Assistant coroner for North Yorkshire John Broadbridge ruled today that accountant Vignesh Chandrasekar's actions in the lead-up to the collision which killed Keith Wrightson, 62, in January 2020 did not meet the threshold for a verdict of manslaughter by gross negligence despite the 40-year-old driver's 'mistakes and errors of judgement' during the incident.
Mr Wrightson's wife Gill, children Luke and Kirsty and brother Ian had hoped the resumed inquest at County Hall would provide resolution as Mr Chandrasekar was never arrested or charged with any criminal offence in relation to the collision.
Their lawyers have confirmed that they will now assess their 'next steps' in the case, which could include a civil claim.
Mr Wrightson and Luke, 33, who also serves in the Merchant Navy, had been drinking before and after a Scarborough Athletic match and were walking home when he fell into Stepney Road and was unable to get up. Luke went to assist him and was waving at the oncoming BMW X1 driven by Mr Chandrasekar, but the driver claimed he could not see the father and son until it was too late and struck the older man.
The inquest heard evidence from Mr Chandrasekar, a finance lead at McCain Foods in Scarborough, who said he was 'blindsided' by the flashing headlights of a car driven by teacher Danielle Fardoe, who had seen the Wrightsons in difficulty and was trying to warn him. It was accepted that 'disability glare' can incapacitate drivers in such situations.
Mr Chandrasekar also claimed that he did not slow down or stop when the 'frantic' full beam flashing began, in contravention of the Highway Code, as he believed it could be part of a 'prank or collusion' by other drivers such as an insurance scam.
However, the Wrightson family said they found his evidence 'lacked remorse or credibility'.
Mr Broadbridge also acknowledged that there were 'inconsistencies and conflicts' in his account, such as initially telling a police officer in an interview recorded at the scene that he had seen Keith Wrightson fall into the road, before later changing his statement to assert that he had seen neither man until just before the moment of impact.
Lawyers for both parties agreed with Mr Broadbridge's eventual verdict of death in a road traffic accident, and the family's counsel said that though his clients had 'concerns about the manner of driving' he could not articulate an argument for a conclusion of unlawful killing.
Mr Broadbridge also addressed speculation that Mr Wrightson's multiple fatal injuries could have been caused by the BMW falling on top of him during a failed attempt to life the vehicle off him with a car jack, choosing to accept an off-duty police officer's account that Mr Wrightson appeared to be dead by this point.
The seaman had drunk around six pints of beer during the day out at the football, and his blood alcohol reading at postmortem was 2.5 times the legal drink drive limit. Witnesses reported that both he and Luke appeared intoxicated as they left the ground and it could not be conclusively ascertained what caused Keith to fall off the pavement into the highway.
Stepney Road has a 30mph speed limit and it was found Mr Chandrasekar was within it and had slowed to 20mph just before he struck Mr Wrightson. He was not distracted or using a mobile phone at the time.
Mr Broadbridge noted that Mr Chandrasekar had been 'very careful with his answers' during questioning under caution after the collision, asking for clarifications and often not responding immediately.
He said he preferred to consider the account of Danielle Fardoe as reliable when there was a conflict of evidence, but added that there was no evidence to contradict Mr Chandrasekar's claim that he was blinded by her full beam headlights.
In his summing up, Mr Broadbridge said: "There is clear evidence the driver did not react until the last moment, but no evidence his driving was untoward prior to the incident. He was disabled by the glare from the repeated flashing and this did contribute. Keith was lying down and Luke was crouching to help him. Luke then stood up to attract the driver's attention.
"There was insufficient time to safely stop, and Mr Chandrasekar was unaware of their presence as he approached. The road was not well-lit. His vision was impaired and this was compounded by the glare from the flashing. His knowledge of the situation was limited.
"The driver's ability was compromised, but it was not reprehensibly bad as to amount to gross negligence. There is some evidence of a breach of duty but the failings are not exceptionally bad. There were mistakes and errors of judgement but nowhere near enough to meet the threshold for manslaughter. I agree with the submissions of counsel and the only safe conclusion is that of death in a road traffic collision."
Speaking on behalf of the family, Gill Wrightson, Keith’s wife of 37 years, said: “Keith was a positive, happy and lively person who was popular and well-liked by everyone who met him. He was a loving husband and father to our children, Kirsty and Luke. As a former captain in the Merchant Navy, he was an active and practical man and had a passion for sports especially football, snooker and golf.
“Keith enjoyed life and we all miss him dreadfully. The impact of his death has been devastating for our family. We are heartbroken.
“We will always remember the happy times we had with Keith and we can still picture his smiling face. We would like to thank everyone for their care and support during what has been, and still remains, a hugely challenging time for our family.”
Patrick Maguire, the Wrightson family's lawyer of Horwich Cohen Coghlan Solicitors, added: “My clients are unimpressed by Mr Chandrasekar’s account of events. It lacked remorse and credibility. My clients cannot understand how he did not see Mr Wrightson and his son in the road when they were there to be seen. It is disappointing that no criminal proceedings were brought. We will take stock of the coroner’s findings and consider the next steps."
Bradford-born Mr Wrightson joined the Merchant Navy in 1975 and travelled the world, rising to the rank of captain.
He died just weeks before the birth of his grand-daughter, to the heartbreak of his daughter Kirsty.