The first Forensic Report was dated 14th May 2004, 6 months and 3 days after the crash. I did not receive it until 4th July 2005.We did not receive the Police photos used in the Forensic Report until November 2008. I will not list all the errors I found but enough to justify my subsequent action. The errors were as follows :
• He states that the change of road surface was 82 metres from the commencement of gouges in the Antrim bound lane when the actual distance was 65 metres. Had this change in road surface been a factor (and with a change of both surface and level it could well have been), he had placed it further from the corner and crash site and therefore less relevant.
• He describes a series of gouges moving across the Antrim bound lane, marks them with yellow chalk, and has them photographed. He has marked the four gouges with a chalk box. You will see that these four gauges are in a straight line towards the hedge contact and, although not seen here, he later agreed that they were part of a line which entered the grass verge and traveled to the point of contact with the hedge. This was clear on the video I gave him.
• In the foreground of the same photograph, he chalked what I had identified as a tar bucket impression and a straight score coming away from the verge which I identified as a recovery score. He also marked a final straight score on the Antrim side of the final Nova position which I did not find.
He had noted the tyre track across the verge and from this information he had concluded:
“ The location of these gouges, tyre track and damaged hedge, indicates that both vehicles were on the Antrim bound lane on impact and as a result of the impact the Vauxhall Nova car was forced down into the road surface producing the gouges as the car was forced rearwards.”
No one could come to such a conclusion on reading these gouge marks.
Later on in the Report he stated that the likely cause of the gouges was “the lower surface of the offside longitudinal chassis member.” This member is about 4 inches across. However the gouges in the video were created by a sharp v shaped piece of metal as they were long and very narrow. If he was of a mind to misrepresent the gouges to fit in with his conclusion about their origin, then he would have marked them as he did.
In his findings, he stated that the Nova was still travelling rearwards when it mounted the verge and so rotated in contact with the hedge to face towards Antrim. This is inconsistent with the marks he found at the “rotation” point. If the Nova had rotated there then any gouge marks would be in the form of an arc and not straight as he has indicated. None of the marks in the rotation area indicate rotation at that point. The several experts I consulted all agreed that the Nova could only have rotated when it was flung and rotated clockwise in the air before it hit the ground at the first gouge mark.
• He failed to acknowledge that there was debris in the Kells bound lane and described only debris as found in the Antrim bound lane.
• He failed to notice that there was a second deposit of debris on the Antrim bound carriageway adjacent to the front offside wheel of the Nova where it came to rest and extended up the carriageway towards Antrim . Note the scores on the passenger door of the Subaru.
• He did not try to explain why both front wings are tucked under the wheels if the Nova travelled rearwards. Perhaps he did not examine them even though their deformation and entrapment is clear in his photograph.
He did not attempt to accurately assess the sight line of Witness 2 or find out what she could see from her position at the stop line on the Eskylane Road or why she could not see what the Subaru had crashed into.
Evidence must not be ignored simply because it is inconvenient or not compatible with the conclusions one wishes to draw. If the Police photographer had been told to take four paces back and four paces to the right he would have a perfect shot from witness 2’s sitting position and a photograph of her obscured sight. On the other hand, perhaps the photo was taken to wrongly represent the sight line of witness two.
• On page 4 paragraph 8 he stated that: “In my opinion even in rain conditions taking into account the topography of the carriageway at the collision scene the incorrect rotation of the tyres would not have had a significant detrimental effect on the handling of the Subaru car.”
It would appear that he knew little about crash investigation so therefore I can surmise that he even knew less about reversed unidirectional tyres in the wet. He certainly knew less than the several expert witnesses who gave written statements and disagreed with him. He gave no supporting evidence for this “opinion”.
Throughout the Report he used the expression “in my opinion” some eight times but without any supporting evidence. An expert witness is indeed allowed to express an opinion if it is based on firm evidence or expert knowledge. It is not sufficient simply to ask the Court to give weight to the opinion simply on the grounds that he is a registered expert witness. He didn’t say that he made any attempt to be briefed by any experts in the field of tyre design, and I’m fairly certain that he does not have a personal expertise that would permit him to make such a bold assertion without expert input.
