The South Wales police and crime commissioner has conceded that officers may have pursued two teenagers shortly before they were killed in a road collision that sparked a riot in Cardiff.
But Alun Michael said on Wednesday that no police vehicles were on the road where the fatal crash happened and refused to say he was wrong to have initially claimed that no chase took place.
On Tuesday morning, Michael claimed the riots in the Ely area of the Welsh capital had followed false rumours spread on social media that Kyrees Sullivan, 16, and Harvey Evans, 15, were killed as police pursued the e-bike they were on.
But later that day, CCTV footage emerged showing a police van following two boys on an e-bike a few minutes before the crash about half a mile away, prompting South Wales police to refer themselves to the police watchdog.
Asked whether he should have waited before making what appeared to be a categorical statement about what led to the riot, Michael replied: “I was assured and am still assured that youths were not being chased by police at the time of the road traffic accident.
“The impression that was given was that youngsters were being chased by the police and an accident happened immediately one to the other. That I’m still assured is not what happened.”
Asked if it was possible there had been a police chase a few minutes before, he said: “It leaves open the possibility. I was assured there was not a police chase; there was not police chasing the individuals at the time of the accident. That there may have been something earlier is of course something that should be fully investigated. If there’s the possibility, then that possibility needs to be fully investigated.”
He told Radio Wales: “Footage emerged of something that happened a short time before the road traffic accident and that too needs to be investigated. That was not available to the police or me at the time when we responded to the first thing that happened.”
Michael admitted that recovering and rebuilding trust between police and the community would take time.
The deaths of the teenagers led to a night of violent disorder during which 15 police officers were injured. People involved in the riots said they had gathered to pay respects to the dead boys when clashes broke out with officers.
Harvey’s godmother, Bridy Bool, said on Wednesday: “Two beautiful boys lost their lives. They were loved by so many people. They grew up together from when they were babies, they ate, slept, breathed together. They say we are a deprived community but we have the same blood running through our veins. We stick together.”
A family friend said one theory was that police had pursued the boys and they got away by riding through bollards that block Stanway Road from Snowden Road, where the collision took place.
She said: “The reason why the police wasn’t on the scene is because the boys have gone through a blocked street and the police knew they couldn’t go that way. They weren’t on the scene because they lost them.”
A bike could have weaved through a pedestrian access point next to the bollards and then been driven then down a short stretch of hill on to Snowden Road. The bike crashed into a lamp post around 100 metres from the bollards.
Police have not given details of the route the boys took.
On Wednesday morning, friends of the boys took it in turns to maintain a vigil at the spot where tributes had been left. Most of them continued to pour scorn on the account the police have given.
One young man at the scene who came to pay his respects said: “They [the police] are trying to hide what really happened. The video is as clear as day.”
A woman at the tributes, who did not give her name, said: “Young people are always targeted by police around here.” Talking about the riots, she said they happened because the police would not let family members approach the spot where the pair died.
“It weren’t until we spoke and actually started raising our voices a little bit that they let them through. And then we all went back. We all stepped back as a community because we’d done what we need to get the parents up there. But no, they wanted to treat us like hooligans and put rings around us.”
Another said: “The feds are telling porky pies. They treat us differently because we live in Ely.”
One message on a floral tribute read: “Love you both like family” and recalled “the first time we played motorbikes”.
There were concerns that there could be more disturbances on Tuesday night but the streets remained calm.