Coach driver cleared of causing death of Cumbrian cycling brothers

Jury acquits driver of causing death by dangerous driving and on lesser careless driving charge

by Simon_MacMichael   June 24, 2012  

Niggy and Christian Townend.jpg

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.

 

 

24 user comments

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Quote:
... With sub-zero temperatures having caused his vehicle’s windscreen washer to operate incorrectly ...

I thought this was an offence in itself?

posted by mad_scot_rider [518 posts]
24th June 2012 - 13:53

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"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."

According to the Highway Code, if you can't see where you're going, then stop.

Irresponsible git.

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
24th June 2012 - 14:28

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So it basically sounds like Judge and Jury have not applied the law correctly. Typical. Surprise

posted by Marauder [235 posts]
24th June 2012 - 17:13

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Good verdict. Everyone knows that you cease being a viable human being if you get on a bike.

Dodging the saccadic masking

posted by notfastenough [2607 posts]
24th June 2012 - 17:40

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Why is this man not being charged with careless driving at least. He was not aware of these cyclists on the road at any time. I don't know about you but, when get blinded by the sun whilst diving. The first thing I do is slow down to almost a stop, unless I can block it with a visor allowing me to make sure I'm not going to collide with anything. A very poor outcome.

posted by drbirrdie [26 posts]
24th June 2012 - 18:27

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hmm - agree with the above. There has been a rashj of cases where 'blinding sun' is deemed to be the cause, not the human operating the vehicle. Sounds like a lawyerly wheeze to me. As above, you are meant to stop but how often do we see drivers going at 60 or more in these curcumstances. I like the bit where he said he was not sure whether it was their fault or his, just maybe..it was who ever was not paying attention and was in a vehicle he could not see out of , now who was that?

robbiec

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posted by robbieC [62 posts]
24th June 2012 - 18:35

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As for the defendant's claim he had "spent a quarter of an hour conducting standard checks on his vehicle before taking to the road" - yes of course he had! I bet there was no one to corroborate this?

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posted by gb901 [137 posts]
24th June 2012 - 20:00

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it's fast becoming a farse - why bother going to court at
all if there's a cyclist involved - we all know the mighty
vehicle driver will get off .... gggrrrrrrr Angry

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [585 posts]
24th June 2012 - 20:38

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gb901 wrote:
As for the defendant's claim he had "spent a quarter of an hour conducting standard checks

Except for the windscreen washer, it seems.

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
25th June 2012 - 8:18

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The degree of fault by the coach driver depends on how long it was between him being blinded and the impact, as well as how fast he was driving. Apparently it was mere seconds between being dazzled and the impact and whether or not that would have given him time to decelerate is open to question. It is not clear whether the road was so twisty from the details reported that he could not have spotted the cyclists earlier. Under British law the guilty should only be convicted of offences when there is no doubt. It is not clear from this report how fast he was driving, given that he could only see 20-30 metres due to the impaired vision through the windscreen. Without more detailed information it is not possible to judge accurately whether the penalties against the driver are appropriate for the offence.

Perhaps more details were presented in court and were available to the jury, perhaps not. Should the family of the victims wish to appeal for a tougher sentence, they should focus on the speed of the coach given the limited visibility of 20-30metres.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1941 posts]
25th June 2012 - 9:11

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Just wish the jury had been twelve cyclists.

antonio

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posted by antonio [899 posts]
25th June 2012 - 9:14

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The cult of the Sacred Driving Licence is alive and well.

posted by Kim [121 posts]
25th June 2012 - 10:43

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This road is as straight as can be where the 'accident' happened. I drive along this road often. The driver should have had plenty of time to adjust his speed at the point of impact. I wear sunglasses when there is the likelihood of being 'blinded' by the sun as well as reducing my speed.

Chiswick

posted by Chiswick [45 posts]
25th June 2012 - 10:44

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The CPS despite recent failures to win cases must continue to prosecute drivers where there is believe of fault, even if it feels that the likelihood of a successful prosecution is diminishing.

