A friend of the victims of a fatal car crash in Cardiff has criticised police search efforts, claiming members of the public found the vehicle before officers.
Eve Smith, 21, Darcy Ross, 21, and Rafel Jeanne, 24, died after the Volkswagen Tiguan they were travelling in came off the A48(M) in the Welsh capital and crashed into trees.
Sophie Russon, 20, and Shane Loughlin, 32, who were in the same vehicle, also suffered serious injuries and were taken to hospital.
All five were reported missing following a night out and were last seen in the Llanedeyrn area of Cardiff at around 2am on Saturday morning.
Police issued an appeal on Sunday – and officers announced the crashed vehicle was found in the early hours of Monday morning, following a search involving a police helicopter.
However, a friend of the three women claimed it was members of the public searching who found the car.
Both Gwent Police and South Wales Police say they have referred themselves to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over the handling of the investigation – something they say is “in line with normal procedures”.
‘We found them before the police found them’
One friend, Tamzin Samuels, 20, 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.
“The search party found the girls before the police found the girls. I think that speaks volumes really, they had all that equipment, and we had cars when we were looking.”
Ms Samuels, a carer from Dyffryn, also paid tribute to the women, describing them as the “life and soul of the party”.
Police told victim’s mother ‘stop ringing’
Ms Russon’s mother Anna Certowicz, 42, previously told the Daily Mail that police officers had told her to “stop ringing” the station for updates after reporting her daughter missing.
“I had to drive to Cardiff to knock on doors myself because they were doing s*d all. They just didn’t seem to think it was worth investigating. It was so frustrating,” she told the paper.
The women, all from Newport, South Wales, had travelled with the two men to Cardiff from the town of Porthcawl, having earlier been in Newport.
The car they were travelling in was discovered soon after midnight on Monday in the St Mellons area of the capital.
Officers believe the vehicle was involved in a road traffic collision, but it is not clear exactly when that happened.
Tributes have been paid to the victims on social media.
A relative of Ms Smith wrote: “I will not comment on anyone other than Eve Smith to confirm that she has been confirmed as deceased.
“Thank you for your support and shares and I won’t be answering messages please allow us some time as a family to digest this terrible news x.”
‘One of a kind’
A friend of Ms Ross and Ms Smith wrote: “I don’t really have the words right now.
“Darcy Ross I’m going to miss you little gypsy girl. You were one of a kind, I’m going to miss trying to ‘life coach’ you as you would’ve said. You were a real ray of sunshine especially on my bad days.
“Eve Smith you were truly a beautiful young girl, who’s heart was made of gold just like your sister’s, give her a big hug for me and hold each other tight until the day we all have our turn and reunite.”
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 heart breaking what’s happened to Rafel Jeanne and those two girls. My body is still shaking and I can’t stop being sick the thought of them all there all of that time.
“Many times I have driven past, it just makes me so sad and to how helpless our Shane Loughlin must of felt trapped inside.
“Wish Sophie a speedy recovery and I send all my love and strength to all the families involved.”