A WOULD-BE thief was crushed to death when a car fell on him as he tried to steal its catalytic converter under the cover of darkness.

Gary Gray died after the car-jack holding up a blue Vauxhall Astra that he was underneath came loose, causing the full weight of the vehicle to slam down and suffocated him.

The shocked assistant manager of repair garage JB Autos saw the 38-year-old’s legs sticking out from under a car stored in one of the company’s two locked compounds in Marshgate Industrial Estate when he arrived at work on November 15.

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Mr Gray’s hands were covered in dirt and oil, a torch he had been using was still on and a cutting tool was gripping part of the car’s exhaust. Nearby were mole grips and a backpack containing spanners, cooking foil, a watch, and a bottle of methadone.

Both of the compounds had been empty when the employee, Vilfredo Fernandes, had locked them up the night before.

In a statement read out at Mr Gray’s inquest yesterday, Mr Fernandes said: “I’ve worked there for four years and part of my day-to-day work is opening and closing the premises. I finished work on the 14th at the usual time, around 6pm. Prior to finishing, I locked up the compounds, making sure that there were no customers around.

“The next day, I arrived around 8am and I could see a pair of legs on the floor sticking out from under a car which had a black car-jack near the front wheel.

“I called my boss, told him what happened, and he told me to call an ambulance.”

Paramedics pronounced Mr Gray dead at the scene. Police later established that he had been trying to steal a catalytic converter, thought to have a re-sale value of around £60, from the vehicle,

JB Autos manager James Brown suggested that this was not the first time someone had tried to sneak into the garage compounds that border the Eastern Flyer cycle path to steal the part.

He said in a statement: “There is a six-to-eight feet-high fence around each compound and I keep scrap cars for spare parts inside the second.

“Over the years I have had a number of thefts, so I keep the vehicles unlocked to stop people damaging them and smashing the windows before they realise there’s nothing valuable inside them.

“The vehicles are left in gear with the handbrake off to stop the brakes seizing.”

It is believed that this caused the car to move while Mr Gray was fiddling with the Vauxhall’s underside, with fatal consequences.

Sgt Scott Anger who investigated Mr Gray’s death. He said in a statement: “He was in the process of stealing a catalytic converter but his chest had been compressed. He had gained entry illegally overnight.

“This was not an industrial accident and was filed as a non-suspicious sudden death.

“The car jack had been dislodged. He had placed a wooden panel under him to prevent him lying on the cold ground. This raised his body closer to the car, which was left in neutral and would have rolled off the car jack because it was not secure.”

Gary Gray was born in Enfield in London in May 1981 and lived in Toothill, working as a mechanic.

A pathologist ruled that he had no obvious external injuries but his left rib had been fractured. The car pressing down upon him had restricted his chest movements and caused him to asphyxiate.

No toxicology report was available but a printout from his GP surgery suggested that he had a drug dependence problem. His partner, who had known him for six years, identified his body.

Assistant coroner Ian Singleton ruled that the death had been accidental.