• On page 5, he stated that “the Subaru is almost twice as heavy as the Nova.” In truth it is 83% heavier, but he then stated :
• “Momentum is the product of the mass of the vehicle times the velocity and therefore in general terms when the mass of the a vehicle is considered it is often the case that the heavier vehicle was travelling at a slower speed at the time of collision in comparison to the light vehicle”
I don’t think I have ever come across such unscientific nonsense in my life. He uses this argument to say that in all likelihood the Subaru was travelling slower than the Nova. Presumably, he would also conclude that a cyclist was travelling faster than the car that ran him down. He believes that the comparative speed of two colliding objects can be assessed simply by attributing the heavier object to the lower speed. This is unscientific rubbish.
• In his conclusion, he states that “the Nova was forced rearwards whilst rotating in an anticlockwise direction before coming to rest with the majority of the car on the verge The Subaru car passed through the area of impact and continued forwards whilst forcing the Nova car rearwards before coming to rest in the central region of the carriageway. “
A simple examination of the gouge marks in line with the track across the verge would have told him that there was no rotation of the Nova on the way to the hedge The Nova was rotated at the point of collision and before the first gouge mark. He would later explain that rotation happened at the hedge. In this he was also wrong.
• On page 4 he stated that the degree of crush damage on the Subaru was greater on the offside than the nearside.
This is clearly untrue and the opposite was the case. (see photo earlier)
• On page 5 he states that “as the two vehicles moved in the general direction of Antrim the nearside passenger doors of the Subaru and the driver’s door of the Nova car made light contact as the Subaru travelled past the Vauxhall Nova car as it rotated anticlockwise and as it was forced rearwards into the hedge adjacent to the Antrim bound lane.”
I presume that he was referring to the contact between the two vehicles from Constable Cochrane’s Report where he identified the score marks along the nearside of the Subaru as corresponding to paint residue found on the Nova driver’s door, the conclusion being that the two vehicles had come into contact again after the initial contact. Mr Coll should have realized that contact between the nearside of the Subaru and the Nova driver’s door could not have made contact if the Nova was travelling rear first to the hedge. The contact would have been on the passenger door of the Nova. It might also have told him that rotation of the Nova had already been completed before the first gouge mark and that it had travelled head first to the hedge. Again he had misunderstood the evidence and come to a spurious conclusion.
• Under Conclusion, he states that “in my opinion taking into account the gouges in the Antrim bound lane and the debris distribution mainly confined to this lane this indicates that both vehicles were positioned in the Antrim bound lane on impact.”
Why? By ignoring the debris on the Kells bound lane? It is impossible to draw such a conclusion from this sparse amount of evidence.
• On page 6 paragraph 3 he states: “If the Subaru car had travelled around the uphill right hand bend in the Kells bound lane then the car would come into view for a driver of a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction in the Kells bound lane at a minimum distance of approximately 61 metres. A vehicle travelling at a constant speed of 60 mph (26.8 metres per second) would cover this distance in 2.3 seconds. In my opinion this would be insufficient for the driver of the Nova to react and steer his vehicle to the right onto the Antrim bound lane prior to impact. Clearly if the speed of the Subaru was higher then this time period would reduce.”
This is simply not right. Even if this is what happened, then the Nova’s reaction time to the emergency would be approximately 0.6 of a second. This is the recognized time in the Highway Code for reaction time in an emergency. This “thinking time” with regards to braking is defined as “the sum of visual reaction time, the pedal response and the mechanical action of the brakes” Given that the same sort of reaction time would apply to steering, then a driver in such an emergency situation would have turned the steering wheel away from the danger in the same time i.e. 0.6 seconds. To put it another way, in the situation as described by Coll, even if the Nova had been travelling at 50mph as alleged, then he would have travelled a distance of 122 feet before reaching the collision point, across the carriageway and far into the hedge and field beyond.
By using this false calculation, the Forensic offficer tried to establish the argument that the Nova could not have reached the wrong carriageway in response to a dangerous situation and so he must have been already on the wrong carriageway.
As we will see later, the Nova was never on the wrong carriageway.
