TONY JOHNSON: That slender thread

A fatal car accident took place in Grazeley

What started as an enjoyable ride in a powerful car on the dark evening of Jan 21st, 2017 turned into a crash and then a fatality.

The scene beforehand

Mortimer Road runs straight, going south through Grazeley village, past the village hall on the right hand side and the primary school
on the left. It then goes past houses on either side round a gentle left-hand curve followed by a right-hand curve before exiting the village along another straight bit of road out into open countryside.

The speed limit’s 40mph and there’s a 20mph variable speed limit by the primary school playground. This is only active during the school drop-off and pick-up times and there’s a large car park well off the main road, so that children can get in and out safely.

The road’s reasonably wide, clearly marked and the OS map and Google’s street view show that this has been the case for over 10 years.

One night at Council

At the Council meeting on September 21, 2017, the resident of the house the car had crashed into told everyone about two more accidents that had happened since January.

He asked WBC’s then executive member for highways Cllr Chris Bowring, “What actions will be taken and by when to resolve the speeding issues that plague Grazeley residents?”

Replying, Cllr Bowring said that “the 40mph speed limit [is] appropriate for this location, the council have recently installed mobile speed-limit Vehicle Activated Signs”.

In a supplementary question, the resident spoke plainly on “a point of clarity, there [are] no speed indicators in the locality” and asked if the Council would work with the police to find a resolution?

To which the executive member replied “the council is aware of the problem and will certainly work with the [olice to find a resolution”.

Watching WBC’s video of the meeting, one can clearly see the then Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police along with the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner waiting to address the council, all the while observing the interchange unfolding in front of them.

And another …

Eight weeks later, the resident faced the full council again and after reporting that the average speed was 20% over the speed limit
with peak speeds over 80mph, went on to ask, “Please can Chris Bowring advise why it is that Thames Valley Police, Shinfield Parish Council and the local residents of Grazeley all accept there is a serious issue … however WBC persist in their denial … and refuse to attend the site”.

In a protracted answer, Cllr Bowring claimed that the average southbound speed was 37.8mph and indicated his awareness of a recent meeting with WBC Highways at which the resident had challenged the location of the speed measurements.

In WBC’s video of the meeting Cllr Bowring talked about the problem on the approach to Grazeley from Lambwood Hill (northbound), before indicating that WBC would undertake further speed surveys.

Local resident photography of the crashes show that vehicles were all going southbound down Mortimer Road towards Lambwood Hill.

The second accident

After the first crash, the residents rebuilt the property back to the high standard they’d updated it to after first moving in and time passed …

… until the night of Thursday January 30
last year, when death visited Grazeley again as a second vehicle collided with the property, injuring both occupants, one fatally.

The second collision was separated from the first by three years in time and less than three metres (10ft) in location.

The residents provided the police with CCTV footage from two cameras which had been installed on the property after the first accident.

Despite efforts of the police, the parish council, neighbours and themselves – dismayed that little had changed in the three years, the residents had put their house on the market and the sale had been due to complete on the Friday, the day after the second crash.

It didn’t.

Another night at Shute End …

Visiting Shute End three weeks later, the resident prefaced his question to the Executive meeting on February 20., 2020, telling those present that “the very small amount of SID
data I have access to shows that nearly 60% of motorists drive in excess of 40mph … and [up to] 61mph at school drop off times in a 20mph zone, 81mph on a Wednesday evening” …

He went on to say “both my wife and I are petrified the same might happen again. Two lives lost and six incidents in as many years outside my property. What are you going to do about
this and in what timescale – a verbal ‘we will look in to it’ will not wash”.

WBC’s video shows the resident’s full statement, whereas its minutes of the meeting for this question, both online and in print – formally adopted at the online Exec meeting of April 22, 2020 – are tantamount to being an incomplete, and not quite right, record of what was actually said.

A full transcript and comparison is available.

As WBC’s Leader, Cllr John Halsall “acknowledge[d] the significant impact that this … has had, both upon your household … as well as the families of the deceased and passenger injured, and extend[ed] its sympathies to all those involved”.

Cllr Halsall also stated that in conjunction with others WBC was collecting information and would “determine what further engineering interventions might be considered to prevent such a tragedy occurring again … and until the investigation is concluded and the outcome of any coroner’s inquest is known, it is appropriate that there should be no statement from the Council about specific proposals”.

The resident’s supplementary question struck to the heart of the matter: “I understand that the council do not wish to comment on the current ongoing investigations following the January  30 accident. However following the fatal accident in January 2017 please could you advise what process was followed, what measures were put in place to avoid a recurrence, and what criteria were used to determine those measures?”

He was told that he would have to await a written answer …

What happened since …

The resident did eventually manage to sell their house in Grazeley and now lives at the far end of a mile-plus long cul-de-sac some 100 miles distant.

Professional as ever, Thames Valley Police followed up with an accident reconstruction which was witnessed by two people, one of who’s a Borough Councillor looking after Grazeley residents’ interests.

As you might suspect, there’s much more to this case however, out of respect to all the families involved, this paper has kept to a minimum level of reporting and commentary, focused on matters of public record.

The last word

Today, four years have passed and little has changed along this 330 metre stretch of Mortimer Road.

And yet…

… Ten-plus years ago, when introducing traffic calming measures “to increase road safety”, WBC installed eight road humps and two chicanes along 330 metres of an otherwise unremarkable road in Winnersh. No primary school, not even any houses on this bit of road.

The opening of WBC’s community vision says “A great place to live …”

As local tax-payers, please could we have a highways system that works properly, that delivers on its actions promptly and is respected by everyone as a consequence?


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