The addendum requested from FSNI by the Coroner was sent to us on the 28th March 2006. It was dated 28th February 2006, some six months after it had been called for. It had become the pattern that each stage of the process carried with it inexplicable delays. None of the delays could have been attributed to either me or my Legal team, but I was beginning to get the strong impression that the whole thing was being strung out deliberately in the hope that I might just give up and go away. It was a forlorn hope if that was the case because it made me all the more determined to see it through to the end whenever that would be.
On reading the Report for the first time, it was clear to me that Mr Coll was going to defend his first Report and challenge my objections to it. Somewhere in the preceding six months, he had regained confidence in his first Report and his concerns at the Coroner’s Court had completely dissipated. Maybe he had been influenced by what had been said at the meeting with the Coroner and Sgt McBride or maybe someone in his own organization had told him that a review of his work had been done and only one small error was found. In any case, the new Report was a defence of the contents of his first one. He had returned to the scene and taken some further photographs, but still I wasn’t shown them. Second time around, he had the use of my Accident Investigator’s Report and photographs which he had been given by the Coroner. Someone had restored his confidence in his first Report so convincingly that he was able to set aside his integrity and independence and recover his self confidence. Perhaps the CEO of FSNI rebuttal to my formal complaint was so overwhelmingly persuasive or perhaps the Coroner’s desire to harmonise all outstanding disagreements before hearing the case gave him the courage to repeat his many errors in the second Report and add a few others in support. He seemed to have confidence that I would never see the photographs referred to in his Report, but I got them some two years later although the Police were adamant that I shouldn’t look at them but hand them unopened to my legal team. On the other hand, his confidence in the Coroner was better placed when the latter protected him from being cross-examined about his two Reports and photos. All this will detailed much later.
I will now detail the contents of this second Report but I will refer to his photographs even though at the time I still had not received them. The layout will be in the same format as for the first Report.
These are my findings:
• In paragraph 2.2 he deals with witness 2’s sight line as she waited at the stop line in Eskylane Road. He refers to the photograph as being taken “close to the nearside edge of the Kells bound lane where witness 2 was positioned when the Subaru travelled past her. The collision location is visible from this location.”
This is simply untrue. The photograph has been taken some 4 or 5 feet into the carriageway and as much as 10 feet from witness 2’s position behind the stop line. As stated previously if he had wanted to record an honest view of what witness 2 could see, he had simply to take a photograph 6 feet from behind the stop line and at a sitting height of 4 feet to record witness 2’s eye line.
• He then uses another photograph taken on the Antrim side of the damaged hedge and says that it is “the view looking back towards the junction and the edge of the stop road markings”
The point at which this photograph was taken is irrelevant to the collision or the supposed collision point. When it is blown up it does it does not show the position of witness 2, a minimum of 6 feet behind the stop line or the position her car. It doesn’t even show the stop line. Both are hidden by the intervening hedge.
If only he had looked at the photograph taken by Mr McLaughlin (my private investigator) who had taken a photograph of the crash area giving the sightline view of witness 2 from behind the stop line. He would have understood her restricted view was consistent with both her statements. However, such a truth would conflict with his preferred findings so had to be ignored.
In paragraph 3.1 he admits that he “spoke to Sgt McBride in relation to the circumstances known at that time. This is normal policy in that I also acquired all the information held by Sgt McBride including photographs, maps, sketch, statements etc.”
I have no problem with this. I would expect it. He does not say why he refused to attend the scene on the night. Was it because Sgt McBride had already told him the cause of the crash? How much of his original Report was influenced by Sgt McBride’s maps and Report? He does say that he found the police map inaccurate in that the bend was not shown on the map.
He admits that he was wrong about the position of the change of road surface in relation to the first gouge mark.
On page 4, he still insists that the Nova was rotating anticlockwise between impact and hedge contact even though the gouge marks and the track across the verge are in a straight line.
He recognizes that there is hedge debris trapped in the front of the Nova, but dismisses it in favour of the smear marks on the lower part of the bumper. He does not comment on the absence of any dents or damage to the rear of the Nova. There were no relevant marks.
He says that “there was no damage visible to the front of the Nova car consistent with contact with the region of damaged hedge in the police photographs taken on the day of the collision.” How would any such damage be differentiated from initial collision damage? This is not a valid reason for dismissing the notion of a frontal approach to the hedge.
He now states that the debris field started close to the nearside edge of the Antrim bound lane. He also states that “the concentration of debris is located on the Antrim bound lane with some pieces on the Kells bound lane past the offside of the Vauxhall car and towards the rear of the Subaru car.”
He cannot say this since a good part of the Kells bound lane was never photographed on the night. He does not try to explain the increase in debris between the rest positions of the Nova and the Subaru. However, he is entitled to put his own interpretation on the meaning of the debris field and at least he has explained his reasoning, however questionable, something which was absent in his first Report.
• He continues to assert that it was the offside longitudinal chassis member of the Nova car which produced the gouges, and of course he would be right only if the Nova moved rear first towards the hedge.
He is wrong if the Nova went head first into the hedge. Had he spent just a minute to examine the photograph he had taken of the raised Nova he would have realised that this member is not as close to the ground as the bent exhaust pipe. This pipe would therefore come into contact with the ground first and be badly damaged, squashed or abraded. It is unmarked.
He now accepts that he was wrong about “nearside” and “offside.” I can accept it was a genuine error.
• In paragraph 3.6 he states that “the fitment of directional tyres rotating in the opposite direction to that designed is allowed and general advice is that the vehicle should be driven no faster than 50 mph.
