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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Carlisle death crash bus driver cleared of charges

A bus driver has been cleared of killing two brothers by dangerous driving.

Robert Wightman photo
Robert Wightman

Related: Cumbria death crash driver 'never saw cyclists’

Robert Wightman, 44, had been accused of causing the deaths of Christian and Niggy Townend as they cycled along a main road.

But a jury cleared him of two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and another two of the lesser one of causing death by careless driving.

The family of the brothers, aged 29 and 21, wept as the verdict was returned following a four-day trial at Carlisle Crown Court

Judge Paul Batty QC, praised them for how they had handled themselves throughout the proceedings.

The jury had heard how the brothers – both experienced cyclists from Cockermouth – died on Sunday, December 5, 2010 as they cycled home along the A595 near Moota Garden Centre.

Wightman, of Raffles Avenue, Carlisle, who denied the charges against him, told the court of the moments leading up to the crash.

A transcript of his police interview revealed that he had held his licence to drive buses since he was 21, while he said he did not feel tired on the day of the accident.

Giving evidence, he explained how he had arrived at work that day at 2pm and spent 15 minutes carrying out routine checks on his 53-seater coach.

He said he at first experienced no difficulties as he drove along the A595, which was narrowed by banks of snow at the roadside, which had been ploughed.

The road was wet but not slippery and driving conditions were fine, he said.

As the road went past Moota Garden Centre it started to climb.

“I noticed the sun was low but not low enough to affect me,” he said.

But as he travelled further along that stretch, past the garden centre and a derelict motel, the sun became “blinding”, he told the jury.

“I checked across to the right, to the white line, to make sure I wasn’t driving into any oncoming traffic and then I looked back to my left. I caught a shadow coming into the bottom left of the corner of the windscreen.

“I just heard a bang.”

The time between the sun becoming “blinding” and seeing the shadow pass his windscreen had been “a matter of seconds”, said Wightman.

Asked how long he had been looking to the right, he said: “It would not be that long – a couple of seconds tops.”

In earlier evidence, the jury had heard that the temperature on the day of the accident was below zero, and the coach’s windscreen washer was not working because freezing had displaced the pipes from the nozzles to the washer fluid bottle.

Wightman said he could see 20 to 30 metres ahead, and conceded he could not have stopped in that distance.

There had been one or two little smears on the windscreen but it “wasn’t too bad”, he told the police.

Asked if he thought he had been at fault, he said: “I would not like to say whether it was my fault, their fault or a combination of both.”

Wightman went on to tell the officer that he wished it had been him who had been left lying there that day.

The prosecution had claimed that his driving fell far below that expected of a competent and careful driver.

Reacting to the verdict, the Crown Prosecution Service said their decision to take the case to trial was reached after taking guidance on cases involving bad driving and following consultation with Cumbria police.

Judge Batty had said there could be no criticism of the CPS for bringing the charges.

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