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Minibus driver cleared over Southampton cyclist death

Low sun and glare given as explanation for crash

A minibus driver who admitted hitting a cyclist with his wing mirror has been found not guilty of causing death by careless driving.

David Irving, a 48-year-old IT consultant from Wimborne in Dorset, died at the scene of the crash in Southampton on the morning of December 17, 2012.

Driver Steven Petterson, 38, said bright sunlight and glare stopped him from seeing Mr Irving.

After the verdict was announced, David Irving’s older brother Nick, 56, said: “David was a healthy and active person.

“He was a loved and dedicated father to two teenage daughters.

“He was a very keen cyclist and was very sporty, competent and fit and is missed by all the family.”

David Irving fell from his bike after he was hit by the Ford Transit minibus driven by Mr Petterson.

Moments later he was hit by a Mercedes and sustained severe head and chest injuries.

During the trial, Rufus Taylor, prosecuting, said Mr Irving was wearing an orange high-visibility jacket, an anklet with LED lights and lights on his bicycle at the time of the crash.

His cycle helmet was “smashed to bits”, the prosecutor added. The court heard that Mr Irving’s head injuries were consistent with being hit by a wing mirror.

When he was arrested in connection with the collision, Mr Petterson told police he had been “driving slowly” because of traffic.

“I was really blinded by the sun,” he told Southampton Crown Court. “Then I heard a bang. The wing mirror came in. There was a flash of red and in my mind I envisaged it was a bus sign. It was the first thing that came into my head, it was a red post.”

Mr Petterson pulled into a lay-by and got out of the minibus to see what had happened.

He added: “I looked back up the road but couldn’t see anything. I got back into the vehicle and drove off.”

He stopped again and called his father, who lives nearby, and asked him to investigate. After his father told him there were ambulances at the scene, Mr Petterson called the police.

“I didn’t know for certain it was a person. When I was told I was being arrested for causing someone’s death I broke down in tears. That’s when it really hit me.”

Collision investigator PC Ed Wilson told the court that Mr Petterson should have seen Mr Irving despite the bright sunlight.

After the court heard that CCTV images from earlier in the route showed that Mr Irving’s rucksack and the way he was leaning forward obscured a large part of his orange jacket, PC Wilson, under cross-examination said that Mr Irving would have been “virtually impossible” to see and may have “blended into the background”.

Witness Clive Jones told the court that the low sun and glare had been “blinding”. He was riding a scooter at the time of the crash and told the court: “I was doing about 40mph, no more than 45mph.

“It was blinding. My first reaction, if I couldn’t see, was to take my hand off the throttle. I was concerned about traffic going into the back of me.

“It all happened in such a quick time. It was just a whiteout.

“I couldn’t really see anything at that point. Even with my sun visor pulled down. It was the glare that just hit me.”

Mr Jones added that he was later able to “just make out tail lights” and he realised something had happened.

“In a split second, to my left, that’s when I thought I saw a person in the road.

“I wasn’t aware it was a cyclist. I hadn’t seen the cyclist prior to the accident.”

Mr Petterson told the court he had driven along the dual carriageway on and off for 20 years and he was taking his six-year-old daughter to school.

He said he had kept to the inside lane, was wearing sunglasses because of the conditions and had the sun visor down. He denied causing death by careless driving.

“I wasn’t doing anything in the vehicle to distract me. I was concentrating. I could just see the car in front with its lights on.”

“I didn’t think I was driving carelessly,” he said. “I was driving like I normally drive. If I had seen someone on a bike I would have made sure I would have driven around them.”

Reactions

Cycling charity CTC said it was deeply disappointed that the jury had not convicted. “The excuse of glare should not be an excuse – a careful and comptetent driver should drive to the conditions, slowing down and taking extra care if conditions are sunny,” CTC said.

Barrister Mark Florida-James, for Mr Petterson, said outside court: “This case is very tragic. There are no winners or losers.

“Mr Petterson is very sorry for what has happened and it just shows how hazardous driving is.”

Hampshire Constabulary said that it had been a “complex case [that] prompted a thorough investigation by the Road Death Investigation team.”

Senior investigating officer Sergeant Rob Heard said: “This case was always never to result in any winners or losers. It was a complex, extremely thorough and detailed investigation and everyone involved in the case has been affected by this tragedy. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to David Irving’s family at this difficult time.

“The case highlighted that motorists need to be aware of the possible presence of cyclists on our roads and ensure they pass them giving plenty of room. This case focussed on the low winter sun on the morning of the collision and how at times it had made the view ahead difficult to see for some depending on where you were on the road leading up to the collision location.

“David Irving was cycling legally on the road and was there to be seen. He had been seen by numerous motorists that day prior to the collision whilst he cycled in from Totton to West Quay in Southampton.

“The minibus driver stated in court that at no time had he seen Mr Irving on his bicycle after pulling out of Waterhouse Lane to join Mountbatten Way. A short while later the collision occurred.

“The case rested on the jury identifying why the driver failed to see Mr Irving and by failing to see him if this was careless or not.  The jury took nearly two days to consider the evidence before coming back with a not guilty verdict.

“I would ask that people do not make comment on the case without having listened to all the evidence given in court, which at times was complex.”

Sources: Numerous reports from the Southern Daily Echo

Commenters on this story should please keep in mind that the families of those involved may be reading.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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