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Husband of Somerset cyclist killed in pothole crash considering legal action against council

Options being considered following inquest into Margaret Nicholl's death...

The husband of Margaret Nicholl, the cyclist killed in March when she hit a pothole on a descent as the couple rode their bikes near Shepton Montague, is reportedly considering taking legal action against Somerset County Council due to its alleged failure to remedy defects in the road. He is being supported by national cyclists' organisation, CTC.

As previously reported on coroner’s inquest last week in Wells returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of Mrs Nicholl, aged 67, who died in Bristol’s Frenchay hospital ten days after she had sustained serious head injuries in the incident, which took place on March 12.

She had been cycling for five decades, and a member of CTC for 45 years.

Evidence presented to the inquest included a police report that maintained that the road in question was “in a poor state of repair,” reports the Western Gazzette.

Phillip Kingdom, highways inspection manager at Somerset County Council, told the inquest that last year’s severe winter had led to 25,000 potholes being reported throughout the county.

He said that three potholes had been repaired on East Street, where the fatal incident took place, on 9 March 2010, with a further check carried out six months later.

However, the contractor’s paperwork did not record precisely where those potholes were located on the road, which was due to be checked again the day after Mrs Nicholl’s crash, which happened when she hit one of a set of five potholes on the road while descending at 35mph.

“Potholes were appearing overnight in some places, let alone in six months,” he explained. “We do not check every repair that is carried out by contractors but we now have photos taken of the work before and after for audit reasons and for this reason.”

Mr Nicholl’s barrister Malcolm Galloway told the inquest: “There should have been repairs in March 2010 but there is no evidence of the repairs in the photos taken after the accident in March 2011. How long the pothole had been there for and if it had been repaired properly is for another court to decide.”

Mr Nicholl recounted the details of his wife’s crash: “As we went over the brow of the hill I saw some potholes. I was slightly ahead of Margaret and to her right, pointed with my left hand and shouted ‘potholes’.

“Within two seconds I heard a bang. I saw Margaret lying in the road still astride her bike. I went back to her and saw she was unconscious.”

Following the incident, Mr Nicholl told the Western Gazette: “I am very satisfied with the findings of the inquest. I am now awaiting further details from Mr Galloway about what will happen next.”

With winter approaching, the case underlines the danger that potholes present to cyclists, as highlighted earlier this week by road safety charity IAM when urging Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to make money available for remedying road defects.

A spokesman for CTC said that the organisation "is very concerned that the problems from under investment in the road network and two hard winters have led to a pothole backlog that is still getting worse. This is the third death associated with road defects that we've heard of in recent years and CTC urges highway authorities and national government to devote more resources to making roads safe for cycling."

He added: "We are supporting the case and our lead lawyer, Paul Kitson of Russell Jones and Walker, has visited her husband and the site in question."

CTC’s Fill That Hole website, also available as an iPhone app, enables cyclists and other road users to make relevant authorities aware of any potholes that need to be remedied. It also issues a league table of those councils that are the best performing when it comes to fixing potholes, and those that are worst.


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Recumbenteer | 12 years ago

Councils should fix the pot-holes.

But it's Winter and daylight hours are few.

Another reason for good lights.
If you crash because of a pot-hole, sue the bastards.

A V Lowe | 12 years ago

Potholes do not 'appear overnight' and cyclists will be aware of the deteriorating road structure well before the actual hole appears. What is however more damning is the fact that the same holes appear repeatedly at the same location, because the fundamental defect has not been fixed. I broke my hip in August 2001 where the road surface had sunken but not broken into a narrow hole. 10 years later that same hole reappears and is 'repaired' regularly.

We have some transverse slots that appear in a nearby main road (ie a monthly inspection) these are caused by the removal of the stone setts below and resulting weakness in the road sub base which was not fixed... when the tram lines were taken out 50 years ago. I see roads sinking because a the hole dug for service connections has not been repaired similarly to match the original street the hole was dug through and I see (and feel through the tyres) roads 'settling' as water (generally) loosened the clay beneath, or washed away fine material through a leaking pipe, or cracks in the tarmac seal. I've predicted a major road collacpse months ahead of it happening through the way the bumps in the road kept changing (Leith Street Edinburgh).

So 2 points to hammer home to roads authorities
1) fix things properly first time, as it will save you a massive sum in the longer term
2) get your roads inspectors out of their vans and walking or cycling their patch, so that they notice and act on the subtle changes that they completely miss in a motor vehicle, and save even more money by getting those leaky pipes and other water driven failure sorted before the really big damage happens.

Bez replied to A V Lowe | 12 years ago
A V Lowe wrote:

Potholes do not 'appear overnight' and cyclists will be aware of the deteriorating road structure well before the actual hole appears.

Only if you ride the same roads (and only those roads) day in, day out.

The pothole may not appear overnight, but the cyclist may well do.

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