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Thursday, 30 October 2014

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Ex-convict jumped to his death after high-speed car crash in Carlisle

A former prisoner jumped to his death from a bridge to escape the police minutes after a high-speed crash, an inquest heard.

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Joseph Gilheaney: Was trying to flee from police

Joseph Gilheaney, 30, of Moorclose, Workington, suffered “unsurvivable” head injuries when he plunged 23ft from the parapet of Caldew Bridges in Carlisle on July 1, 2011.

Mr Gilheaney, released from prison in April of the same year, never regained consciousness and died two days later in Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

His two terrified passengers were left in the car as he fled the scene on foot before vaulting over the parapet.

Minutes before he jumped, shocked witnesses reported seeing him driving eastbound down the westbound dual carriageway from Wigton Road to Bridge Street. Police estimated he reached speeds of up to 70mph as he drove into oncoming traffic on the approach to Castle Way.

He narrowly avoided several vehicles and a cyclist before clipping one car and ploughing into another.

The force of the crash was such that PC Dugald Cunningham, who had been following in a marked police car, “assumed several people would be dead.”

But what he saw was Mr Gilheaney getting out of the car before scuffling with a passerby on some raised flower beds next to the road.

He told an inquest into Mr Gilheaney’s death: “I was shouting for him to stand still. At no point did he look at me. I assumed he was going to run down to the Viaduct Estate Road but he went straight towards the wall and jumped off.”

There was some disagreement as to whether PC Cunningham had pointed his Taser at Mr Gilheaney before he jumped. An off-duty policewoman, PC Rachael McCleary, was certain he had. But PC Cunningham insisted he had been unable to release it from its holster. A subsequent test confirmed the weapon had not been discharged.

Gilheaney had been living in temporary accommodation at The Bowling Green Hostel, Lowther Street, Carlisle, when the accident happened

The inquest heard Mr Gilheaney had been at his girlfriend’s house on Avon Close, Morton, with two of their friends. Mr Gilheaney, who was subject to a curfew, offered to give them a lift into the city centre on his way back to the Bowling Green Hostel. This was at around 10.45pm, 15 minutes before his curfew came into force, the inquest heard.

Mr Gilheaney had drunk lager before he set off but his blood alcohol level was under the legal drink-drive limit.

The inquest in Cockermouth heard that Gilheaney had on a previous occasion tried to escape from the police.

In a read statement, Peter Schollick, a probation officer, said: “During an informal chat Joseph started to tell me about me about when he had to run away from the police to avoid being captured. This happened in or around Workington, and it involved jumping in darkness from a railway bridge and landing awkwardly. He had badly damaged an ankle.

He seemed to be sincere but there was a degree of bravado indicated in that he would sooner risk harming himself than allow the police to capture him.”

Deputy coroner Robert Chapman is expected to record his verdict later today.

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