Handcuffed man who fled police two months ago is found in river

Handcuffed body of father, 22, is found in a river two months after he fled police when they ‘tried to search him for drugs’ – as his heartbroken family brand officers a ‘disgrace’

  • Reece Hillier was stopped and handcuffed by police in Southampton in January
  • He ran off but was found dead, still handcuffed, in a river at the weekend
  • Police are not treating death as suspicious. Internal probe has been launched 
  • Do you know anything about the case? Email richard.spillett@mailonline.co.uk 

This is the first picture of a young father whose body was found handcuffed in a river two months after he fled police – as his devastated family brand the force a ‘disgrace.’

Reece Hillier, 22, was found dead in the River Itchen in Southampton on Sunday, more than two months after he got away from officers during a reported drugs probe.

He was found dead, still wearing the handcuffs, suggesting he may have fallen in the water during his escape on January 12.

A family member in her 50s, who asked not to be named, said today: ‘ It’s a disgrace.  He was allowed to be there for eight weeks and they wouldn’t even search for him even though his mother pleaded with them so many times.

Reece Hillier, 22, pictured with his girlfriend Brittany Bellows, who paid tribute to him on social media and said 'A part of you will always be with me and I know you will always be by my side.'

Reece Hillier, 22, pictured with his girlfriend Brittany Bellows, who paid tribute to him on social media and said ‘A part of you will always be with me and I know you will always be by my side.’

Tributes have been placed near the spot where Reece Hillier's body was found in the River Ichen in Southampton. He had been handcuffed by police before he died, it emerged today

Tributes have been placed near the spot where Reece Hillier’s body was found in the River Ichen in Southampton. He had been handcuffed by police before he died, it emerged today

Reece Hillier, 22, (pictured) was found dead in the River Itchen in Southampton on Sunday, more than two months after he got away from officers during a reported drugs probe

Reece Hillier, 22, (pictured) was found dead in the River Itchen in Southampton on Sunday, more than two months after he got away from officers during a reported drugs probe

Pictured: Tributes to Reece Hillier, whose family are angry at the circumstances of his death

Pictured: Tributes to Reece Hillier, whose family are angry at the circumstances of his death

‘We just want answers, we want to know why this has happened. It’s so upsetting, he was such a lovely boy, to be taken away so young is horrific.’ 

Speaking from his Southampton home, Craig Lawler, 40, who is married to Mr Hillier’s 45-year-old mother, Lisa, said today: ‘It’s a bad time and we’re just trying to process what’s happened to Reece ourselves.’ 

It is unclear whether Mr Hillier fell in the water during his escape from the police, but officers say they are not treating his death as suspicious.

His girlfriend Brittany Bellows made a touching tribute to her ‘best friend’ on social media.

She said: ‘Words cannot even describe how I’ve been feeling today, not only did I lose my boyfriend but my best friend. We had our ups and downs like every couple does but I’ve never loved someone as much as I did you! From the moment we got together we was stuck at the hip.

‘I knew something was wrong when you didn’t get in contact with any of us.

‘Your finally reunited with your dad,watching over all of us. Cannot believe you’ve been taken away from me so soon, all the things we planned we will no longer be able to see through. 

‘A part of you will always be with me and I know you will always be by my side. No one thought we would stay together but we proved them wrong!we clicked and were there for each other,through our good and bad times.

‘Thinking about all your family and friends today. We love you so much! Rest in peace baby.’

A police spokesman said: ‘Initial enquiries suggest the body had been in the water for some time.’

They have not confirmed how near officers were to the river when they detained Mr Hillier. 

Despite the circumstances leading up to Mr Hillier’s death, the The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is not investigating, leaving the matter to an internal inquiry by the Hampshire force.

A spokesman for Hampshire Police said: ‘We were called at 6.19pm on Sunday 17 March, after the body of a man was located in the River Itchen at Woodmill, Southampton.

‘Identification has now taken place and we can confirm that the body is of a 22-year-old man from Southampton.’

Mr Hillier's body was found by a magnet fisherman in the water near Riverside Park, Southampton

Mr Hillier’s body was found by a magnet fisherman in the water near Riverside Park, Southampton

Police at the scene after the body was found on Sunday

Police at the scene after the body was found on Sunday

The police spokesman added: ‘We can confirm that he was handcuffed, having been detained by police in Southampton on 12 January.

‘The death is not being treated as suspicious at this time. An internal review is ongoing and a file is being prepared for the coroner.’

Tributes and flowers have been placed at the side of the river. 

A post-mortem examination took place on Sunday and an inquest will be opened when the body has been formally identified.

The River Itchen is a 28-mile long fast-flowing chalk-stream river which runs into the Solent. 

It is used as a public water supply and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its high quality habitats which support a range of protected species including the water vole, otter and white-clawed crayfish. 

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