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Inquest hears that local council knew of pothole before army officer's fatal collision with lorry...

A coroner’s inquest has decided that the death of army captain Jonathan Allen, who was killed in March this year after being struck by a lorry as he apparently tried to avoid a massive pothole filled with water on a road in Wiltshire, was accidental, reports the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.

The hearing, in Salisbury, heard a statement from the 29-year-old victim’s girlfriend, Kathleen Curling, in which she described how she had come across the scene of the accident after driving along the route Captain Allen would have taken home to Burbage from his work at Tidworth Barracks because she was worried about his being late home. A police officer at the scene told her about the accident.

She said that Captain Allen, of the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who died from serious head injuries sustained in the crash, had started using his bike to commute to and from work to keep fit but hated cycling, which he considered dangerous because of the potholes that had appeared on the road during the winter.

Ms Curling added: "The roads in Wiltshire are worse than in neighbouring counties."

Lorry driver Stephen Wall, who has 35 years’ experience and had worked since 2001 for Robert Wiseman Dairies, said in a statement read out to the inquest that Captain Allen seemed to fall into his path as his vehicle overtook the cyclist on the A338 between Tidworth and Collingbourne Ducis.

He said that it was dark and raining heavily when he noticed Captain Allen’s rear light, and signaled to overtake him, but as he started to pull out, the officer turned to look over his shoulder.

"We made eye contact and he seemed to be surprised to see me there,” said Mr Wall. “Then he appeared to be falling sideways. I lost sight of him and then felt a bump."

The inquest also heard that the pothole had been reported to Wiltshire County Council’s hotline on 2nd March, three weeks before the accident, but divisional highways manager Peter Hanson said it was not big enough to be treated as a priority.

The road had also been inspected a week prior to the fatal crash, however council officers decided the pothole did not need to be repaired immediately.

It was eventually filled in just two days after Captain Allen’s death.

Another witness who gave evidence to the inquest was PC James Trafford from the serious collision investigation team, who was present at the scene within 20 minutes of the accident, and then returned during daylight hours.

He told the inquest that repairs had been made to the area where the pothole was located but they had deteriorated resulting in a 6cm hole at its deepest point, made worse by the fact that a nearby drain had become blocked, causing a pool of water to form.

With Captain Allen cycling at a speed of around 20mph, PC Trafford said that in his estimation he would have had only around two seconds to react after seeing the pool of water, and that a skid mark on the road suggested that the cyclist had tried to take evasive action.

Although he was unable to determine whether Captain Allen had hit the pothole or fallen off his bike beforehand, he confirmed that the army officer would have been on the ground when the lorry hit him, adding that both the bicycle and the lorry were in perfect mechanical order.

Returning a verdict of accidental death, Wiltshire assistant deputy coroner Ian Singleton commented: "Captain Allen would have had insufficient time to take evasive action and there was nothing the lorry driver could do to avoid the collision."
 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.