Boss of cycling body says sport was devastated by death of prominent rider at Portsmouth's Mountbatten Centre
British Cycling expressed its '˜devastation' to an inquest after a policeman was killed in a high-speed race pile-up.
PC Richard Phillips-Schofield died after he was involved in a 35mph 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.
John Clay, the director of British Cycling, told Portsmouth Coroner’s Court his thoughts were with PC Phillips-Schofield’s family.
‘I would like to offer our condolences to the family from everyone at British Cycling,’ Mr Clay, a former professional cyclist who competed for Great Britain at the Commonwealth Games, said.
‘As a national body we try to inspire people to cycle and are therefore devastated when someone dies in such tragic circumstances. Our sincerest sympathies to all of Richard’s family and friends.’
Mr Clay told the inquest jury the local race organiser – Racing Club Omega – was responsible for the event while acting as a representative of British Cycling.
Responding to questions from PC Phillips-Schofield’s family barrister David Haines that the safety of the track was below standard following Sport England’s 2003 guidance on cycling events, Mr Clay said this was not the case.
‘The guidance notes were for the design and planning of all cycling events and was not meant to be comprehensive,’ he said.
‘It was meant for the construction of new venues not as a retrospective measure. There was no expectation that existing venues should be changed to the guidance.’
Mr Haines argued the risk assessment of the track before the race – carried out by race organiser Tim Knight who passed out after having an epileptic seizure – was inept after there had been no checks on the ‘dangerous’ steel barrier where the crash happened. But Mr Clay said: ‘No one identified this as dangerous. The perimeter fence was deemed appropriate at the time.’
When questioned over whether the field size of 45 riders had contributed to the crash, Mr Clay said it came within the regulations. ‘There’s no reason to believe that the field size was unreasonable,’ he said.
Mr Clay added that British Cycling’s only power over local tracks was to not use them. He conceded the sport can be dangerous. ‘Cycling can be a very hazardous sport,’ he said.
Danny Churcher, the general manager of Parkwood Leisure at the time, which sub-let the centre, told the inquest there had been no problems before with the track.
‘The steel barrier had been there for many years and was used for many events,’ he said. Mr Churcher said he was made aware the barrier did not meet Sport England’s guidance but that the barrier had been ‘installed long before the guidance’.
PC Phillips-Schofield, who was stationed at Bitterne, represented the force nationally and internationally.