Dad’s frustration as no charges are brought after son’s road death horror

Floral tributes left in memory of boxer Karl Bennett, 17, who died in a crash on Sunday, May 17, on the A182 South Hetton Road.
Floral tributes left in memory of boxer Karl Bennett, 17, who died in a crash on Sunday, May 17, on the A182 South Hetton Road.

A grieving dad has revealed his frustration as to why criminal charges could not be brought against those involved in a horrific road smash in which his son died.

Christopher Bennett’s 17-year-old son Karl was killed in May 2015 when the Ford Mondeo he was a passenger in left the A182 road in South Hetton and overturned in a farmer’s field.

Karl Bennett, 17, who died in a car accident in May 2015.

Karl Bennett, 17, who died in a car accident in May 2015.

Karl, a Northern Gas Networks apprentice who lived in Easington Lane, was pronounced dead at the scene after suffering a “catastrophic” head injury.

Also in the car with Karl were lifelong pals Reece Todd and Anthony Rowntree, both then aged 18, who were both hospitalised after being injured in the accident.

An inquest into Karl’s death, held at Crook Civic Centre, heard that following the crash, officers from Durham Constabulary looked to bring charges in relation to causing death by dangerous driving.

The hearing was told that Mr Todd denied being able to remember if he was driving or not before being involved in the crash, although Mr Rowntree initially said in interview by police and a written statement that Mr Todd had been driving.

Karl Bennett's dad Christopher with his partner and Karl's stepmum Katherine.

Karl Bennett's dad Christopher with his partner and Karl's stepmum Katherine.

Inspector Harry Simpson, of Cleveland and Durham Specialist Operations Unit, said that after sending the case for prosecution to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) officials, they were asked if Mr Rowntree could clarify part of his account of the incident.

Insp Simpson told the court that when he tried to contact Mr Rowntree via his solicitor to speak to him again, he was told that Mr Rowntree no longer wanted to provide evidence as part of the investigation.

Last month, the Echo revealed how police had confirmed no charges were pending over Karl’s death.

After the inquest, Mr Bennett said it was “highly distressing” that the identity of the driver remained unproven.

Mr Rowntree’s statement from his solicitor read: “In relation to the statement I provided to the police, I had just left hospital and I felt pressured into giving a written account.

“On reflection, I wish I had never provided a written account to the police.

“I wish to have no further involvement in this matter.”

Insp Simpson told the hearing: “It became apparent to us that the only way to progress this investigation would hinge heavily on the evidence of the people who were in the car.”

The inquest heard that forensic evidence taken from the scene also proved inconclusive as to who was driving at the time of the accident.

The three pals had bought the 2002 Mondeo, which had more than 100,000 miles on it, for £250 just the day before after looking on the Gumtree website.

A witness spoke of seeing the car travelling on the A182 at high speed shortly after midnight on May 17.

Evidence provided by forensic collision investigator Nick Downing found that the car was mechanically sound, but that its front two tyres were “very highly inflated” which he added would affect the steering capabilities of the car.

Pc Downing said that from examining tyre marks on the road, the car was approximately travelling at 76mph but could have been going at a top speed of 83mph.

The car left the carriageway before hitting two fence posts which were part of a gate and tumbling into the field.

Rapid response paramedic Helen Briton was first on the scene from the emergency services and told the inquest that after seeing Mr Todd “soaked in blood” as he walked near the car with a head wound, she had to remove a fence post from the driver side window of the car to get to Mr Rowntree, whose arm had been trapped, and Karl.

Of Mr Rowntree, she said: “He didn’t have any conversation with me but he was conscious throughout.”

The inquest heard the piece of wood which was removed from the car by Ms Briton could not be found when officers went back to inspect the scene some time later.

Both survivors were taken to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, which is where they were initially interviewed by police.

After the inquest, Christopher Bennett, 45, who was in court alongside several other members of Karl’s family, spoke of his disappointment at the outcome of the investigation.

“One of the people in the car, by retracting his statement, has caused a huge problem for the police,” he said.

“I find it highly distressing that the two other occupants of the car, who grew up with Karl from being at primary school and were fantastic friends, can not say who was driving.

“We can’t bring Karl back through anything, but someone should be held responsible for my son’s death.

“If you are going be man enough to get behind the wheel of a car then you should be responsible for your actions.”

Christopher added: “The verdict was what everyone expected it was going to be.

“We are just frustrated that it has gone no further.”

Karl, who was working as a design technician in Sunderland, had been an amateur boxer and had trained with the former Hetton Boxing Club.

He was just one week away from his 18th birthday at the time of his death.

Summing up, County Durham assistant coroner Crispin Oliver said: “I can fully appreciate how people can form views about what has happened here.

“I have to work on what is evidential and ultimately, what I will conclude is a fairly stark conclusion, that Karl died in a road collision.

“I propose to include findings that he died a 12.20am on May 17, 2015, on the A182 at South Hetton when the car that he was passenger in left the road while travelling at excessive speed. It has not been able to identify the driver because of lack of evidence.

“I don’t think we will know the whole story beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The evidence has perhaps not been as useful as it might have been.”