Police would have let tragic Karl go, inspector tells cliff-death inquest

Karl Carson fell to his death after fleeing from police custody.
Karl Carson fell to his death after fleeing from police custody.

A dad found dead at the bottom of cliffs after he escaped from custody might still be alive “if his friends had not done what they had done”, a police chief told an inquest.

Karl Carson, of Arnold Street, Boldon Colliery, had been placed in an unmarked police car and was under arrest as officers investigated reports of a fight in the car park of the Marsden Grotto pub, in South Shields, in the early hours of July 6 last year, where he had been at an engagement party.

But while officers attempted to restrain one of his friends, the 26-year-old dad-of-two - who was not handcuffed at the time – climbed out of the car and ran off. His body was discovered at the foot of cliffs a short while later.

An inquest into his death heard Mr Carson had left the scene but had been tracked down by officers near the Minchella’s ice cream booth, on the Coast Road, and asked to wait in the back of their unmarked police car while they established what had happened.

Mr Carson, who played football for Boldon CA, had then been placed under arrest after saying he wanted to leave the car because police were still gathering facts at the scene.

The police officers dealing with him, Pc Donna Foley and Pc Peter Turnbull, say they were forced to arrest Mr Carson’s friend, Shaun Carroll after he became aggressive.

While they were attempting to restrain him on the ground, Mr Carson got out of the locked car by winding down the manual window and running off towards the Grotto pub.

A second friend, Daniel Lydon, ran off towards South Shields town centre.

Inspector Gary Dickson told the hearing at Gateshead Civic Centre that the “sad truth” is that Mr Carson may still be alive if it hadn’t been for the actions of his friends.

He said: “Karl was probably the most compliant and least aggressive, he just waited with officers. The family don’t want to hear this, but if his friends had not done what they had done, we would have opened the door and thanked Karl and sent him on his way. He could have gone on to continue his night out in Shields, and that’s the sad truth of it.”

Insp Dickson said that he had been the first to arrive on scene at the pub and had spoken to a female, who told him that Mr Carson was responsible for the fight.

He also said the woman gave him a description of Mr Carson and told him which way he had “run off”.

The officer said that is why he had sent Pc Foley and Pc Turnbull to locate him while he stayed on the scene trying to establish what had happened.

He told South Tyneside coroner Terence Carney that he had given the order to Pc Foley to arrest Mr Carson on suspicion of assault after he was no longer willing to stay with them voluntarily as he was still “not satisfied” that Mr Carson was not involved.

But the inspector also said that after speaking to people at the pub, he decided to de-arrest Mr Carson as it was clear he was not responsible for the fight, but that meanwhile, officers had put out the emergency transmission that he had escaped from custody.

He said: “I’ve considered this for a long time, if Karl Carson had sat in the car for one minute longer, we would have opened the door and said, ‘thanks very much’.”

He explained that officers were searching for Mr Carson after he escaped custody because he needed to be told that he was no longer wanted, and that he was just about to call off the search when his body was found at the foot of the cliffs, at 1.03am.

Insp Dickson said: “I was just about to call off the search believing Karl had left the area when I heard a call from an officer over the radio saying he needed an ambulance as a male had been found at the foot of the cliffs and wasn’t breathing.”

The hearing continues.