A motorist who was convicted of causing the death of a top Irish racing cyclist by dangerous driving has successfully appealed to have his conviction quashed.
A retrial will now take place for Michael Croome, 28, who was jailed for five years and banned from driving for the same period following his conviction in connection with the death of cyclist David McCall,46.
Mr McCall from Lisburn, County Antrim was was a highly-respected Commonwealth Games medal-winning cyclist who was competing in a local road race in the county in August 2008 when, after veering slightly off line to avoid a dog, he was struck from behind by a car being driven by Mr Coombe who was said to be rushing to Belfast International airport to catch a flight.
At the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said Mr Croome’s conviction was unsafe as a result of a failure by the presiding judge to present to the jury the option of convicting Mr Croome on a charge of causing death by careless driving.
Mr Croome had denied the charge of causing death by dangerous driving at his trial but was convicted of the offence by a majority verdict reached a jury of 10 men and two women.
The focus of his appeal against the conviction was that the trial judge erred in not leaving the jury with an alternative charge of causing death by careless driving.
The Court of Appeal heard that on the third day of the trial, the jury sent a note to the judge asking at which point careless driving became dangerous driving. The judge told the jury that they would be given proper directions on all relevant aspects of the law and the end of the trial but that they should concentrate on the facts for the time being.
At the end of the evidence both counsel for the prosecution and defence addressed the judge on whether the jury should be directed that they could bring an alternative verdict of causing death by careless driving.
Senior counsel for Mr Croome indicated to the judge that there were matters pertinent to the careless driving issue which might prejudice Mr Croome and in light of this, even though it was not explored further, the trial judge did not give the jury the option of bringing the alternative verdict.
The Lord Chief Justice referred to judgments setting out the role of the trial judge:
“The judge is required to put to the jury for their consideration in a fair and balanced manner the respective contentions which have been presented.
“But his responsibility does not end there. It is his responsibility not only to see that the trial is conducted with all due regard to the principle of fairness, but to place before the jury all the possible conclusions which may be open to them on the evidence which has been presented in the trial whether or not they have all been canvassed by either of the parties in their submissions.
“It is the duty of the judge to secure that the overall interests of justice are served in the resolution of the matter and that the jury is enabled to reach a sound conclusion on the facts in light of a complete understanding of the law applicable to them.”
The Lord Chief Justice said that this was a clear case in which the jury had identified the alternative verdict themselves and that nothing was put before the court to indicate any possible unfairness to Mr Croome in doing so.
He added: “It is regrettable that the learned trial judge was led into error because he accepted at face value a submission by senior counsel from the Bar.”
The Court of Appeal concluded that the failure to place the alternative verdict before the jury constituted an irregularity which made the conviction unsafe. The court therefore quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial.