Woman killed by 60mph police car in Forest Road was pregnant, inquest hears

Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter, reports from the inquest into the 2019 death of Luam Gebremariam

credit Unsplash/Scott Rodgerson
Stock image (Credit: Unsplash/Scott Rodgerson)

A 26-year-old woman killed by a police car driving at more than three times the speed limit was pregnant, her inquest has revealed.

Luam Gebremariam died in Forest Road, Walthamstow, shortly after midnight on 23rd January 2019, after being hit hard enough to sever her spine.

Though she was widely described at the time of her death as an Eritrean refugee, her brother told an inquest at Barking Town Hall in June that she moved to the UK to pursue a fashion career.

Luam was hit by a police car driving at more than 60mph, in an area where the speed limit is 20mph, on its way to reports of someone threatening to fight people at The Duke pub in Wood Street, Walthamstow.

Her brother Kassa Habteab told the jury his sister, the youngest of four children, was “the most loved one of the family” and moved to the UK to “achieve her dream”.

He said: “She grew up in Ethiopia and was active, brilliant and entertained the family. She was excellent in her school and always studying hard.

“She was interested in the fashion world but could not get the chance to develop her interest with education because there was none.

“She was eager to help the family, as I was the only source of income since the death of the eldest child.”

He said his sister had “passed through a lot of hardship” to get to the “dream land” of the UK, travelling through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The court also heard from Jonathan Collins, who crossed the road just before Luam and narrowly avoided being hit.

He said that the car appeared to be some way away when he crossed and that the driver “must have put his foot down” as it accelerated rapidly.

He said: “A man was shouting something along the lines of ‘you killed her, you were driving way too fast’ and the officer responded something to the effect of ‘no, I was not’.

“It seemed as though they had a little confrontation, although I thought this was quite strange. Afterwards, the officer seemed to walk up and down the road for a bit like he was panicking.”

The driver, Sergeant Martin Delisa, was travelling to an urgent incident, meaning he was legally allowed to drive over the speed limit, and had his blue lights on.

He told the jury that, after Jonathan “bolted across the road” with “no prior indication”, he “followed his path with [his] head to make sure he was safe”.

Sounding shaken, he told the court: “As I moved my head back, that was when I saw her… I heard the bang [of her hitting the car], it was almost immediate.

“She had gone up on the front, my vision was completely obscured and she was looking through the windshield directly at me.”

Asked by East London coroner Graeme Irvine if he believed he could have done anything to avoid the crash, Sgt Delisa said he did not.

Dean Brown, of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said Sgt Delisa was driving at a “reasonable and proportionate” speed given the urgent call.

The jury also heard from PC Michael Seymour, a forensics collision investigator, who believed Luam would have been on the road for less than a second before the crash.

He said: “His reaction time was between a tenth of a second to a second after Miss [Luam] Gebremariam entered the road, certainly within the time we would expect of an alert driver.

“Due to the distance and time he had available, there was nothing he could do to avoid that collision.

“It must be noted, however, had Miss Gebremariam remained on the pavement and waited for the car to pass or used the pedestrian crossing, the collision would not have happened.”

An autopsy showed Luam was pregnant and would have lost consciousness immediately, due to severe internal injuries.

The court heard that this meant there was probably no form of CPR that could have saved her life.

After hearing the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of death by “road traffic collision”.