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Somerset husband may sue after pothole death

By Western Gazette - South Somerset  |  Posted: December 01, 2011

KEEN CYCLIST: A verdict of accidental death was delivered at the inquest into the death of keen cyclist Margaret Nicholl, pictured with her husband Richard.

THE devastated husband of a woman who was killed when she cycled over a pothole and fell off her bike is considering suing the highways authority.

Richard Nicholl, 70, of Wincanton, is taking legal advice about a possible case against Somerset County Council after his wife Margaret, 67, suffered a fatal head injury when she hit the pothole on a steep hill while travelling at 35 mph.

An inquest at Wells last week heard the couple were experienced cyclists and covered an average of 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year. But neither were wearing helmets at the time of the accident in East Street, Shepton Montague, on March 12.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded after questions were fired at a highways officer over whether adequate repair work had been carried out on the potholes.

A report by PC David Hoarsley of the collision investigation unit said although it was a quiet stretch of road it was “in a poor state of repair.”

Phillip Kingdom, highways inspection manager for Somerset County Council, said the harshest winter for decades had resulted in a massive 25,000 potholes reported across the county. He confirmed that work had been carried out on three potholes on East Street on March 9 2010 and they had been checked again six months later.

But the exact location of the repairs was inconclusive from the details recorded by the contractor, the inquest heard.

Mr Kingdom said East Street was classified as a rural local access road and checked every six months. It was due for further inspection on March 13, the day after the accident.

Mr Kingdom insisted the council had complied with its inspection policy.

“Potholes were appearing overnight in some places, let alone in six months,” he said.

“We do not check every repair that is carried out by contractors but we now have photos taken of the work before and after for audit reasons and for this reason.”

Mr Nicholl’s barrister Malcolm Galloway said: “There should have been repairs in March 2010 but there is no evidence of the repairs in the photos taken after the accident in March 2011. How long the pothole had been there for and if it had been repaired properly is for another court to decide.”

Mr and Mrs Nicholl were on their way to Bruton to join up with other members of Blackmore Vale Cycling Club. The couple were descending a hill, three miles from their home, in dry conditions.

The inquest heard that Mrs Nicholl rode over at least one of the five potholes in the road and fell from her bike, coming to rest 26 metres away.

She died ten days later in hospital from the massive head injuries.

Mr Nicholl said: ‘‘As we went over the brow of the hill I saw some potholes. I was slightly ahead of Margaret and to her right, pointed with my left hand and shouted ‘potholes’.

“Within two seconds I heard a bang. I saw Margaret lying in the road still astride her bike. I went back to her and saw she was unconscious.”

Mrs Nicholl was taken by air ambulance to the Royal United Hospital in Bath where she died ten days later.

After the inquest, Mr Nicholl told the Western Gazette: “I am very satisfied with the findings of the inquest. I am now awaiting further details from Mr Galloway about what will happen next.”

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