Motorist admits he was blinded by the sun ahead of fatal incident that claimed life of senior RAF officer

The driver of a van that struck and killed a senior RAF officer as he rode home on the A40 in March last year has been told he may face a jail sentence after being convicted by a jury at Harrow Crown Court of causing death by careless driving.

Group Captain Tom Barrett, aged 44 and described as a keen cyclist, was killed less than a mile from RAF Northolt in West London, where he was station commander.

The father of two, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and had previously been aide-de-camp to the Queen, was taken to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, where he died of his injuries.

The driver of the Ford Transit van involved in the collision, 51-year-old Paul Luker of Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, told the court that he had been blinded by the sun prior to the fatal incident.

Prosecutor Adina Ezekiel maintained that Luker should have adjusted his driving to the conditions, while the motorist himself, who was driving below the speed limit, revealed that he had not seen Group Captain Barrett before his vehicle struck him, reports the Uxbridge Gazette.

"I was very short-sighted, I was struggling to see the brake lights of the car in front of me, so I decided I needed to slow down,” explained Luker, who had pleaded not guilty the charge.

"At that point I was in the middle lane and the sun got worse, so I put a cap on but it didnt help much.

"The sun was as low that day as I have ever known.

"The only way I could get the sun out of my eyes was to put the sun visor fully down, but I would have been blinded by that, so I put it on an angle.

"I could see people flashing me for going too slow so I decided to go into the inside lane and remember looking in my mirror for motorcycles.

"All of a sudden I felt a bump.

"I immediately slowed down and decided not to do an emergency brake because the car behind me was too close and stopping suddenly might have caused an accident, so I geared down.

"I thought I hit a deer. I never saw anything,” he continued.

"I saw the bicycle wheels along the road and then I realised I hit a cyclist.

"I remember shouting ‘oh no, oh no,’ I was in some sort of shock.

"Mr Barrett was lying face down and I saw blood coming out of his ear and mouth and I knew at that stage it was quite a problem.

"I just don't understand why I didn't see him," he added. 
"I would have done everything in my power to avoid any accident.

"I think about it all the time,” he went on. “I was a pretty happy go lucky sort of fellow until that day."

Judge John Anderson bailed Luker until March 26 pending pre-sentencing reports, and said: "It is common ground in this case that this was a momentary lapse of attention.

"Sentencing guidelines recommend a community order but you must understand that this offence carries a maximum of five years imprisonment and all options are open.

"You will be disqualified from driving but I have been persuaded in these exceptional circumstances for the time being to allow you to arrange your financial affairs so this does not devastate your family.

"I do this more out of mercy than anything else, but you understand that you will be disqualified for a lengthy period."

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.


37monkey [138 posts] 5 years ago

A disproportionate amount of "momentary lapses in concentration" occur within close proximity to cyclists.

So sad that another life has been ended prematurely.

mad_scot_rider [581 posts] 5 years ago

Honestly - I want to see drivers being more attentive and aware at all times on the road - "the sun was in my eyes" is NO excuse - however there are many a$$-holes on the roads much more deserving of locking-up than this guy seems to be

Coleman [334 posts] 5 years ago

"I think about it all the time,” he went on. “I was a pretty happy go lucky sort of fellow until that day."

Oh dear. Poor you. Sorry that you've been upset by all of this.

Tripod16 [161 posts] 5 years ago

I imagine Tom and his family were probably happy-go-lucky too until Mr Unlucky-Sun-In-My-Eyes came about.

Myriadgreen [96 posts] 5 years ago

If you can't see where you are going, stop the bloody vehicle!

zoxed [66 posts] 5 years ago

He seems to describe many generic problems: continued driving even when viability is compromised (and hopes for the best), other drivers hassling him (for being "too slow") and being afraid to brake because of a tail-gater.

Cauld Lubter [135 posts] 5 years ago

I actually have some sympathy for the driver - last year there was one autumn day when I could hardly see a bloody thing because of the low sun - I was on an empty back road and could slow down, but it would have been so easy to have run someone over, especially rounding a bend and being blinded. In circumstances like that I do slow down (even if it's on a main road) and to hell with what the bastards behind me think of it.
There but for, etc.

Having said the above, I have a lot more sympathy for the unlucky bugger on the bike.