The sister of one of the Cardiff car crash victims says she is ‘disappointed’ by how long police took to respond to the incident and believes they ‘should have acted straight away’.
Rafel Jeanne, 24, and friends Eve Smith and Darcy Ross, both 21, died in the collision, while Sophie Russon, 20, and Shane Loughlin, 32, remain in a critical condition after being left in the wreckage for nearly two days before being eventually found.
Mr Jeanne’s sister Ffion Actie said there could have been a ‘different outcome’ had officers began their search sooner.
‘I heard the girls’ mums had contacted [police] but it had taken several hours [to respond]. I feel they should have acted straight away,’ she told Sky News. ‘I like to think that if [police] got there sooner, it would have been a different outcome.’
Gwent Police and South Wales Police have now insisted they located the wreckage of the car using a helicopter after claims from volunteer searchers that they were at the scene before officers.
Rafel Jeanne is one of three people who died in a horrific crash in St Mellons, Cardiff
His sister, Ffion Actie, said there could have been a ‘different outcome’ had officers began their search sooner
Pictured: The scene in the St Mellons area of Cardiff where the car was found
The five revellers had been to a social club in Maesglas, Newport, on Friday night and were thought to have travelled 40 miles to the Trecco Bay area of Porthcawl.
Police have now confirmed they were last seen at about 2am on Saturday in Pentwyn, Cardiff.
Officers believe the car was involved in a collision and came off the A48(M) some time later, but further investigations using CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) inquiries are needed to establish an exact time.
Having failed to return home, they were reported missing by their families, the first call coming into the police at 7.34pm on Saturday while further reports were made up until 5.37pm on Sunday.
Hundreds of people took part in searches but Gwent Police did not issue a public appeal for help until 11pm on Sunday.
Members of the friends’ search party Matthew Pace, 45, and his son Lewis, 26, told Sky News they found the car shortly before officers arrived on the scene, having seen tyre marks leading off the road and into a wooded area.
But in a joint statement, Gwent and South Wales Police said a police helicopter was requested to search an area of Cardiff at 11.50pm on Sunday, which the forces said resulted in the vehicle being found by its officers at 12.15am on Monday.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has launched an investigation into the police response.
Eve Smith, 21, (pictured) whose sister Xana was killed by a drug and drink driver in 2015, died in the crash
Darcy Ross, 21, (pictured) was also killed in the crash. The group was last seen in the car at 2am on Saturday in CCTV footage taken at a petrol station in the Pentwyn area of Cardiff, not far from the crash site
Sophie Russon, 20, is sedated in hospital after going through life-saving surgery after fracturing her skull in the crash, which led to a bleed on her brain
Shane Loughlin, 32, (left) also spent nearly two days critically injured in the car. Mr Jeanne (right) was the son of former Cardiff City and QPR footballer Leon Jeanne, who was once dubbed Wales’ most promising footballer
Tamzin Samuels, 20, a friend of the young women and who helped in the search effort, said: ‘I do think the police could have done a lot more in putting the helicopters out earlier.
‘They only posted the appeal an hour before the girls were found. We found them before the police found them – we rang the police.’
Two women who were friends of the Loughlin family questioned the police response.
They said: ‘The police were terrible. I don’t think they took it seriously.’
‘The families said it was out of character for them to go missing and the police should have listened to them.’
They added: ‘Shane’s mum was up all weekend worried sick.
‘The boys from Cardiff, all their friends were driving around looking for them. It was those people looking who found them, not the police.’
Today, Ms Smith’s heartbroken father paid tribute to her following the tragedy.
Everton Smith, 60, said: “I would give anything to hear her sing a song again, fly high my queen, I loved you more than words can say.”
A fireworks vigil was held for the victims by the scene of the crash last night, with hundreds attending
Hundreds of friends and wellwishers gathered by the crash site for yesterday’s vigil
Fireworks lit up the night sky as many mourners spoke of their anger at how the police had handled the incident
A vigil was held at the crash site yesterday evening where around 1,000 people gathered, lighting candles and flares while others rode mopeds, motorbikes and quad bikes around the roundabout.
A firework display lit up the sky above St Mellons for around 30 minutes while family and friends looked on.
Ffion Actie, sister of Rafel Jeanne said: ‘I felt proud to say [Rafel] was my brother, I’m lost for words. I’m blown away by how many people turned up [to the vigil] and how people have pulled together.
