A SOLDIER and his girlfriend died after their car veered off the road as they argued after a night out.
Jamie Hall, who was behind the wheel, and Michelle Swinton were both over the drink-drive limit when the vehicle careered off the A1086 Coast Road, in Blackhall, and hit a concrete fence before crashing into trees.
An inquest has concluded it would never be known what had happened in the car to cause it to lose control and although speeding, there was no explanation why it came off the road.
Miss Swinton’s family pushed for a verdict of unlawful killing at the inquest yesterday after a statement from her sister said Mr Hall, 23, had driven off with her in the car as they rowed and she tried to get her mobile phone back from the vehicle.
Coroner Andrew Tweddle said he could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt that was the right verdict because of evidence available, and instead said both deaths were an accident.
After the hearing, a statement from the 22-year-old mum-of-one’s devastated parents John and Christine, from Attlee Crescent, Blackhall Rocks, said: “The verdict is a great shock and disappointment to us all, as our daughter’s death was both untimely and no way any fault of her own.”
They said they do not believe she would have got into Mr Hall’s Seat Ibiza willingly and raised concerns about the mental health of Mr Hall, who was a lance bombardier with the 4th Regiment of the Royal Artillery.
They added: “Few can understand the hollow, wrenching and enduring agony parents silently suffer when a child predeceases them.”
The inquest at Chester-le-Street Magistrates’ Court heard the couple had been out in Hartlepool on February 5, and returned home within the space of five minutes of each other at about 11.30pm.
Detective Constable Jane Aubrey, from Durham Police, read evidence from interviews with Miss Swinton’s sister Laura, who had been babysitting.
She told how there were tensions on their return and after they went outside, Michelle Swinton, a call centre worker of Hardwick Street, Blackhall, reached into the car and shouted for her phone.
She said: “It happened so quickly, the door was shut, Michelle was in and the car sped off.”
PC Andy Edgar, who investigated the accident, said the car was travelling at more than 50mph, in the 30mph zone and believed Mr Hall’s driving was the cause of the collision.
He added had Mr Hall, a trained HGV driver from Arnold Avenue, Blackhall, survived, he could have faced a charge of death by dangerous driving.
Checks were made for any of Miss Swinton’s prints on the steering wheel and handbrake, in case her actions gave any clues to the reason for the crash, but none were found.
Geoffrey Hall, Mr Hall’s father, queried if she could have pulled at his arm, and said while the couple’s relationship had been “beautiful” he admitted it had issues.
Post-mortem examinations found Miss Swinton, who had been wearing a seatbelt, died of chest injuries, while Mr Hall, who had not been secured, had sustained a blunt head injury.
Mr Hall had 95mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, 15 mg over the limit,