The driver of a coach involved in a crash that claimed the lives of two cyclists in Cumbria in December 2010 has been acquitted by a jury of causing their deaths by dangerous driving. The accused, 44-year-old Robert Wightman, was also been found not guilty on two counts of the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving. The family of the victims, brothers Christian and Nicholas ‘Niggy’ Townend, were reported to be “devastated” at the verdicts, reports the Times & Star.
During the four-day trial at Carlisle Crown Court, the jury had been told of the events leading up to the incident near Moota that claimed the lives of the brothers, both aged in their twenties, as they returned home along the A595 to Cockermouth on the afternoon of Sunday 5 December, 2010.
Wightman, from Carlisle, had told the court that he had started work at 2pm that afternoon and had spent a quarter of an hour conducting standard checks on his vehicle before taking to the road.
While the road was wet and had been caused to narrow in places due to snow that had been cleared from it being banked at the side, it was not slippery and Wightman said that conditions were fine for driving.
Near Moota Garden Centre, the road began to ascend, and Wightman said: “I noticed the sun was low but not low enough to affect me.”
As he continued on his way, however, he said that the sun became “blinding.”
He added: “I checked across to the right, to the white line, to make sure I wasn’t driving into any oncoming traffic and then I looked back to my left. I caught a shadow coming into the bottom left of the corner of the windscreen.
“I just heard a bang.”
Wightman said that the time between the “blinding” sunshine and his seeing the shadow would have been “a matter of seconds.”
When asked how long he had spent looking to the right, he said: “It would not be that long – a couple of seconds tops.”
With sub-zero temperatures having caused his vehicle’s windscreen washer to operate incorrectly, Wightman had admitted that he could only see 20 or 30 metres ahead of him and that he could not have stopped his coach within that distance.
When he was asked whether he considered himself to have been at fault for the fatal incident, he stated: “I would not like to say whether it was my fault, their fault or a combination of both.”
During the trial the court had been told that both Christian and Niggy Townend were highly experienced cyclists. In a statement read out to the court, their uncle, Michael Style, said: “My own cycling experience with Christian and Niggy is that they were very experienced, well equipped, fit and highly technically skilled cyclists, aware of the possible dangers and threats posed by other traffic on the roads.”
Earlier this month British Cycling, backed by other cycling and road safety organisations called on the Government to review the sentences handed out to those convicted of killing and seriously injuring cyclists on Britain's roads, many will feel that such a review should be extended to also look in to the number of cases in which juries fail to convict in cases where the prosecution evidence seems compelling and in to the seemingly inconsistent ways in which police and prosecutors in different parts of the country decide on which cases to bring to court.
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.