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Keoghs Head of Motor Crime, Neena Sharma, represented Ann Diggles in this high profile case relating to a road traffic collision on 7th July 2014.
The incident occurred when Mrs Diggles’ automatic vehicle went out of control and mounted a kerb, wedging itself between a parked car and the wall fully onto the pavement. At that moment a pedestrian emerged from a charity shop and was knocked down by the vehicle, unfortunately dying as a consequence. Mrs Diggles was charged with causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving in the alternative with a “not guilty” plea entered on both charges.
Mrs Diggles was always adamant that her automatic Nissan Qashqai suffered from an electronic surge which caused her vehicle to move forward whilst the police and prosecution case was that she had pressed the accelerator rather than the brake.
Prior to the incident she had parked on one side of the road using her disabled badge, before seeing another parking space become available and deciding to move her vehicle so as not to cause an obstruction.
Mrs Diggles explained that, despite setting off very slowly and putting her foot on the accelerator in a normal fashion, the vehicle just shot off. She maintained that she then placed her foot on the brake but the vehicle did not respond. The witness evidence from people at the scene described the collision as low speed but commented that the engine was revving quite loudly. One witness said;
“The impact was slow but I then saw the Nissan almost forcing its way along the pavement between the parked car and the Tattoo studio…..The car seemed to be shaking from side to side but again speed was only slow.”
The prosecution alleged that a “sudden acceleration surge” could not have occurred in the manner Mrs Diggles alleged and that she must have made a mistake and pressed the accelerator rather than the brake, thus causing the incident.
The prosecution also called an Electrical Engineer and Nissan’s Deputy General Manager from Japan. The Deputy General Manager said that such an event was “impossible” whilst the prosecution’s electrical engineer, Dr Brown, accepted in a joint statement with our expert that a vehicle with inherent electronic control elements and an electronic throttle can move of its own volition, yet he stated that it did not happen in this case!
In addition, the police took the vehicle to a local Nissan garage for diagnostic testing which showed a “U1000” fault, however no one satisfactorily explained the importance or impact of this code. The battery had been charged by the Nissan garage before the diagnostic testing was carried out and no one had tested the battery prior to this.
Mr Nakamura from Nissan Japan did accept in evidence that certain transient dips in voltage would not necessarily be picked up by the ECU and would not necessarily generate a fault code
Keoghs’ expert, Dr Anderson, concluded that the poor state of the battery, low mileage the vehicle had been driven, number of stop/starts and the fact that the vehicle had been stationary for three weeks prior to the incident (due to Mrs Diggles having been on holiday), all contributed to a sudden acceleration, causing the vehicle to move forward of its own volition (a dip in the voltage at a certain level caused the engine to surge).
Dr Anderson explained that the vehicle would have been like a “tank” and difficult to control. He also stated that the vehicle would not have responded to any braking immediately.
During the course of the trial several witnesses contacted the court, counsel’s chambers and Keoghs to say that they had experienced a similar incident and wished to assist in order to see justice being done.
After taking statements Keoghs called two witnesses to give evidence on behalf of the defence
After deliberating for 2 hours and 39 minutes the jury returned unanimous verdicts of “not guilty”.
The judge also recommended the two witnesses for certificates of commendation.
Following the result Neena Sharma commented;
“While we are delighted with this result, which is the right outcome for our client, Mrs Diggles, it must not be forgotten that this is a tragic case for the family of the lady who sadly lost her life. These cases are emotionally fraught for all concerned.
This was a difficult case from a technical perspective, involving complex electronic engineering evidence and a forensic analysis of the steps taken by the police and others during the investigation to test the vehicle following the accident.
This case highlights the importance of early vehicle inspections and preservation of the evidence in its original state which is paramount. Prior to our expert’s involvement the vehicle had undergone diagnostic testing but crucially, despite our client’s initial account immediately after the incident, the police had not addressed their mind to any other possible alternative explanation.”
Alistair MacDonald QC (New Park Court Chambers) said;
“At first sight, this case was a difficult one with an elderly lady allegedly having mistaken the accelerator for the brake. A senior engineer from Nissan and an electronic engineer gave expert evidence for the Crown.
A rebalancing of the focus on the credibility of the defendant together with the deployment of defence specialist engineering evidence and the accounts of other witnesses who had suffered uncommanded engine surges was enough to persuade the jury that the prosecution was unable to prove pedal error and the acquittal of Mrs Diggles on all charges.”