen Collier, the then-PC driving the police car involved in the chase, was quizzed by coroner Mary Hassell and lawyers over how and why the pursuit had unfolded.

Mr Powers’ widow Ann Power read an impassioned statement to the jury in which she said it had taken “a long battle and a strong will” to secure another inquest.

She said: “When Onese died, a part of us died that day. The pain may ease with time but the wound never closes.

“We weren’t all together that tragic Sunday morning, but we experienced feelings of foreboding before we knew something was wrong. We all felt some dreadful unease without actually knowing he had died.”

Mr Power had been driving along the Camden Road when he was spotted by two officers attached to Islington Police Station, who were in a stationary police car at the top of York Way.

The driver, Stephen Collier, said he and colleague Steven Heatley had followed Mr Power because he appeared to be driving at 50 to 60mph in a 30mph zone.

In their statements both officers had described Mr Power as “coloured”.

When pressed by Sean Horstead, the lawyer representing the family, on whether Mr Power’s being “a black man, on a big bike, distinctively dressed” in a white vest had been a contributing factor to the pursuit, he insisted speeding was the only reason.

The pursuit took them up the Camden Road, along Tufnell Park Road, down Fortess Road and through residential streets at speeds of between 40 and 80mph.

Both vehicles ran through multiple sets of red lights, with Mr Collier admitting other vehicles had “swerved” to get out of the way.

Going over speed bumps in a residential road also led to Mr Power being thrown into the air while keeping his grip on the handlebars.

At coroners’ court, Mr Collier was reminded of the then-official guidelines on high-speed pursuits, which stated: “If a pursuit appears to be becoming too dangerous either the driver or the controller shall terminate it.”

But he said in his view it had never become too dangerous, denying that any “red mist” had descended. Mr Power, he said, only seemed to lose control of the bike after a bend in Royal College Street.

He said the bike had “slid” and its rider appeared to be “struggling” before it struck a bollard on the corner of St Pancras Way “at quite a substantial speed”.

The bike flew off to the left, he said, and Mr Power was thrown forwards, hitting the next bollard in front before falling to the ground.

Mr Collier said: “I believe my controller called an ambulance. I went over to him and could see that his helmet was still on and that his airways were clear. There was no sign of any obvious bleeding. I didn’t think there was anything else I could do.”

The statements he and PC Heatley gave after the incident were also questioned, with Mr Horstead telling him: “Ninety-six per cent of the words are identical.

“This is a case of you doing each other’s homework. You colluded in the provision of your statements.”

Mr Collier said they had written their statements together and claimed that would have been acceptable at the time, saying: “Things have changed since then.”

In her statement, Mrs Power also said her husband was acutely safety-conscious, as an avid handyman and keen fixer of cars and bikes.

He had been largely brought up single-handedly by his mother and started work as a panel beater and car sprayer before moving into decorating.

Mrs Power said: “Because of his somewhat difficult childhood he always wanted a good, suitable family life and did his best.

“He was no stranger to power vehicles. What he didn’t know about cars and bikes wasn’t worth knowing.

“As a father and husband, safety for himself and others was paramount. He was a very skilled rider and very conscious about not getting hurt.”

Further witnesses will be called in the coming days and the jury is expected to reach a narrative conclusion at the end of next week.

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