In the mid-1990s, joyriding, or TWOCing (take without owners consent) as it was more commonly known, was a major issue throughout the country and Birmingham was no exception. In 1995, there were over 6,000 cases in central Birmingham alone, so the Police there had plenty of experience in dealing with the crime and knew many of the culprits.
Dealing with joyriders was a double-edged sword for the Police as the car thieves gave little regard for their own safety, or that of anyone else, so to that extent, they needed to be pursued and stopped. That, however, was one of the key reasons the joyriders stole the car in the first place… the thrill of the chase.
This story was relayed by a Police Constable who had been in the force for just over two years at the time of the incident. He’d working on foot patrol and as a passenger/partner in the car for more experienced officers. This incident occurs shortly after this PC had passed his Police driving course and was able to drive a panda car - in this case, an Austin Maestro.
Joyriding was such an issue at this time that when a call came in for the dispatcher, all available cars in the area would respond and that’s what happened on this night. The panda’s radio crackled into life to say that there was stolen car heading out of the city and our PC and his partner set off in the direction of travel.
The stolen car was also being pursued by two Austin Rover Montego traffic cars, which were much more powerful than the panda, therefore had a much better chance of catching it. However, travelling in the direction of the chase, the stolen car came into the panda's view, closely followed by the Traffic cars which had their lights and sirens blaring. The panda joined in the high-speed convoy and followed behind until the pursuit arrived at a notoriously treacherous stretch of road.
Both officers in the panda car had a good view of the incident as it unfolded. The stolen car clipped the curb, its rear wheel left the road and at high-speed, the car flipped multiple times before slamming, roof first, into a lamp-post. Due to the force, the car fell back, righting itself onto its wheels, just as the concrete lamp post, as they were in those days, fell due to the damage it had sustained. Rather than falling with the flow of the impact, it toppled back onto the wrecked car, which had already sustained significant damage. As a result, the car roof was flattened.
Seconds later, the panda car officers were astonished to see someone climb from the front passenger-side of the wreck and run directly in front of their car. Illuminated by the headlights, they got a good view of culprit and clearly identify him as a known criminal. The PC driving the panda knew him only too well, having arrested him a few weeks previous on similar charges.
In situations such as this, the protocol is to tend to any injured people and preserve life. Thoughts went instantly to the driver of the crushed vehicle, so the driver of the panda car radioed in that the suspect, giving his name, had got away on foot and was heading toward a nearby recreational area.
As the PCs from the panda made their way to wrecked vehicle, they informed the traffic officers, that were now out of their Montego’s, that they’d radioed the controller about the guy that had got away… and that’s when the confusion began. ‘There’s no way that anyone is walking out of that’ said one of the Traffic team, to which the panda team objected, again, naming the young man they had seen fleeing the scene.
It would be 15 minutes before the fire brigade were on hand to cut off the roof and properly assess the extent of the driver’s injuries. As the mangled roof was cut away, there was only one person in the vehicle and they had sadly not survived the crash. At the scene, his identity was announced. The panda team were shaken to the core – the deceased driver was the man they had seen running from the crash. This was corroborated by both PCs in the panda and 25 years later, they still stand by their word.
Due to the sensitive nature of this story, locations and names have been omitted. For a more details account, written in the first person from the panda driver’s perspective, read Andy Gilbert’s Credible Witness – Paranormal Police Stories.