‘Social media told me what happened, unfortunately. I feel heartbroken, I feel numb. It doesn’t feel real, I don’t feel like this has happened.
‘The hardest thing is that this is such a busy area and the fact they were there so long. That is the worst part about it, thinking they were sat there injured. If it was sooner [they were found], who knows.’
Rachel O’Neill, 37, from Rumney, attended the vigil with her daughter Molly.
She said: ‘It’s been heartbreaking to think that they were there for so long, for 46 hours, and that they were found by people and not even the police.
‘It’s absolutely disgusting, and you just don’t know. There could have been some lives saved if they had moved faster.’
Ms Smith, Ms Ross and Ms Russon, who have been friends since infant school, had gone to the Muffler bar in Newport on Friday night.
At the social club they met Mr Jeanne and Mr Loughlin for the first time, before they all left together at around 11.15pm on Friday.
They are then thought to have driven 36 miles to Trecco Bay caravan park in Porthcawl, where Mr Loughlin’s family had a caravan, but left after an argument, it was claimed.
The trees meant the crash site of the fatal crash was hidden to motorists passing nearby
They travelled 28 miles back to Cardiff, where they are said to have dropped off a sixth member of the group.
They were last seen in the car at 2am on Saturday in CCTV footage taken at a petrol station in the Pentwyn area of Cardiff, not far from the crash site.
Tributes to those who died have been paid on social media.
A friend of Mr Loughlin posted: ‘I’m so proud of us all pulling together out there searching for our dear friends last night.
‘It’s heartbreaking what’s happened to Rafel Jeanne and those two girls. My body is still shaking and I can’t stop being sick (at) the thought of them all there all of that time.’
Ms Smith’s death comes eight years after her sister Xana Doyle, 19, was killed in a car crash. The driver, who was twice the drink-drive limit, was prosecuted and Ms Smith took part in a Sky TV documentary about the incident and campaigned for tougher sentences.
Her sister paid tribute to her in a post on Facebook.
‘My beautiful little sister I’ve cried, laughed and fought with you every week, but I’ve never been without you,’ she said.
‘We always said, ‘I got you always’ but now I’m sat here feeling so empty because you’re not here with me anymore, and I can’t accept this.
‘I know you’re safe up there with our beautiful sister Xana but I was never ready to let you go, my body is aching without you.’
Anna Certowicz, 42, (pictured with Ms Russon, right) believes her daughter and her two friends met Mr Jeanne and Mr Loughlin for the first time on the night of the tragedy
Eve Smith, 21, (pictured), Darcy Ross, 21, and Sophie Russon, 20, were friends since infant school
In a statement, Ms Smith’s family said: ‘At this extraordinarily difficult time, we request that our privacy is respected and we are allowed to grieve in peace.
‘Please note we are not going to speak to the media for the foreseeable future. Please do not try to contact our family and friends either in person or via social media.’
Gwent Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hoborough said: ‘This is an extremely sad situation, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of each of the young people involved.
‘We will continue to support the investigation and would ask members of the public to refrain from speculation during this period.’
Assistant Chief Constable Jason Davies of South Wales Police, the force leading the collision investigation, said: ‘Our thoughts continue to be with the families and all those affected by this tragic incident.
‘Specialist officers are carrying out a detailed investigation to piece together what has happened.
‘Family liaison officers are supporting the families involved at what must be a hugely difficult time for them.’
Pictured: Mr Jeanne partying on Friday night in Newport with Darcy Ross. Both youngsters were killed in the crash
Best friends Eve Smith, 21, Darcy Ross, 21, and Sophie Russon, 20, met Rafel Jeanne, 24, and Shane Loughlin, 32, at a social club in Newport
The IOPC said it was investigating the police search response.
David Ford, IOPC director, said: ‘We will be examining what information police had, the grading given to any risk assessments, and the steps taken by police to locate the missing people prior to the Volkswagen Tiguan being found just after midnight on Monday.
‘We will also consider what communication took place between the two forces, and whether police action was appropriate and followed relevant policy and procedures.
‘Our investigation is at a very early stage. We will be contacting the families involved to express our sympathies, explain our role and set out how our investigation will progress.
‘We are aware of the significant community concern about the tragic events that have unfolded and would like to assure everyone that we will conduct a thorough and timely investigation.’