The family of a Hartlepool council labourer who was struck down by a car as he put up signs has criticised the inquest process following a verdict of accidental death last week.
The incident occurred in Hartlepool in 2003. Labourer Tony Gate suffered a severe traumatic brain injury when he fell onto the kerb following the collision with a Ford Escort driven by 28-year-old Hartlepool woman, Julie Verrall. He was left in a coma and never recovered. He died from pneumonia in February 2006, aged 52.

The jurors at Darlington County Court spent just half an hour deliberating over the evidence before returning a verdict of accidental death.

Linda Hughes, the personal representative of Tony Gate and one of his sisters, comments: “The whole family has been left feeling angry and let down by the system. It was immensely disappointing that where crucial decisions were made by the driver in the driving of her car, and the Council in terms of the traffic management system it used for these roadworks, decisions that clearly contributed to Tony's accident, there was no acknowledgement or expression of regret whatsoever from either party.”

Serious Dangers faced by Highways Workers

Maxine Bartholomew, from GMB, explains: "This case serves to highlight the very serious dangers that Local Council Highways workers face on a day to day basis. GMB want to encourage and work with Local Councils to ensure the safety of our members.

"We are concerned about the lack of any traffic surveys having being carried out in this instance before the work started on this particular road. Had that happened, a more stringent and obvious traffic management system may well have been put in place and this terrible tragedy may have been avoided. We demand that the existing Codes of Practice covering exactly these types of Highway repairs be fully implemented so that such unnecessary tragedies can be avoided in the future."

Representing Mr Gate's family, Andrew McDonald, from Thompsons Solicitors in Middlesbrough comments: "We had hoped that the coroner's inquest would have been an opportunity to explore what happened to Tony, but, regrettably, the conflict between fact-finding on the one hand, which is allowed, and apportioning blame on the other, which is not allowed, deprives the inquest process of any real investigative value."

The coroner's court system is under Government review and a revised draft Bill was published in March. The Bill aims to modernise the service and to provide a better service for the bereaved.

Andrew McDonald concluded: "This has been a most stressful ordeal for all of Tony's extended family and, while this part of the process is concluded, the family remain immensely disappointed at the failure of the coroner's inquest to get to the truth. Civil proceedings are under way and we owe it to Tony to continue to try and find out what happened."

This story was also published by The Northern Echo.