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Family of cyclist killed after hitting pothole welcome council's response to Coroner

The family of a 52-year-old woman who was killed after she hit a pothole in Warwickshire, have welcomed the response by the council to do more to identify and fill potholes.

Posted on 08 August 2018

The response from the council, which became public last month, follows a Prevention of Future Deaths (PFD) report which was sent to Warwickshire County Council following the inquest of triathlete Kate Vanloo who died on the 3rd January 2016.

The PFD report from Mr John Buckley, the Assistant Coroner for Warwickshire, demanded action to reduce the delays in repairing potholes in the county and ensure the progress of repair work is tracked by the council.

In documents now posted online, the council respond to the PFD report detailing a number of measures ensuring the prompt issue of a works order and the monitoring of repair work on potholes in the county. It also assured the court that the depth of potholes was also to be recorded upon inspection. All measures which were welcomed by Ms Vanloo’s family.

At the inquest into Ms Vanloo’s death at Warwickshire Justice Centre on 28 September 2017, Mr Buckley delivered a narrative verdict which detailed the delays and deficiencies in the repair of the pothole which caused Ms Vanloo’s death.

A keen triathlete and member of British Triathlon Federation, Ms Vanloo had been cycling home from a training ride with Rugby Triathlon Club when she hit a pothole in the road and was thrown from her bike into the path of an oncoming car. The vehicle struck Kate, who died at the scene.

The inquest heard that the pothole was around 10 centimetres deep and was completely hidden by a puddle that spanned the road. Kate was unable to avoid the pothole due to oncoming traffic.

The Highways Authority responsible for the road was Warwickshire County Council. The council had a contract with Balfour Beatty Living Places to deliver highway maintenance inspections and repairs in Warwickshire. Balfour Beatty in turn subcontracted the road repair work to CR MacDonald Limited.

The inquest heard that the pothole had been identified by an inspection in March 2015 and again in September 2015.
In his conclusion the Coroner detailed that the council’s policy required that such ‘category 2’ potholes were repaired within 28 days of identification. However, for financial reasons repair works were suspended between the end of July and the end of September 2015, causing a backlog of potholes that required repair.

The pothole had been due to be repaired on 2 November 2015 however, the person tasked with carrying out the repair from CR MacDonald Limited could not locate the pothole, despite having GPS co-ordinates, two maps and a photograph of the hole showing a nearby farm as a point of reference. They had been given the official street name but could not locate it using a sat-nav device.

The person who was supposed to carry out the repair instead filled in a pothole on a different road some three miles away, amending the paperwork to state the different location but not drawing this to anyone’s attention. 

The Coroner said that a deficiency in CR MacDonald Limited’s system led to the wrong information being sent to Balfour Beatty and Warwickshire County Council. This led both organisations to believe that the pothole on Holt Road had been repaired on 2 November 2015.

The inquest heard that the error was not picked up by any of those responsible for the road repair until after Kate’s death.

In the PFD report Mr Buckley, Assistant Coroner for Warwickshire, said: 

“In my opinion urgent action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you and your organisation have the power to take such action. The action should include an explanation of the steps you have taken to speed up the time it takes to repair potholes once they have been identified and what steps you have taken to track the progress of work orders that have been sent to Balfour Beatty Living Places for action.”

Following the inquest Kate’s family said in a statement:

“Kate and her husband Julian had three wonderful boys who were always, and remain, a credit to them both. Although Kate is no longer with us and can’t share the delights of watching her children grow, the family will always keep her memory alive.

“Kate will be truly, sadly and deeply missed. For those people lucky enough to have known Kate, both family and friends, they will agree that the world is a little less colourful without her. She was a truly amazing person in so many ways. Whatever difficulties life put in her path she remained positive, had a smile on her face and overcame them with tenacity.

“Kate died doing something that became her passion in life, she was aware of the risks, but she believed that life should be lived to the full and she lived and died doing just that. We at least now have more answers to our questions relating to the circumstances of Kate’s death that we can, in time, share with her children, to help them understand what led to their mother’s death. We are truly grateful for the Coroner’s kind words, thorough investigation, recommendations and findings.

“It is crucial that those responsible for maintaining the roads make sure that they are fit for purpose, for all road users, but specifically cyclists as its popularity continues to increase each year.

“We hope that Warwickshire County Council, and all local councils across the UK, will take the issue of potholes more seriously and make repairs a priority to ensure that everyone can use the roads safely.”

Bethany Sanders, associate solicitor from law firm Leigh Day’s cycling team, who represented Kate’s family, said:

“Following the Coroner’s conclusion and Prevention of Future Deaths report, we will now be investigating further legal action against the Council as the body responsible for repairing the road.

"The tragic death of Kate Vanloo shows the devastation that potholes can cause when they are left unrepaired. We welcome the Prevention of Future Deaths report produced by the Coroner and we hope that the council will take the action requested to speed up repairs and ensure that they take responsibility for tracking the progress of repairs. 

“Potholes pose a danger to all those who use the roads, particularly cyclists, and we urge the Government to recognise this danger and revise their guidance to ensure that councils have effective and efficient systems in place to complete repairs swiftly.”

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