THE ONLY WAY IS BIKE

posted by lushmiester [154 posts]
25th June 2012 - 10:46

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Yep, the A595 at Moota is straight as a die where this happened. It is also straight into the low winter sun. Any competent driver familiar with the road (which Mr Wightman, being a professional driver living locally, presumably is) would be aware of this and drive to the conditions. It appears that Mr Wightman did not. How this does not constitute either dangerous or careless driving is beyond me.

posted by philip s [28 posts]
25th June 2012 - 10:56

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'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.”'

After reading the details of the incident I fail to see how it could have been the fault of the cyclists.

posted by Mr. Rossi [37 posts]
25th June 2012 - 11:05

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TBH it's getting to the point that in any incident in which the driver of a motorised vehicle kills another road user then the perpetrator gets found guilty of a lesser offence

I am only as insane as the insanity around me (Jens Voigt)

posted by alronald [58 posts]
25th June 2012 - 11:21

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So he was by his own admission driving a defective vehicle and couldn't see properly. In what way does that not meet the legal test:

"falls far below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver; and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous."

I don't even have a license (never needed one) but it's pretty clear to me that being able to see objects directly in front of you is key to safe driving, to put it mildly.

posted by steff [81 posts]
25th June 2012 - 11:48

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The conclusion I came to some time ago is that killing with a motor vehicle has effectively been de-criminalised in this country. I no longer ride on the roads for pleasure and have effectively retired from road-riding. Almost all my riding is now off-road.

I am not prepared to risk leaving my family bereaved, with no effective recourse to justice. MTB'ing has its risks obviously, but at least they are of my own making and can be managed appropriately.

Britain is (or should be) a pariah nation where the safety of vulnerable road users is concerned.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
25th June 2012 - 13:00

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Mr. Rossi wrote:
'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.”'

After reading the details of the incident I fail to see how it could have been the fault of the cyclists.

That's the bit that jumped out at me. Without access to all the evidence, I can't say with certainty that he was guilty but I sure can tell from that statement that he is a scumbag.

posted by paulfg42 [355 posts]
25th June 2012 - 19:18

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Originally I started with the comparator of a gun and a motor vehicle. Be 'in charge' of a gun and someone gets killed or injured and there is an immediate presumption of liability that you have failed to act correctly in supervising the use of the gun. But actually this can apply to more mundane items such as chainsaws, hammers etc.

It will be interesting to follow through on the Civil case here which although weakened by the criminal case result, has clear pointers from the deficient forward vision conditions relative to the speed and direction being determined by the driver.

Also unusual that there is no mention of the coach owner and operator, nor any passengers cited as witnesses, given that there could have been up to 50 of them. Was this a regular service route or a tour coach. If the former the statement that the driver spent 15 minutes on the statutory checks, would be corroborated by the evidence of signing on for work and the departure of the coach/tachograph records.

There may well be an effect on the driver, and I once got a lift with a taxi driver, who claimed that in pre Tachograph days he had killed a car full of people by driving over it with a truck loaded with steel plate. This was at the time when drivers were faced with doing the job offered or finding other work, and he had simply fallen asleep at the wheel. As a result he had a very clear outlook on the danger of fatigued drivers, and the chain of culpability that runs back to the companies that expect this as part of the employee's work schedule.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [432 posts]
26th June 2012 - 9:59

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Unbelievable.

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posted by thegibdog [62 posts]
26th June 2012 - 19:06

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From what I remember about this bit of road it is very straight, so surely a competent driver will be looking well ahead, therefore he should have seen the cyclists from a long way off. I am aware of certain sections of road where the sun can be 'blinding'. If he traveled along this route regularly then he would be aware of this and be more prepared.

Les Ed

posted by Les Ed [36 posts]
27th June 2012 - 7:28

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If he had conducted his saftey checks, the time should have been recorded on his tachograph records.

As pointed out above, if he had carried out a proper check, it should have included the windscreen washers (see www.vosa.gov.uk).

Ih he hadn't recorded a check on his tachograph, there are further offences involved, but in my experience, they probably were not laid before the court.

“I would not like to say whether it was my fault, their fault or a combination of both.”'

I bet he wouldn't.

posted by Littlesox [89 posts]
18th November 2012 - 16:06

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