A GRANDFATHER who died today in a suspected car-jacking gone wrong was due to celebrate his 70th birthday with a family party tonight.
Instead, the widow of James Ray will have to begin arrangements for his funeral after he was fatally injured while working as a delivery driver yesterday morning.
Mr Ray, from Easingwold, York, a father of two and grandfather of four, was unloading washing powder from his delivery van at a laundry when he was injured at about 11.30am at the Plantation Industrial Estate in Ashton-under-Lyne, near Manchester.
He suffered a massive injury to the back of his head when he fell or was pushed from the van as it was stolen, but police have not ruled out that the injury was the result of being attacked.
Two men are under arrest and police are hunting a third.
Mr Ray was taken to Salford Royal Hospital where he died at 5.30am.
Tonight he was due to celebrate his 70th birthday with a party in York with his wife Vivian, son Adrian, daughter Catherine and other family.
Detective Superintendent Jonathan Chadwick of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said: “They are devastated, that’s the only word you can use, instead of celebrating his birthday they are going to have to start to plan his funeral.”
Mr Ray was working part-time for the family firm, based in Tockwith, York, driving a transit van delivering supplies to the cleaning industry.
He was on his only delivery of the day yesterday when he arrived in the grey Ford transit van at an industrial laundry and began to unload washing powder sacks at the premises at around 11.23am.
At 11.27am another vehicle, a silver Ford Fiesta arrived, registration mark SD02 HYL, but police do not know what happened next and are still trying to recover CCTV of the area.
But at 11.36am both vehicles are seen to leave the area being driven erratically and the van is abandoned a short time later on Clarence Street, Stalybridge, and its two occupants get into the Fiesta.
Mr Ray was left on the floor in the yard at the premises and spotted by a member of the public who called emergency services.
Mr Chadwick added: “We don’t think he was hit by the vehicle, we think he was either thrown from the vehicle or that he fell from the vehicle as it was driven away. It’s also possible he was just assaulted.
“It is his 70th birthday today. There is a party planned in Yorkshire with his family and friends.”
The Ford Fiesta was traced by police and two men, from Heywood, Greater Manchester, are now in custody but detectives want to trace the third man involved.
Mr Chadwick said although police had made two arrests more than one other person may have been involved and appealed for any witnesses to come forward.
The officer said the delivery address was closed when “sprightly” Mr Ray began unloading, though he was an “easy target” in the relatively secluded area for him to be targeted.
Police said a 23-year-old man and a 44-year-old man have been arrested on suspicion of murder and remain in custody for questioning.
Mr Ray’s family said: “We are completely and utterly devastated by the death of James who was killed on the very day of his birthday. He has left behind his wife, a son, a daughter and four grandchildren who are stunned by this abhorrent act of violence.
“We all hope that people will come forward to report anything they may know that may help the police.”
Mr Chadwick added: “We have made two arrests but the investigation is continuing and we are still seeking information.
“We believe there is at least one other person outstanding and I would appeal to anyone who may have witnessed the van and Fiesta being driven erratically to contact police.
“I would also appeal to anyone who knows who owns the Fiesta or who has been using it in recent days and weeks to call us.
“The registration of the Fiesta is SD02 HYL and has damage to the front driver’s side wing. James’ van was a grey Ford Transit with registration YB11 HXV and as it was driven off, the sliding door on the passenger side was damaged and was hanging off.
“James’ family are understandably devastated and we have got specially trained officers providing them with the support they need during this tragic time.
“Today would have been James’ 70th birthday and his family were planning on holding a party for him. Now, instead of celebrating a happy occasion, they are mourning the loss of a much loved person and planning his funeral.
“It is possible that this may be a robbery that has gone wrong however that doesn’t change the fact that a man has been killed and I would urge anybody with information to please contact the police as soon as possible.”
Anybody with information should contact police on 0161 856 8092 or the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.