12th February 2003
'Errors made in festival tragedy'
Special report by Matt James
A police investigation into the fatal accident at the 2000 Goodwood Festival of Speed revealed that basic safety procedures had not been followed prior to the crash which killed a driver and a marshal. Chichester Coroner's Court was told that errors of judgement had been madein the lead-up to the incident but they did not amount to "gross negligence".
The inquest into the death of Lotus 63 driver John Dawson-Damer, 59, and marshal Andrew Carpenter, 40, was concluded on Friday last week. The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death for both men.
The accident happened on June 24th, 2000, the final day of the popular annual event bases at the famous venue in West Sussex. Dawson-Damer's car went out of control as he came around the final corner of the hillclimb. He crashed into the finishing gantry and both he and Carpenter suffered fatal injuries. Another marshal, Steve Tarrant, was also hit and lost part of his right leg as a result.
During the hearing the jury was told that the finishing line gantry that Dawson-Damer crashed into was not approved by the Motor Sports Association (MSA) and that the event organisers were unaware of the marshals' positions at end of the course.
John Symes, the MSA's safety officer, told the inquest that he had inspected the course two days before the accident but did not recall seeing the gantry. the inquest also learned that Dawson-Damer was wearing a crash helmet that did not meet the MSA's safety standards. But a pathologist said even the latest helmet designs would not have saved him.
The three-day hearing followed a two-year investigation which resulted in improvements to the event's safety procedures. Detective Inspector Neil Fellingham of Sussex Police, said:"There were erros of judgement but no gross negligence. Motor racing is a dangerous sport with inherent risks."
An eye-witness to the event, marshal Christopher Andrews, told the jury: "There was a little rain and the track was damp. I saw the car appear in the brow of the hill. It came on to the grass verge on the right and looked like the driver tried to get control. The car then crossed on to the other verge. At that point, I didn't wait to see what happened."
The jury also heard that the marshalling positions on the left-hand side of the circuit had not been drawn on the track map and officials did not know they were there.
The coroner Roger Stone said: "My heartfelt sympathy goes out to every person involved."
In a statement issued following the verdict, the MSA said safety was top of the governing body's priorities. "The MSA notes today's verdict of accidental death in respect of the tragic deaths of John Dawson-Damer and Andrew Carpenter and, once again, wishes to express its condolences to the bereaved families. The MSA welcomes the comments made by the coroner to the jury that there have been improvements in safety at the Festival of Speed since the 2000 event. The MSA will continue to give the highest priority to safety in motorsport within the British Isles."
Lord March, creator of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Revival Meeting, refused to comment.
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