Brenda Mitchell: Victims must have right to see collision investigation reports

On 29 April, 2017, Michael Cloy was killed while riding his motorcycle on the A711 close to Dumfries. A driver, Mr James Kiltie, turned across his path. Michael was pronounced dead at the scene.

Michael Cloy was a careful, competent biker, riding within the speed limit when was killed by a motorist. His widow only found out in court how her husband died
Michael Cloy was a careful, competent biker, riding within the speed limit when was killed by a motorist. His widow only found out in court how her husband died

Michael was 47 and married with three children. He had served in the British Army for a period of 25 years as part of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and then the Adjutant General’s Corps. On leaving the army, he worked as an HGV driver. He was a vastly experienced driver and rider. On the day he was killed, he was with his daughter, Hope Cloy, but they had taken separate routes home on their respective motorcycles. Michael’s sudden death left wife Lynnette and their family devastated.

James Kiltie was charged with causing death by careless driving under Section 2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Within weeks of Michael’s death, Police Scotland compiled a full collision investigation report. This is a factual report to establish the cause of death.

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Michael Cloy’s family have still not been able to access that report. James Kiltie pleaded not guilty to his charge of careless driving. The jury trial commenced at Dumfries Sheriff Court on 26 February 2019, almost two years after the collision. On the fourth day of the trial, James Kiltie changed his plea to guilty and will be sentenced at Dumfries Sheriff Court next week.

Brenda Mitchell is Senior Partner, Motorcycle Law Scotland

As the solicitor who represented Michael Cloy’s widow and his family in the civil case, I have still not been able to access the collision investigation report because the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) maintain that even a collision investigation report in relation to cause of death cannot be released in case it is “prejudicial to the outcome of the criminal trial”. Michael’s widow attended the criminal trial and had to listen to evidence in open court regarding how her husband was killed. How can this be acceptable in a modern-day society?

By denying access to factual reports into cause of death in road traffic collisions, our criminal justice system protects the accused at the expense of the victims. Often civil claims for compensation to pay for funeral costs, lost income and loss of support cannot be advanced until police evidence is made available. It can take many months, and often years, to bring cases to trial and, during that time, the bereaved and those injured through no fault of their own are denied access to much-needed compensation.

Michael was the main breadwinner. Imagine the suffering when you don’t know how your loved one died and you cannot raise an action against the driver’s insurers in civil law because the evidence to enable you to do so is withheld for years.

We raised a civil action for the family on February 2018 – a high-risk strategy without the collision investigation report. We knew there were witnesses and we were able to complete some investigations. It will come as no surprise to the motorcycling community to hear that lawyers representing James Kiltie averred that Michael Cloy had “come down the road at speed and lost control”. The civil case was concluded successfully against a background of uncertainty with no definitive answers for the family as to how Michael died, just a claim he was riding “at speed”.

It’s a disgrace that those who are accused of causing death by careless or dangerous driving are given access to collision investigation reports, yet those who are victims are not. We believe victims MUST be given access to police collision investigation reports into the cause of death within six weeks and without cost.

Michael Cloy was not speeding. He was riding within the speed limit as a careful, competent rider but knowing the true cause of his death was a guessing game for his widow. She can of course apply for a copy of the collision investigation report now that the criminal case is concluded. A fee of around £473 will be charged by Police Scotland, adding insult to injury.

We have raised this issue with the COPFS and been advised that our concerns will be passed on to the Deputy Crown Agent, Serious Case Work, Chambers Street, Edinburgh. That office will also liaise with the policy department.

Brenda Mitchell is Senior Partner, Motorcycle Law Scotland