Police were following biker before collision on M4 near Swindon
5:30am Saturday 25th January 2014 in By Elizabeth Mackley
A JURY has found that loveable rogue Herbert Washington’s death was accidental after he sped past traffic police on the M4 and crashed after they began to follow him.
An inquest at Salisbury’s Coroner’s Court heard the 56-year-old died on the evening of March 7 last year after his bike smashed into a barrier at the top of the slip road at Junction 16 of the M4 as he travelled towards the roundabout.
Paramedics, police, and a doctor who was in a nearby car at the traffic lights at the time of the crash, did their best to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at 8.02pm having sustained multiple neck and body injuries.
A jury of eight returned a narrative verdict, explaining that four key factors contributed to Herbert’s fatal accident.
The foreman said: “At 7.31pm on 7 March Herbert Washington was driving his motorbike westbound on the M4 when he took the junction 16 exit for unknown reasons.
“He lost control of his vehicle and, on hitting a kerb, hit the barrier, from which he sustained multiple neck and body injuries.”
From about 7.30pm on March 7 police had been following Herbert after he travelled westbound on the M4 through a speed checkpoint near to the Junction 16 exit for Swindon at 95mph.
PC Adrian Ridley and PC Peter Aston, who was driving the marked police car, attempted to catch up with him. They arrived seconds after Herbert hit the barrier.
The jury said excessive speed and Herbert’s awareness that he was being pursued by the police contributed to his accident, as well as his unfamiliarity with the area.
PC Ridley and PC Aston both said they were not in active pursuit at the time since they were too far away to make him aware that they wanted to pull him over.
PC Peter Aston, explaining why the lights and sirens were put on as the car caught up with Herbert’s bike, said: “We had to be careful because of the traffic on the road, and because we were approaching the roundabout. In those situations it’s best to be as big and noisy as you can to make people aware.”
On examination of the motorbike, a quantity of cannabis – an ounce of skunk and an ounce of resin– was found in the top box.
A toxicology report indicated that Herbert had consumed the Class B drug prior to his journey from London, where he worked as an information manager for Eco Animal Health, to his Bristol home and the jury found this also contributed to the accident.
Herbert – known to his family as Bertie – leaves two sons by his ex-wife, Ailsa Marshall, with whom he continued to have a good relationship despite their divorce.
The 48-year-old said: “The boys, Ben and Luke, were Bertie’s world.
“When I found out about the accident the first thing I thought was how am I going to tell Luke, who’s18, that he won’t be able to speak to the person he idolises again.
“He was a loveable rogue. he had a great sense of humour.”
In his will Herbert left his Royal Enfield motorbike to Luke, who hopes to finish restoring it.
Ailsa said: “I gave it to him for his 40th birthday.
“As the boys grew up they had different needs and Bertie was aware of that.
“He would take Luke to look at steam trains and with Ben they went to music festivals together.”
“The verdict was as expected. We had come to the same conclusion.”
No evidence of a chase
THE police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, has published its findings from investigation into Herbert Washington’s death.
It has found that two Wiltshire Police officers acted appropriately before the fatal road traffic incident in March 2013.
Mr Washington was being followed by a marked Wiltshire Police car before the crash and the investigation examined the actions and decisions of the two police officers in the marked car, including whether they were in pursuit of Mr Washington’s motorcycle.
The marked police car had been parked on an observation ramp of the westbound carriageway between junctions 15 and 16 of the M4.
One officer was outside the car carrying out speed checks with a portable device when Mr Washington passed them. His speed was registered at 95mph.
The IPCC obtained evidence from the two police officers travelling in the marked car, the ambulance staff who attended at the scene, CCTV footage from local authority cameras on the stretch of motorway, collision reports, and independent witnesses who responded to an IPCC witness appeal.
The investigation concluded that the officers had not been engaged in a pursuit and were too far behind Mr Washington to signal him to stop.
It did not identify any evidence of criminal behaviour or misconduct by the fficers.
IPCC deputy chairman Rachel Cerfontyne said: “It is now over ten months since Mr Washington’s death and I know his family and friends must still be coming to terms with their loss.
“It was important that we independently investigated this case to establish what happened in these very sad circumstances.”
The IPCC’s investigation concluded in August 2013 but publication of the findings has awaited the outcome of the inquest into Mr Washington’s death.
Officers acted appropriately
WILTSHIRE Police have moved to clarify their role in Herbert Washington’s death following his inquest on Thursday.
Inspector Steve Cox, the head of the Roads Policing Unit at Wiltshire Police, said: “I would like to say that our thoughts remain with Mr Washington's family at this time.
“This was a tragic incident in which a man lost his life following a single road traffic collision on the slip road of junction 16 of the M4 on March 7 last year.
“Mr Washington had been travelling on his motorbike westbound between junctions 15 and 16 when a static police vehicle recorded his speed as being in excess of 90mph.
“The traffic officers in this vehicle then followed Mr Washington before he exited the motorway at junction 16 where he collided with a crash barrier.
“Sadly, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
“As is protocol in incidents such as these, the matter was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission who undertook the investigation.
“They concluded that the two officers involved had acted in the appropriate manner and had not breached any police standards of professional behaviour.
“The coroner has recorded a verdict of accidental death based on four contributing factors; the fact that Mr Washington was driving on an unfamiliar road, at excess speeds, with drugs in system and was being followed by a police car.
“It was ruled that the fact that officers were following him was not the cause of the collision.
“This incident illustrates the real danger that any vehicle can present when driven at excess speeds.
“I would hope this tragic case acts as a stark warning to others and goes some way in preventing further loss of life on our roads.”