Young man died after entering river handcuffed in bid to evade police, inquest hears


A man died after entering a river while still handcuffed to evade police dogs, an inquest has heard.

Reece Hillier was fleeing officers who had attempted to arrest him for possessing cannabis.

He was stop-checked by police after he jumped a red light in Southampton, Hampshire, on the evening of 12 January. 

The inquest heard that when police constable Aimie Franklin, of Hampshire Police, opened the door of the Honda Civic after Hillier pulled over in a McDonald’s car park, she smelled cannabis. He agreed to be put in handcuffs.

But the Winchester inquest heard that as Ms Franklin called for backup to search the car, he overpowered her in a struggle and ran off.

The officer said that she pursued Hillier but had felt it was unsafe for her to climb over a high wall to follow him.

She said that her colleague, police constable Tom Stark, continued the pursuit while she returned to secure the car and found two phones, a knife and cannabis inside.

Mr Stark told the inquest that he climbed over the 4m high wall but stopped chasing Hillier after he believed he had crossed an electrified railway line.

Detective Inspector Kate Gunson said a police dog unit was called in which picked up a scent but this was soon lost and added a police helicopter used heat sensors to search the area but no trace of Hillier was found.

The inquest heard that the body of Hillier, with handcuffs still on, was found on 17 March in the River Itchen at Woodmill Outdoor Activity Centre by bystander Daniel Hall who had been magnet fishing for scrap metal.

A post-mortem showed he had cannabis and cocaine in his system.

Coroner Grahame Short recorded a verdict of accidental death and said he believed Hillier either entered the river to avoid detection by the police dogs or had fallen into the water in the darkness as he fled the police.

Speaking at the inquest, he said: “I find that he entered the water but couldn’t get out and that was at least in part due to the fact his hands were bound.’’

He added: “I am afraid Reece died alone, unable to get out of the water. This was a tragic outcome.

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“The reason he came to be in the river was due to his own actions. I am desperately sorry for his family, his friends, and I wish to express my sympathies to you all.’’

Hillier’s family said in a statement: “Reece was an energetic and lively character from childhood to adulthood. His personality could light up a room. Always dancing and singing, he loved music and was very talented.”

They continued: “As Reece got older he made some poor life choices but he had a good heart. His decision to try and escape the police cost him his life and it broke all of our family’s hearts. The fact Reece lay undiscovered for nine weeks will haunt us forever.”

Press Association


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