He is wrong. The advice refers only when one tyre is incorrectly fitted as in the case where a wheel is changed after a puncture and there is no alternative. The advice does not cover all four tyres being ill fitted, and the specialist crash investigator seconded by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland(PONI) stated quite clearly that he considered such a case to be against the law as the car would be in an unfit state. It may well be the case that, because of the recent introduction of such tyres, no such specific law has been enacted to cover such a situation, but that does not make the Subaru fit for the road or the reverse tyres safe.
Coll still does not indicate that he contacted any experts in the field or even considered the opinions of the experts I had contacted. Instead, he carried out his own experiment. He says that he drove his own car round the bend on a wet day and found no difficulty in negotiating the bend at 70 mph. His car was fitted with non directional tyres! Leaving aside the legality of breaking the speed limit, he proved nothing by comparing apples with pears, but it appears to have confirmed him in his belief that the ill fitted tyres had no effect. More junk science.
• In the next paragraph he explains that tyres are tested for aquaplaning by driving them through 7 mm of water. To the lay reader, this might suggest that a tyre needs 7mm of water to initiate aquaplaning.
It does not. A tyre will aquaplane on a molecule of water given the right circumstances. The purpose of grooves in the tread is to disperse the water so that the tyre remains in contact with the surface. For example, the minimum possible speed that the Subaru would aquaplane is as low as 54 mph and this speed is only increased by the efficiency of the tyre treads to disperse water. As stated previously, one can easily see the effect of slick tyres in a Formula One race when it suddenly rains before the pit crew has time to change the tyres. Wrongly fitted uni-directional tyres will tend to fill the groves with water instead of centrifugally throwing it from the tyre thus decreasing the tyre’s effectiveness. His statement, without more detailed explanation, is misleading and quite wrong.
• He states that “estimation of a vehicle’s speed by a person either stationary in a second car or in a moving vehicle is difficult.” Wrong. It can be estimated, but the level of accuracy is somewhat reduced.
I accept that such evidence is not in itself sufficient to secure a conviction but it should be considered when investigating the causes of a crash. The combination of three competent and reliable witnesses should not be entirely dismissed even if their evidence might not be conclusive in a criminal court. A professional accident investigator should have the means to calculate the speed of the two vehicles at impact if he has the position of the two vehicles at impact, the weight of the vehicles and the distance the vehicles travelled post contact and various other inputs such as road surface, friction etc. He could use a method called Conservation of Momentum Formula. Mr Coll never applied such methods, although he had all the information available should he have wished to do so. He simply relied on another one of his unsupported opinions to decide that the Subaru was not speeding without finding any real evidence. Had he have done so, he might well have come to the conclusion that the independent witnesses were right in their assessment of the speed of the Subaru.
• He tries to explain why he dismissed the idea that the Nova did not have time to reach the other carriageway in 2.3 seconds. He explains that it “is generally accepted that a full lane change requires a time of approximately 2 to 2.5 seconds. In this he is right. If a driver was changing lanes on, say, a motorway, the time it takes for him to change lanes in an orderly way and to be established in the new lane, is approximately 2.5 seconds. This was not a normal lane change and the Nova was responding to a car being driven at him. For this situation, a different set of figures apply –the time of an emergency manoeuvre or reaction time. In any case, he never made the other carriageway before he crashed. His conclusion that the Nova driver could not have made the other carriageway and was on the wrong carriageway already, is not sustainable.
• He then goes on to argue that the Highway Code is wrong and he is right. This is what he says: “When a perception response time is added of 1 to 1.5 seconds then this results in a total time of approximately 3 to 4 seconds. It is never possible to specify a single perception response time as it will vary depending on factors including stimulus, age, time of day, tiredness, alcohol/drug level. A generally accepted time is 1.5 seconds. The Highway Code does suggest a perception response time of 0.67 seconds but the main reason why this time was chosen was to facilitate drivers of time and distance(sic) in that 30mph equates to a distance travelled of 30 feet over 0.67 seconds and 60 mph equates to a distance travelled of 60 feet, although current edition of the Highway Code the thinking distance is stated in metres. In other words, the writers of the Code reduce the thinking time to make it easier for the reader.”
What nonsense. The Code is obliged to err on the side of caution.
His conclusion as stated in the first Report remained unchanged. It seems that he was able to set aside the reservations he had expressed when we met at the Coroner’s Court and regained confidence in his original findings. Someone or something had persuaded him that he was right in the first place or, more likely, for the sake of his own reputation, he shouldn’t change his findings to any appreciable degree. Throughout this whole process, it became increasingly clear to me that written Reports, once published, were considered to have been chiselled in stone and couldn’t be changed or modified.
At the end of his Report he signed a certificate that “this statement consisting of 2 pages, is true to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
Given that this second Report in fact contained 7 pages, I understood exactly what he meant. The other 5 pages were, in his opinion, a load of rubbish and lies, or, he can’t count.
I was beginning to think that perhaps there was a master puppeteer pulling the strings of so-called experts in crash investigations for some unknown purpose and that these experts had neither the integrity or moral fibre to resist. I wondered how deep this malaise in the Justice system ran. Was I dealing with the equivalent of a self serving type of Mafia posing as an honest System of Justice? Was this an isolated case ? I decided to find out. You may well be shocked at some of my findings.
The next several posts will cover my dealings with the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland ( PONI ) – a fine example of a Curate’s egg !
I will return to the subject of Forensic Science at a later date, and you will discover the degree of help you can expect from the Government Ombudsman when you complain about the unprofessionalism of a member of the FSNI. The Government Ombudsman has oversight into the integrity efficiency and fitness for purpose of the FSNI. In the meantime, I humbly suggest you do not accept any findings by the FSNI until you have them independently checked out.