Case Study

RAF Northolt Station Commander killed on A40

Incident date: 
Thu, 10 Mar 2011

The Station Commander at RAF Northolt has been killed in a traffic collision in west London.

Group Captain Tom Barrett was involved in a crash with a Ford Transit van while cycling on the A40 in Hillingdon, west London, on the 10th March, 2011.

The driver of the van stopped at the scene of the crash. He was only arrested a month after the crash.

The 45-year-old, of Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, was described as a “respected officer”.

The married father-of-two had also served as Aide-de-camp (ADC) to the Queen before joining the team at RAF Northolt.

Air Officer Commanding 2 Group, Air Vice Marshal Phil Osborn said: “Group Captain Barrett was a much loved and respected officer by all with whom he came into contact.”

Wing Commander Jules Stilwell, Officer Commanding 32 (The Royal) Squadron, said: “We were privileged to have had him as our Station Commander and the Royal Air Force is a poorer place without him.”

  • UPDATE 20/2/2012

A charge of causing death by careless driving has been brought against the driver of the van, Paul Luker, who has denied the charge on the basis that he was dazzled by sunlight and thereby missed seeing the commander of RAF Northolt, who was cycling back home from work at the time.

The prosecution case appears to be that the driver should have adjusted his driving to improve his visibility.

The driver told police interviewers:

“I lay in bed thinking night after night is there anything I did see or didn’t see. I weren’t even looking for a cyclist…I thought there’s no way there would be a cyclist on the road when there’s a cycle lane.”

  • UPDATE 22/2/2012

The driver of the van, Paul Luker, has been found guilty of causing death by careless driving.

  • UPDATE 26/3/2012

The van driver, Paul Luker, has received 100 hours community service and a 1-year driving ban, but no fine or costs because he is already in financial difficulties. He says he was dazzled by sunlight, that he slowed down and moved to the slow lane when other drivers were flashing their lights to say has driving too slowly, and that he was looking out for motorcyclists overtaking him at the time of the crash. He drove into the back of Group Captain Tom Barrett OBE, who was cycling his regular training route to work along the A40.

CTC's view: 

This case is one of very few ‘causing death by careless driving’ charges to be brought to court with a conviction secured. Generally drivers plead guilty to this charge, sometimes to avoid a charge of ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ has been. The usual legal penalty where drivers plead guilty to ‘causing death by careless driving’ is a very minor, non-custodial sentence.

This is also yet another case where a driver claims that because he claimed he didn’t see the victim, he therefore feels he isn’t criminally liable for his death.

A cycle lane runs parallel to the A40 at the point where the crash took place. It is, of course, unrealistic to expect that someone who was cycling as part of his triathlon training should use a low quality cycle facility (as this inevitably is). Despite evidence in court showing clearly that the cyclist had a right to be on the road, this factor was flagged up by the defence as a mitigating factor.

It is satisfactory that the driver was found guilty of causing death by careless driving, however, the 12-month ban and short community payback penalty is completely inadequate punishment. It suggests that taking another person’s life through poor driving is deemed a very minor crime. Before he received his short ban the driver had driven past the site of the crash many times.

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