Sunday 16 September 2012

It was ‘an accident’

Coroner Geoffrey Saul said all three people had died from injuries sustained in the crash. He also made clear that the coroner’s court does not seek to prove any criminal or civil liability.

He said: ‘I will simply say that Derek and Ethan were in a VW Golf, which was being driving appropriately, when for some reason the vehicle driven by Mrs Lee strayed from its own carriageway and into the oncoming carriageway.

‘There was no evidence of excessive speed but the incline of the bridge meant neither driver had an advanced view of the other car.' Coroner Saul returned a verdict of accidental death.

The coroner’s mealy-mouthed equivocation is baffling, since the reason why the vehicle driven by Mrs Lee strayed from its own carriageway and into the oncoming carriageway is surely obvious.

It is interesting that Mrs Lee’s body was posthumously tested for alcohol, since in another case of a fatal crash where drinking was almost certainly a factor the dead driver’s blood was never tested for alcohol

But then consistency is not the strong point of the English system for dealing with violent deaths. For example:

His subsequent driving record was appalling. In July 2009 he drove into the rear of another vehicle causing £3,000 worth of damage. In August 2010 he was involved in a collision though he disputes this was his fault and the Judge therefore rightly disregarded it. In March 2011 he collided with a parked motor vehicle and failed to stop, as a consequence of which he was dismissed by his then employer. In June 2011, shortly before he killed Ms Gutmann, he attempted to overtake a minicab so closely that he removed the wing mirror. His solicitor argued that since none of these incidents had resulted in any conviction they should be disregarded but the Judge wisely disagreed. 

The judge in the trial of the police officer who assaulted Ian Tomlinson faced a similar argument but perversely decided that the defendant’s substantial record of alleged violence and uncontrollable anger should be excluded from consideration:

The jury's verdict, after four days of deliberations, brings about something of a legal contradiction: 14 months ago another jury, at the inquest into Tomlinson's death, ruled that he was unlawfully killed by Harwood. The inquest ruling was made on the same standard of proof as a criminal trial, that is, beyond reasonable doubt.

Neither jury heard details of Harwood's prior disciplinary record, which can only be reported now. This includes how he quit the Met on health grounds in 2001 shortly before a planned disciplinary hearing into claims he illegally tried to arrest a driver after a road rage incident while off duty, altering his notes to retrospectively justify the actions. Harwood was nonetheless able to join another force, Surrey, before returning to serve with the Met in 2005. He allegedly punched, throttled, kneed or threatened other suspects while in uniform in other alleged incidents.