A police officer who chased a stolen car in which five teenage joyriders died was not responsible for the crash, a jury inquest found today.

Acting Sergeant Paul Sandeman, 29, of Sussex Police, was not authorised to engage a vehicle in pursuit but mistakenly believed he was.

Daniel Carwardine and Danielle Martin, both 16, Kelly Goring, 17, Barrie Mackay, 15, and Lee Morgan, 14, all from St Leonards, were killed when their stolen vehicle crashed into a lamppost and wall in Battle Road, St Leonards at 1.40am on October 29, 2005.

The sky-blue Metro was driven by Barrie. All five teenagers tested positive for cannabis and three of them - Daniel, Kelly and Danielle - had also been drinking.

Acting Sgt Sandeman used his blue lights and siren, broke the speed limit and followed the Metro the wrong way down a one-way street, the two-week inquest in Hastings heard.

His 1.8-litre TDI police car reached a top speed of 67mph before he gave up on his one-minute pursuit after losing sight of the Metro. He was around 12 seconds behind the stolen car when it crashed.

As a Class 4 police driver permit holder he believed he was entitled to pursue a vehicle which failed to stop.

The father-of-two also believed he was permitted to go 30mph over the speed limit.

But he was unaware that in 2004, Sussex Police departed from the national police guidelines and permitted only "safe pursuit" trained drivers to pursue vehicles.

Acting Sgt Sandeman did not receive "safe pursuit" training during his three-week driving course in 2003. Sussex Police added this component to the syllabus the following year.

East Sussex coroner Alan Craze told the jury of five women and four men that Acting Sgt Sandeman believed it was his duty as a police officer to try and protect the public by following the car and using an audible siren and warning lights.

The coroner said the inquest had highlighted the "muddled and inconsistent" driving guidelines issued by Sussex Police and that he intended to write to the Chief Constable.

The jury, asked by the coroner to reach their conclusions by answering a series of seven questions, took one hour and 45 minutes to reach their decision.

The foreman indicated they were satisfied the driver was Barrie Mackay and that his driving had caused the deaths. But they said his actions did not amount to manslaughter.

Two key questions related to the police sergeant's involvement. To the question: "Were the actions of the driver of the following police car a cause of the crash?" they said no.

No formal verdict was returned, at the request of the coroner.

Coroner Alan Craze said his letter to the Chief Constable of Sussex Police would draw attention to the "written force policy" and its impact on driver training and day-to-day operations. The case was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) because Acting Sgt Paul Sandeman had been pursuing the vehicle before it crashed. IPCC senior investigator Steve Reynolds said: "The inquest has revealed some confusion about the procedure policy adopted by Sussex Police including both how it was communicated to patrol officers and how it was comprehended. "The IPCC will consider these issues when considering whether there are any misconduct issues and broader issues to be learned. "Once we have made the decision about misconduct it will be conveyed to the officer concerned, the families, and the media." A family member of Acting Sgt Sandeman said they were relieved at the outcome. A statement released by them said: "He went to work that night to do his duty and to do what the people of Hastings paid him and expected him to do. "He will never forget that night and the circumstances in which he found himself and his heart goes out to the families of the young people who lost their lives."