TWO boys were killed crossing a motorway on toy scooters after they made their way through a gap in fencing left by contractors, an inquest heard.
Kieran Coupe, seven, and his friend Guy Davies, six, of Blyth Close, Murdishaw, Runcorn, died instantly when they were hit by cars as they tried to cross from the central reservation of the motorway at 7.20pm on October 24, 2007.
Over the course of a three-day inquest, Cheshire coroner Nicholas Rheinberg heard how contractors Morgan Est – acting on behalf of United Utilities – had gone ahead with work to repair a leaking water pipe without informing the Highways Agency.
Contractors removed 30m of safety fencing lining the road and also ripped up trees and brambles which would have acted as a ‘natural barrier’.
The boys had been playing on their scooters near their homes, before wandering on to the adjacent Murdishaw Valley Park where the contractors had been working.
They were seen by witnesses at about 6.05pm and warned they should go home.
Mr Rheinberg said: “It’s possible that with darkness closing in, surrounded by woods on three sides, they saw the lights of the motorway through the open gap in the fence.”
The inquest found the boys had crossed on to the eastbound carriageway of the unlit M56 and that two panicked calls had been made to police saying children had been sighted on the hard shoulder.
But according to a Cheshire police professional standards investigation, the call handler who took the calls was inexperienced – and failed to tie down the location of the boys.
When the call was passed to police controllers they made the decision to downgrade the seriousness of the incident.
But the coroner said although this represented an ‘error in communication’ the decision had no impact on events, as the nearest police officer had decided to use his own discretion and race to the scene at 120mph anyway, arriving too late to save the boys.
Recording a narrative verdict, Mr Rheinberg said it was likely they gained access through the gap in the fence.
They had then had several near misses as they crossed back to the central reservation, but for an unknown reason had turned back again and been fatally hit by two cars.
He found that their deaths were unintentional.