In brief, Coll’s conclusions was that the Nova was travelling along the wrong carriageway when it collided with the Subaru, that it was arrested, driven back towards Antrim rear first, it hit the hedge and was then rotated through nearly 180 degrees before coming to rest. Somewhere along its path to the hedge it was hit by the Subaru for a second time.
Constable Cochrane the Police Vehicle examiner had found that “the rear of the vehicle appeared relatively undamaged.”
Mr Coll stated “The Nova sustained light impact damage across the rear bumper as indicated by scratching and smearing to the bumper This was the region of the car which had been forced against the hedge adjacent to the Antrim bound lane as the car was forced rearwards as the result of the impact by the front of the Subaru car.”
He refers the reader to these photographs.
. The photographs show a green/ yellow staining on the underneath of the rear bumper along its whole length running top to bottom from approximately 11 o’clock to 5 o’clock viewed from the rear. This part of the bumper underhangs beneath the main face of the bumper and is somewhat protected by it. A few of these marks just manage to extend onto the flat face of the bumper itself. One might assume that the marks were made by contact with the hedge. One could just as easily assume they could have been made as the result of a careless three point turn in a narrow road outside a primary school. There are no damaged panels anywhere to be seen on the rear of the Nova, no dents of any kind, and there is no tail light lens broken. A separate photograph shows that there is not a single scratch on the hatchback door which is quite inexplicable since a portion of it is only a couple of inches in front of the bumper.
Even though the marks are vegetation in origin, one might be struck at their freshness after being exposed to the winter weather for several months.
The rear of the Nova must have struck the hedge very lightly indeed to have caused such minimal damage to its rear. On the other hand, it had to have sufficient kinetic energy to overcome the drag of its burst tyres and damaged underside, possibly to overcome a stalled engine in gear and to rotate itself round about 170 degrees to face the other way. What speed might it have to doing when it hit the hedge?
There is a driving manoeuvre which is taught to certain military and police protection officers. It is a useful escape mechanism in the event that a vehicle comes across a dangerous roadblock and needs to retreat in the direction from which it has come. It is called a j-turn.
The J-turn is a method of changing direction by 180 degrees rapidly, starting in reverse and ending up pointing in the opposite direction of initial travel. The manoeuvre is carried out thus. The driver, on seeing the danger ahead would stop, put the car into reverse, and when he reaches a certain speed and with an expert sequence of steering and gear changing rotate the car. The important thing about the j-turn is that it must have sufficient kinetic energy to complete the 180 degree turn against friction. On a wet surface, the minimum speed for a wet tarmac surface to achieve the required turn is 20 mph.
Given the increased resistance of the Nova to turn due to its damage but setting that against a rotation needed of just 170 degrees, then it would be reasonable to extrapolate that the Nova would have had to hit the hedge at a speed in the region of 20mph in order to complete its rotation.
The damage to the rear of the Nova as described and photographed by the FSNI is not consistent with a crash against a hedge at 20mph. The damage to the hedge is not consistent with being hit by a car at 20mph. The marks in the road are not consistent with the rotation of a car. Finally, it is likely that the Nova would have gone through the hedge at that speed. It did not. Even if the hedge had sufficient resistance to simply deflect it, the Nova would have continued further towards Antrim as its momentum decayed. As can be seen from the Police photograph it did not. The rear of the Nova has just passed the contact point with the hedge (see earlier photo).
I had asked for Forensics to investigate the collision because of my grave doubts about the police investigation. I thought that they would bring a degree of professionalism and expertise that was absent from the police investigation. My long held belief and expectation of their competence and thoroughness was completely replaced with one of anger and disgust.
Mr Coll had produced a Report that misinterpreted the evidence, ignored a lot of other irrefutable evidence, declared unsupported opinions and used questionable scientific assertions to justify others.
I found it remarkable that in spite of all this, he still came to exactly the same conclusion as the Police as to the cause of the crash. Did his conclusion drive the evidence or did the evidence drive his conclusion? It seemed clear to me how it was.
This has been a long post but I hope it goes some way to show that the expertise presented by FSNI to Courts is lamentable if this is an example of its “professional” staff. Next time I will tell you about Coll’s subsequent Report.