Stockcar racer’s death at Mildenhall Stadium an accident, jury concludes

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A stockcar racer who died after a collision at Mildenhall Stadium in 2012 was the victim of an accident, an inquest has concluded.

Steven Newman, 37, from Spalding in Lincolnshire, was competing in the British Stockcar Championship Final on June 16 when he was involved in a multi-car collision in the race’s sixth lap, at around 10.35pm.

Despite efforts by medics to try and revive him, Mr Newman was pronounced dead at the scene.

Speaking after the inquest Steven’s father Mick Newman, 67, said: “You don’t think it is going to happen to your son, but now everything is being put to rest, we are pleased with the conclusion.

“I am a racer myself and we all know the rules. We know what is involved with racing and we all take the risk.”

At the two-day inquest at the Farmer’s Club, in Bury St Edmunds, 14 witnesses including drivers, medical professionals and track staff gave evidence to the coroner and jury.

The jury adjourned for less than an hour to reach their unanimous conclusion.

Assistant Suffolk Coroner Yvonne Blake said: “Two experts have described this crash as a ‘freak accident’, and others have seen similar crashes where people walked out relatively uninjured. Nobody expected him to die.

“Apart from a faint pulse at the beginning, no signs of life were felt from Mr Newman.”

A report published in January 2013 by Forest Heath District Council environmental health officer Stephanie Grayling said Mr Newman’s car made contact with the track’s perimeter fence, causing its passenger side wheel to leave the ground.

The car flipped on to its roof and was then hit by another car, driven by 19-year-old George Bolt Jr, which started the ‘bundle’ of cars that were consequently involved in the accident.

George’s father George Bolt Sr, a seasoned stockcar racer, told the inquest he had seen drivers walk away from crashes ‘20 times worse’ than that in which Mr Newman was killed.

“It is luck of the draw how it happens,” he said.

Mr Bolt Sr said accidents were not uncommon in stockcar racing, but the corner on which Mr Newman crashed was not especially prone to accidents.

Fellow racer Lee Sampson said he rolled his car twice that night on the same corner on which Mr Newman’s car was flipped.

“The angle of the bend tightens as you come around the corner, bringing you closer to the fence,” he said.

A summary report by David Rudland, of the Health and Safety Executive, said Mr Newman’s car met the specifications set out by industry regulator Oval Racing Council International, and the roll cage in the car was made of the right material.

The perimeter fence at the stadium, owned by RDC Promotions, also met the required height and construction standards.

There was a delay in getting Mr Newman out of the car, and he was unable to receive medical attention in the car due to the roof buckling and making it impossible to remove his helmet, and his seat being thrown forward against the dashboard and making it difficult to access his chest.

However, this was concluded not to have been a factor in his death.

Ms Blake said: “There are no grounds to consider that the roof could be cut off any quicker and medical assistance could not be given to Mr Newman until the roof was cut off.”

James Purnell, representing RDC Promotions, and barrister for Forest Heath District Council’s health and safety department Matthew Gowen both agreed the only conclusion to reach was that of accidental death.

Mr Rudland recommended the Saloon Stock Cars Association should consider carrying out a review of the way roll cages are constructed to determine if improvements can be made, and consider carrying out a review of the position of the driver’s seat in relation to the cage.

It was stadium owner David Coventry who cut the roof from the car, allowing Mr Newman to extricated from it. The inquest concluded he was competent to operate the cutting equipment.

East of England Ambulance Service Service paramedic Benjamin Hazelwood, who was a student at the time of the incident, was one of the medical staff on scene after the accident. He told the inquest he and his crew member were called at 10.44pm to reports of a road traffic accident with one casualty.

However, the inquest heard the first 999 call was made to the ambulance service at 10.39pm by an emergency medical technician at the stadium. This initial call and two others at 10.42pm and 10.43pm stated a patient was in respiratory arrest and that the incident had happened at a ‘banger race’.

In the call made at 10.44pm, however, this information was not passed on.

Chris Hewetson, emergency operations centre support manager, said the information had not been passed to Mr Hazelwood and this may have been due to a communication error between the call handler and the ambulance crew.

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust chief executive Dr Anthony Marsh said: “We are sorry we were unable to send a paramedic to Mr Newman. It is our belief that there should be a paramedic on every possible response and we are now working tirelessly to recruit more so that there can be one on every ambulance and response car.

“Although we sent one ambulance, there were already a senior paramedic and two experienced EMTs on the scene with private ambulance company Medicmart 999, which would have had clinical responsibility at the scene.

“We also have much more improved focus on escalating serious incidents like this.”