The heartbroken family of a policeman killed in a high speed bike pile up say the race should never have gone ahead after the track was ‘unsafe’ – and are planning legal action.
The family of PC Richard Phillips-Schofield were left with more unanswered questions after a jury inquest returned an accidental death verdict at Portsmouth Coroner’s Court.
PC Phillips-Schofield was killed after a collision at the Mountbatten Centre velodrome on March 9, 2014. The 33-year old suffered severe head and chest injuries and was pronounced brain dead two days later at Queen Alexandra hospital on March 11.
‘Richard died as a result of injuries sustained due to coming into contact at speed with an unyielding object after falling from his cycle,’ the jury concluded following the seven-day inquest.
But family members feel the inquest did not properly address their concerns.
PC Phillips-Schofield’s dad Frederick said after the verdict: ‘It has been a traumatic experience for all the family and although we have got some answers there is no real sense of closure.
‘The barriers played a significant part in Richard’s death and in our view were clearly unsafe and we believe that the event should never have taken place at all. We are upset that British Cycling did not express their condolences at the time of Richard’s death.’
The inquest heard how Richard – a four-time national mountain bike champion who had risen to eighth in the world rankings – was caught up in the carnage as riders jockeyed for position after the bell for the final lap.
Questions over the safety of the Mountbatten Centre were put to the director of British Cycling John Clay and race organiser Tim Knight of Racing Club Omega over the number of riders on the track and the fencing near where the accident happened.
‘There was no excuse for an unsafe and dangerous track,’ PC Phillips-Schofield’s family barrister David Haines said.
‘The person on the day wasn’t suitable to carry out the risk assessment.’
Following the verdict, Mr Clay told the hearing lessons had been learnt from the tragic episode after ‘weaknesses had been exposed’. He said there had been the introduction of new risk assessment procedures for their venues while new fencing had also been installed at the Mountbatten Centre and at two other cycle tracks in Brighton and Carmarthen.
New guidelines will also be published in the coming months dealing with the latest advice on fencing design.
But in response to the changes Mr Phillips-Schofield said: ‘It’s telling that since Richard’s tragic death, belated though it might be, the unsafe barriers at all three closed circuit tracks – the Mountbatten Centre and tracks in Wales and Scotland – have been replaced.
‘Although it required my son’s preventable death before action was taken, hopefully that will mean other families do not have to go through what we have experienced.’
Mr Phillips-Schofield added: ‘Richard was a loving son, brother and partner. The family are devastated that he died at such a young age and in such tragic circumstances doing the sport that he loved.
‘The family would like to thank all of the witnesses who attended to give evidence and for the support provided by family and friends throughout the inquest.’
The family’s solicitor Phil Barnes, of Access Legal Solicitors said: ‘Through the process of the inquest, the family have gained some more knowledge and understanding of what happened on that tragic day. However, they still have a number of unanswered questions as to why the safety of the fencing was not assessed and they intend to pursue civil action.’
Coroner David Horsley said it was not known exactly what happened to cause the accident but said it was a ‘dreadful tragedy that was devastating for the family’.
Mr Horsley also raised concerns about procedures for stopping races once an accident had occurred and will issue a report to cycling authorities to prevent future deaths.
PC Phillips-Schofield, who lived in Southampton, was stationed at Bitterne police station and had been a policeman in Hampshire for 10 years.