Shropshire Star

Woman’s death at cycle event ‘entirely avoidable’, court told

A woman spectator died after being struck by a mountain biker’s crash helmet when he flew off his bike, a jury heard.

Mold Crown Court

The tragedy during a mountain bike downhill race near Llangollen in North Wales was “entirely avoidable,” the prosecution alleged at Mold Crown Court.

British Cycling Federation - the sport’s governing body - denies that on August 31, 2014, it failed to ensure spectators including Judith Garrett, 29, who died in hospital, were not exposed to risk.

Event organiser Michael Marsden, 40, from Lancaster, pleads not guilty to failing to conduct the event in a manner in which spectators were not exposed to risks. He also denies failing to make a sufficient risk assessment. The prosecution claimed the event was ”poorly run”.

Kevin Duckworth, 41, of Accrington, Lancashire, allegedly a race marshal who was snoozing on a crash mat, denies failing to take reasonable care to ensure the health and safety of people at the event.

Opening the case, prosecuting QC James Hill told the jury the tragedy happened during a bank holiday weekend on a 2km farm course considered one of the most challenging in Britain, with steep, fast stretches.

The part of the course where the accident occurred, near the end, had three jumps and riders could reach up to 30mph. Mr Hill said that on taking the first jump, riders had to turn right to avoid a large tree.

A large crash mat had been attached to the tree.

“Unfortunately the area on either side of the tree hadn’t been recognised as a hazardous area. There was no exclusion zone. We say that if people had stopped to think there was an inevitability that spectators would be drawn to this area of the course,” Mr Hill said. “The most exciting part of the course arguably.

"That’s a matter that ought to have been borne in mind when risk assessments were considered.

“There had been no thought at all to spectator safety either by Mr Marsden or British Cycling.”

The QC said Miss Garrett, from the north east and a laboratory quality control officer, had been at the event with her boyfriend who was a competitor. She had walked up to the area of the three jumps.

Duckworth was allegedly snoozing next to a stile. “We don’t blame Mr Duckworth for causing the accident,” the QC explained. But he remarked: ”Perhaps his snoozing was symptomatic of the way this event was being run.”

Mr Hill said biker Andrew Cody, an experienced rider, hit the first jump but lost control.

“Both he and the bike were still travelling at great speed. He flew head first into Miss Garrett.”

She was knocked backwards and her head apparently hit a tree, fracturing her skull and causing a “devastating” brain injury.

An air ambulance flew her to hospital but she died the following afternoon.

The prosecutor said there was nothing Mr Cody could have done and there had been no time for Miss Garrett to react.

Mr Hill said Mr Marsden knew the course but the risk assessment was “wholly inadequate”.

He said the defendant claimed he did nothing wrong and it was “simply people being wise after the event”.

British Cycling maintained the event was under the jurisdiction of Welsh Cycling.

The prosecution said it was a relatively young sport. The QC said :”British Cycling hasn’t devoted enough time or effort to consider safety aspects.”

The trial continues and is expected to last a month.