A road accident which claimed the life of a “hard-working” and “well-liked” motorcyclist was all down to a momentary error of judgment.
That was the finding of a coroner on Wednesday, as the details of the crash which killed Noel Campbell were laid out before his inquest.
Mr Campbell, a 46-year-old creamery worker from Old Newry Road, just outside Rathfriland in Co Down, had been on his black Honda when it collided with the back of a silage trailer, towed by a tractor.
It happened on the rural Rathfriland Road, about two-and-a-half miles from Newry, at about 4.20pm on June 15 last year. He died in Daisy Hill Hospital that evening.
Warm tribute was paid to him during the hearing, which was told his injuries were so severe that no medical intervention could have saved him.
Road conditions were good that day, the court was told, and neither vehicle had any problem which would have caused the crash.
Dr Peter Ingram, assistant state pathologist, found he had repeatedly fractured his pelvis, left clavicle, 10 ribs, and was bleeding into his lungs – among other injuries.
There was no alcohol and only normal levels of prescription medication in his blood. No estimate of vehicle speed was given to the court.
Marie Downey, who knew Mr Campbell, came across the crash soon after it happened.
She said he was “a grey colour”, but was able to speak, adding that his helmet had come off in the impact.
Mrs Downey also told the hearing in Belfast’s Laganside court complex that Mr Campbell had always had a twitch, which she had thought was down to Tourettes’ syndrome.
She said: “I’ve seen Noel on his bike before, and often wondered: ‘Should he be riding a motorbike with his twitch?’ But I didn’t like to judge.”
Crash investigator Damien Coll said “there is nothing to say exactly why” the collision happened, but suggested that either Mr Campbell was attempting some kind of overtaking manoeuvre, or that he sought to deliberately crash.
GP Dr Siobhan Wade said he had suffered from depression in the past and had been given medication which is prescribed to sufferers of psychosis.
His twitching condition was actually called dystonia; something which he had endured since his teenage years, and for which he was being treated.
His sister Cora McCartney described him as a quiet man who enjoyed music, and went everywhere on his motorbike (for which, the court heard, he had a restricted licence, limiting him to 45mph).
She branded the incident a “tragic accident” after proceedings were over.
Delivering his findings, the coroner Joseph McCrisken found the extent of his injuries had been “unsurvivable”.
He noted that Mr Campbell – a single man with no children – had experienced medical issues, but ruled out the idea of a deliberate crash.
“In my view, that simply did not happen,” he told the court.
He ruled Mr Campbell “did not intend to impact with the back of the trailer, and that – for some unknown reason, I think is the only thing we can say – he misjudged the overtaking manoeuvre”.
“No-one will know what happened really that day,” he said.
“He seemed like a man who was hard-working, well-liked, and we should all be so happy and lucky that people should describe us as that when it comes our time to die.”
‘THIS WAS NOT YOUR FAULT,’ FARMER TOLD
The farmer who had been driving the tractor that day also took to the stand during proceedings.
Clad in a tie and blue jumper, Ralph Todd swore on a blue-bound Bible and then gave his evidence.
According to a statement he had been travelling with a silage trailer, and said the roads had been extremely quiet.
He then heard a loud bang.
“It wasn’t an ordinary bang. I thought: ‘What on earth was that’?”
He saw a man on the ground “waving his arms around”. He was conscious but “wasn’t making any sense”.
Mr Todd was shaking so much he had to steady himself against the tractor door as he dialled 999.
He was allowed to drive his vehicles away afterwards.
When called at about 7pm that night by police to say the victim had died, he was “shocked”.
When he left the stand to resume his seat he appeared shaken.
The coroner told him: “I’m sure this is an incident which has affected a great many families, including yourself.”
In his concluding remarks, the coroner said: “This was not your fault. There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest it was.”