Tom Putt posted a number of pictures of his Ford Fiesta ST online. Picture: Facebook

Chelmsford, Essex - A car fanatic souped up his Ford Fiesta, and unwittingly turned it into a death trap. As a result of Tom Putt’s handiwork, exhaust fumes seeped inside the car, killing him and his girlfriend.

Putt, 20, who worked for Ford as an engineering apprentice, carried out modifications to the hatch in a bid to improve its performance, removing the catalytic converter and cutting vents into the bonnet. But a gap was left between the exhaust and the engine, with the result that lethal levels of carbon monoxide built up inside the car.

Putt and Nikki Willis, 23, died as they sat chatting in the vehicle outside her home one evening last December. Their bodies were not discovered until the following morning.

Tests showed they had been poisoned by carbon monoxide sucked into the Ford Fiesta ST via its fresh air intakes. The couple would have been unaware they were slowly being poisoned as the gas is colourless and odourless.

Detective Inspector Robert Kirby told the inquest on Tuesday that "a unique set of events came together to allow this tragic incident to happen".

Putt had picked up Willis from the shop where she worked on the afternoon of December 4. They went to get some food and drove around before parking outside the house where she lived with her parents. Passers-by said they saw the couple, who had been dating for about six months, talking inside the car with the engine running.

One said: "I was walking down the road this morning and saw these two people in this blue Ford Fiesta. I didn’t think anything about it. The engine was running and they were chatting. The woman was in the passenger seat and the bloke was in the driver’s seat."

Slumped in the car 

The alarm was raised at 10.30am the next day, when their bodies were spotted slumped inside the car. The area was closed off for several hours while emergency services, including East of England Ambulance Service’s hazardous area response team, checked for any danger.

Ford examined the modified car and found carbon monoxide levels in the vehicle had been 1000 times the safety limit. Essex coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray recorded verdicts of accidental death.

Detective Inspector Kirby said: "We would like to encourage people to please consider if modifications to cars are worth the potential consequences."

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include a feeling of intoxication, breathlessness and chest pain, followed by seizures and loss of consciousness.

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