Judge halts cabbie's prosecution over death of disabled student

POLICE are to launch a "full review" of their investigation into the death of a disabled teenager after the prosecution of a taxi driver accused of dangerous driving was halted by a judge.

Rastrick student Kristian Holgate, 17, who had muscular dystrophy, died almost a month after he was thrown from his wheelchair while travelling to Huddersfield New College in an adapted taxi being driven by Rahim Dad.

The 45-year-old taxi driver told police he had secured the wheelchair in the vehicle but forgot to fasten the seatbelt.

Days after the incident in February 2009, West Yorkshire Police wrote to Mr Dad, of Fir Road, Paddock, telling him he would not face prosecution unless significant new evidence came to light.

At the beginning of March that year Mr Holgate, who had suffered a cut to the head and a fractured left leg in the incident, died. The pathologist who carried out the post-mortem examination on the teenager's body concluded his death was due to natural causes, but further medical evidence obtained last year suggested there may have been a link between the teenager's leg injury suffered in the taxi and his death.

Mr Dad was initially charged with an offence of dangerous driving about five months after Mr Holgate's death but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had been proposing to replace that allegation with a charge of causing death by careless driving at a trial this month.

Last week, however, Judge Peter Benson heard legal arguments about the whether the continued prosecution of Mr Dad was "an abuse of process" and he concluded the case should be stayed.

The ruling to halt the proceedings could not be reported until now, however, while the CPS decided whether or not to lodge an appeal against the decision.

During the legal arguments, the court heard that the letter from the police to Mr Dad had been sent without any consultation with the prosecution service.

Prosecutor Stephen Wood said that Mr Holgate's parents had been sorely let down by the officers who had issued the letter to Mr Dad without seeking their advice.

Judge Benson said he found it quite incredible that such a critical decision could have been taken without any consultation and called for lessons to be learned from the "tragic case." His ruling concluded that no new evidence had come to light between the issuing of the letter by the police and the decision to charge the taxi driver.

He also noted that even when Mr Dad was eventually charged, in August 2009, there was no assertion at that stage that his driving had caused the 17-year-old's death.

He said: "I have with some reluctance, and knowing as I do that it will be a great disappointment to Kristian's relatives, decided that it is not just and fair to allow this prosecution to continue."

Reacting to the decision, West Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent Alan Ford said: "This investigation was particularly complex from the very start after the injuries initially sustained by Kristian were, according to the medical services, not thought to be life-threatening.

"We are disappointed with the comments made in court."

He added that an initial police review had found the CPS were "appropriately" involved in the case but a full review would now take place.

Mr Holgate's father Kevin, who was at court to hear the ruling last Wednesday, tried to speak during the case, but Judge Benson said: "I'm afraid you can't.

"I understand your feelings but we have to conduct these proceedings in a formal way and I have come to a conclusion on the law."

I have with some reluctance decided it is not just and fair to allow this prosecution to continue.