Handcuffed man died in Southampton river escaping police

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Reece Hillier
Police said Reece Hillier was detained for driving through a red light

A man died when he ran away in handcuffs from police attempting to arrest him and entered a river, possibly to throw a police dog off his scent, an inquest has heard.

Reece Hillier, 22, was detained by a patrol officer in Southampton on 12 January after running a red light.

He was found dead two months later nearby in the River Itchen.

Coroner Grahame Short said the police’s failure to record him as missing “made no difference to the outcome”.

PC Aimie Franklin told the Winchester inquest Mr Hillier was “nervous” after she pulled over his Honda Civic in Swaythling at about 21:50 GMT.

She said she smelled cannabis in the car and put his hands in cuffs in front of his body for her own safety, but he “broke free”.

Mr Hillier jumped off a 4m (13ft) wall on to a dual carriageway and then scaled a fence to cross an electrified rail track, the inquest heard.

Flowers and balloons, River Itchen, east of Woodmill bridge
Image captionFloral tributes and balloons were left at the scene

A police helicopter and dog search found no trace of him. A knife, hammer and three bags of cannabis were later found in the car.

The father of one’s body was discovered a third of a mile (500m) away on 17 March, floating face down on top of weeds and branches.

A toxicology report found traces of cocaine and cannabis in his system.

Det Insp Kate Gunson said police had breached protocol by not treating Mr Hillier as a missing person, even when his family immediately raised concerns about his disappearance.

River Itchen, west of Woodmill bridge
Image captionThe body was found in the River Itchen at Woodmill

The coroner said Mr Hillier probably drowned on the night of his escape and the police failure made “no difference in practical terms to the eventual outcome”.

He said: “I can’t say whether he fell in the water or tried to cross the river in an attempt to throw off those chasing him. He may have been aware of the police dog.

“He would have had great difficulty in getting out of the river… in part because of the handcuffs.”

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

In statements, Mr Hillier’s mother Lisa Lawler said her son had “mental health issues” but “his personality could light up a room”.

“His decision to try and escape the police cost him his life,” she said.

“At no point in the nine weeks did the police show any interest in allowing us to report him as missing.”

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