Inquest finds Yorkshire biker Howard Hughes died after being struck by campervan as he rode Ducati with disabled safety features to Whitby

A passionate motorcyclist died when he collided with a campervan pulling out of an unrecognised rest area on a main road to Whitby, an inquest has heard.

Keen biker Howard Hughes, 62, worked as a handyman
Keen biker Howard Hughes, 62, worked as a handyman

Howard Hughes, 62, was enjoying a Sunday morning ride from Filey to Whitby with two friends and fellow bikers in July 2019 when he struck the Volkswagen Transporter on the approach to the village of Hawsker on the A171.

He died at the scene and the inquest at County Hall in Northallerton today heard that though his speed at the moment of impact could not be conclusively ascertained, Mr Hughes, a handyman, had disabled certain safety features on his Ducati motorcycle which allowed the rear wheel to rise, causing the bike to rotate and spin upside down.

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The campervan was driven by Dale Hampson, who was arrested at the scene but never charged in relation to Mr Hughes' death. Mr Hampson had spent the night in the parking place beside the main road, which was used for farm access but was not designated as a stopping area.

Mr Hampson said he had been visiting family in Whitby the previous day and was about to return to Scarborough when he pulled out of the layby after seeing Mr Hughes' two companions pass him. He said he had been cautious in waiting additional seconds before beginning his right turn across the carriageway as he knew bikers often travelled in groups.

Mr Hughes' wife Julie, who had been married to him since 1983 but had separated from him before his death, said that her husband was passionate about bikes and had taught her to ride during their marriage. The Ducati was two years old and he also owned a classic Suzuki model. She described both machines are being well-maintained and said he was a safe driver who took no unnecessary risks and wore the best protective equipment he could afford.

The inquest heard evidence from Mr Hughes' two companions, Dominic Christmas and Alan Hornsey, who were both his workmates at agricultural machinery dealership Wilfred Scruton. Mr Hughes left his home in Foxholes to meet up with them at Mr Christmas' home in Filey, and the trio then rode along Scarborough seafront before taking the A165 and then the A171, planning to be at The Stables in Whitby for breakfast when it opened at around 7.30am.

Both his friends said Mr Hughes was in good spirits and was riding at the rear during the journey. They agreed that he was the most safety-conscious and respectful of the three of them, and was always conscientious on the road.

The road approaching Hawsker has several bends, and Mr Christmas passed the Transporter first, noticing that it was parked parallel to the road and was not moving at that point. He and Mr Hornsey both said they had never seen a vehicle parked in the spot on any previous occasion.

By the time Mr Hornsey, of Hunmanby, approached the layby, he could see the campervan preparing to turn onto the road, and raised his hand in an attempt to warn the driver of Mr Hughes' presence behind him at a distance of around 500 yards. Both riders turned back when they realised Mr Hughes was no longer following them, and found the campervan had come to a stop across both lanes of the road with Mr Hughes having struck the driver's side door.

North Yorkshire Police forensic collision investigator PC Paddy Green told the inquest about the deliberate disabling of safety features on the bike and added that although he had been unable to calculate the speed the bikes were travelling at as they approached Hawsker, he believed the time they had taken to travel between Cloughton and Fylingdales on the A171 earlier in the journey suggested they could have been travelling at up to 90mph on the road, which has a limit of 60mph.

Mr Hornsey vehemently denied that the group had reached such speeds and said the estimate was 'a long way off'.

PC Green also referred to vegetation which presented an obstruction along the carriageway, meaning the van driver could not have seen the Ducati in time.

In Mr Hampson's police interview, he claimed the bikes had been 'hurtling past' him at between 80-100mph, but this evidence was discounted by coroner John Broadbridge as he believed the driver would have only a 'split second' to make a judgement on the speeds of Mr Christmas and Mr Hornsey.

Mr Hampson said he had checked in both directions several times before pulling out and waited around 30 seconds after the second bike had passed, but that Mr Hughes collided with him within two seconds of coming into view as the van was turning into the opposite lane.

An autopsy found that Mr Hughes died from chest, spinal and abdominal injuries and that he had no drugs or alcohol in his system. Mr Hampson's breath tests were also negative.

Recording a conclusion of death in a road traffic accident, assistant coroner for North Yorkshire John Broadbridge summarised: "The layby was not designated for parking, and had no markings or signage to indicate that it was a layby.

"Mr Hughes applied his emergency brakes and the rear wheel lifted and then rotated and unseated Howard.

"Visibility was around 50 metres for each driver. The vegetation made it more difficult. Mr Hughes would have been out of Mr Hampson's vision before he pulled out.

"I cannot ignore that the disabling of certain safety features caused the rotation, but the speed I am unable to ascertain. Mr Hampson's estimation of their speed is questionable. Mr Hughes had little or no chance to react in a safe and controlled way.

"The parking place appeared to be an appropriate place to stop, an unhappy but understandable choice. It had a limited range of view and the other exit had a blind bend in the other direction. It had the appearance of a layby."

"Disabling the safety mechanisms was a contributory factor and had he not done so it could have reduced the severity of his injuries.

"In this situation, neither man could see the other and it was very unfortunate."

Since the accident, North Yorkshire County Council's highways team have cut back vegetation and removed hardstanding from the layby and replaced it with gravel to discourage stopping. Access for farm vehicles remains.

Mr Hughes' employers Wilfred Scruton said: "Howard was a truly great man and a valued member of our team. He has been one of the best colleagues that anybody could wish to have. He approached every task with such professionalism and took great pride in his work.

"We‘ll be forever thankful to have employed Howard for the past six years, and for the positive influence he’s had on those who knew him."