Motorcyclists cleared following death of lawyer and husband

CHARGES have been dismissed against five motorcyclists accused of causing the deaths of a Bradford solicitor and her husband who were killed when the bike they were on crashed into a car.

A judge at Leeds Crown Court yesterday said he was satisfied it had not been a case of “racing” when Helen Slater, riding pillion behind her husband Dean, both tragically lost their lives on August 25 last year.

“Each rider made his own decision to ride in the way he did,” said Judge Geoffrey Marson.

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The couple were with the other five riders travelling the 32 miles from Cottingley, near Bingley, to Squire’s cafe in Sherburn-in- Elmet. They were in two groups as they went over a bridge across the A64 after leaving Tadcaster.

The car driver involved had passed the first three motorcyclists when he suddenly saw the Slater’s black Yamaha coming towards him from the second group.

Judge Marson said Mr Slater had lost control, most likely due to initial excessive speed which may have been compounded by braking.

Although the car driver braked the motorcycle collided with his Vauxhall Vectra and struck the bridge railings, which caused Mr and Mrs Slater to be thrown over them on to the embankment below.

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Mr Slater, 40, a builder, and his wife, 37, who worked for Alistair Bateman and Co in Bradford, died at the scene.

The prosecution claimed the motorcyclists were guilty of causing death by dangerous driving through a joint enterprise because by their actions they were encouraging each other to drive at dangerously high speeds.

After hearing submissions from defence lawyers on a previous date that the defendants were neither principal nor secondary parties to the collision Judge Marson said, having considered the prosecution evidence at its highest: “I am satisfied that this is not a racing case.”

“There is no evidence from which a jury properly directed could safely conclude that the way in which any of these defendants rode in some way caused Mr Slater to ride dangerously or caused him to continue to ride dangerously.

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“Mr Slater, on the evidence, made a voluntary and informed decision to ride in the way that he did rather than in another way. The cause of death was the free, deliberate and informed decision of Mr Slater and no one else.”

He said the jury could not safely conclude any of the defendants “engaged in conduct capable of encouraging Mr Slater to ride in the way” or was an operative cause of him riding the way he did.

The judge said: “When the defendants examine their consciences, they may feel some moral responsibility, but that does not give rise to legal liability.”

Charges of causing the deaths by dangerous driving of Mr and Mrs Slater were dismissed against Ian Towson, 32, of Leafield Crescent, Eccleshill, Paul Wheater, 29, of Halifax Road, Cullingworth, Michael Paul Hannon, 27, of Etna Street, Great Horton, all Bradford; and Dax Lerman, 29, of Rycroft Avenue, Bingley, and David Jason Hastings, 37, of Clough Fold, Keighley.

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Further charges of causing death by driving while uninsured were also dismissed against Hastings.

Judge Marson said it was clear over the course of the journey up to the outskirts of Boston Spa “these motorcycles had at times been ridden well in excess of the relevant speed limits”.

CCTV footage approaching Boston Spa showed all were over the 40mph limit, with the prosecution estimating Hannon doing a minimum average speed of 91mph, followed by Wheater “doing a wheelie” at 100mph, followed by Lerman also doing a wheelie at 82mph. There was then a six second gap to the others with the Slaters last doing 57mph.

But it was notable at that stage Mr Slater did not appear to be trying to catch up with the leading group. After Tadcaster it appeared the second group increased speed to catch up the others ahead but Mr Slater made his own decision about that.

The judge said the police investigation in the case had been exemplary and expressed his sympathies to the families of Mr and Mrs Slater.