Tragic Tandragee 100 crash rider ‘had not got a chance’

Noel Murphy who died at the Tandragee 100 last May, with his partner Lana Farrell, stepdaughter and baby son
Noel Murphy who died at the Tandragee 100 last May, with his partner Lana Farrell, stepdaughter and baby son

A motorcycle road racer who ploughed into a gatepost at more than 100mph had no chance of survival, a coroner’s court has heard.

Noel Murphy, 36, from Lusk in Co Dublin, suffered catastrophic head, neck and chest injuries during the crash at the Tandragee 100 last May.

It was the third time Mr Murphy, who had a baby son and six-year-old stepdaughter, had competed in the Co Armagh event.

John Rimmer, a race marshall who witnessed the fatal accident, said: “He was so unlucky. He almost controlled it but then it skewed across the road and he had not got a chance at all.”

There was standing room only for the inquest at Mays Chambers in Belfast city centre.

Relatives, including Mr Murphy’s parents and partner Lana Farrell who had travelled from Dublin, choked back tears as a DVD of the aftermath was played to the court.

The footage showed Mr Murphy’s body in a field covered with a white sheet and his Kawasaki 650cc motorbike lying upside down some distance away.

The court heard how the smash had happened on a relatively straight stretch of the course on Cooley Hill Road.

Mr Murphy had been on the final lap of the 650cc race when his bike momentarily touched a grass verge and was sent skidding out of control.

Mr Rimmer said: “Unfortunately, he was so near to being round ok. He was only a matter of inches on the grass.

“He certainly was not being reckless or anything like that.”

A post-mortem examination found the rider suffered a severe brain injury which would have caused an instantaneous death. There were also multiple fractures to his skull and face; his neck was broken in two places; his collar bone and shoulder blade were also badly injured and there was bruising to both lungs.

Mr Rimmer, who was the only eye witness, said he did not hear any revving that would have suggested gear box problems.

“He certainly was not easing off,” he added.

“He was very, very unlucky. If he’d gone either side of the gatepost – I am not saying he would have been okay – but, hitting the gatepost as he did there was no chance whatsoever.”

Mr Murphy, a plasterer by trade, had been racing on tracks and circuits since 2006 but had moved into road racing in 2012, it was revealed.

His father, also called Noel, said he had been “delighted” with the performance of his bike during practice laps at Tandragee.

Mr Murphy Snr said: “He had raced the bike the week before and he had won his first race the week before and he was delighted with the bike and way it was going.

“He never spoke of any issues with the bike.”

Questions were raised about damage to part of the gear box during the hearing. However, Coroner Suzanne Anderson said it was not possible to determine whether the selector drum locating pin had been damaged before, during or after the crash.

Howard Anderson, a technical steward who examined the bike in the wake of the accident, also said: “He had just set his fastest lap in the previous lap.

“If he was having a lot of problems with the gear box, he wouldn’t have set a fastest lap.”

An official report produced by Jason McMullan, from the North Armagh Motorcycle and Car Club, put the accident down to “rider error”.

Ms Anderson concluded that Mr Murphy had died as a result of head, neck and chest injuries sustained when he struck a gatepost at the entrance to a field.

“I would like to express my very deepest sympathies to Mr Murphy’s partner and his family,” the coroner said.

Additional safety measures had been put in place as a result of the fatal accident, the court was also told.

Outside, Ms Farrell said Mr Murphy had loved the sport.

She said: “It was a good inquiry today. There were plenty of questions asked and maybe if bales had gone up in place, there would have been improved safety. That’s more what I am thinking of now, safety for the next rider that comes along.

“Noel loved racing, even with Leon coming along, he wasn’t giving it up.”

In a poem Mr Murphy penned to be read in the event of his death, he wrote: “If I were there I’d tell you how I loved how riding makes me feel. I loved the twisty and fast roads, and the power at the back wheel.

“There’s nothing else quite like it to make you feel alive. To get that bend just right, and exit, throttle on and drive. I’m sorry I’ve gone early and I will miss you all. But in my last moments I was happy and that’s the best way to fall.”