A farm worker who failed to properly secure a straw bale to a trailer he was towing, resulting in it falling off and crushing a cyclist, has received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
Cyclist Kenneth Bridle spent two weeks in an induced coma and a total of three months in hospital as a result of the straw bale falling on top of him as he rode past the trailer on a country lane near Exeter in August 2019, reports Devon Live.
Farm worker Matthew Shapcott, aged 39, was taking six straw bales – none of them secured – to a farm in Nether Exe, towing the trailer they were on with a JCB telehandler, a type of vehicle widely used in agriculture and similar to a forklift truck but with a telescopic boom.
Herc Ashworth, prosecuting, told Exeter Crown Court: “The bales of straw were not secured to the trailer by any means, other than their own weight.”
He said that Shapcott, who was transporting the bales from the farm depot to a field around 1 kilometre away, “stopped to allow Mr Bridle to pass and one of the bales fell from the offside of the trailer. Mr Bridle was immediately rendered unconscious.”
Shapcott, who held the relevant safety certificates, told police that while he would often secure the bales using straps if travelling over bumpy terrain, he did not do so in this case because it was a relatively short journey over flat ground.
Mr Bridle, a retired train driver who had been riding his e-bike at the time of the incident, was left with significant damage to his eyesight, as well as impaired speech and memory loss.
In a statement read out to the court, he said: “Above all it is the damage to my sight, the loss of independence and not being able to walk the lanes alone. I will potentially live like this forever.”
Handing down a 12-month jail sentence suspended for 18 months, Judge David Evans told Shapcott: “This was not merely a piece of absentmindedness, it was a deliberate decision you took not to take an obvious safety action which you had engaged in before. You created a relatively brief and obvious danger, especially as regards vulnerable road users and of course you caused very significant harm.
“The bales were not secured to the trailer by the webbing straps which were usually to hand in the vehicle and would have taken just 10 minutes to put in place. In other words the straw bales were dangerously insecure. When you broke to a halt to let the bicycle pass by on the very narrow lane one of the top most precariously balanced bales tumbled on to him.
"This was a case of you uncharacteristically taking a short cut,” the judge added. “Perhaps it was laziness and thereby carrying an obvious risk of catastrophe."
He also banned Shapcott from driving for two years and ordered him to undertake 140 hours of unpaid work.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.