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ROCHDALE OBSERVER, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21, 1922
CHOIR TRIP TRAGEDY
TAXI DRIVER SEVERELY CENSURED BY CORONER
VERDICT OF “ACCIDENTAL DEATH”
THE INQUEST STORY
The tragic death of Mr. Donald, Angus Miller (aged 45) of 37 Merefield Street, Rochdale, which was the painful sequel to a choir outing and has evoked great sympathy with his widow and seven children, was investigated by Mr. C. W. W. Surridge (The Manchester City Coroner) and a jury at an inquest held in Manchester on Monday morning. As previously stated in the “Observer” Mr. Miller was the manager for Mr. J. J. Smithies, iron and steel merchant, Livsey Street, Rochdale. On Saturday week Mr. Miller and 28 other persons went by char-a-banc to Chester, the outing having been arranged by the Trinity Presbyterian Church choir, of which the deceased was a member. When passing Heaton Park on the return journey a collision occurred between the char-a-banc and a Manchester taxi-cab and as a result of the injuries he sustained Mr. Miller, who had been sitting on the front seat of the char-a-banc at the opposite end to the driver, died in the Manchester Jewish Hospital, Cheetham Hill on Thursday. The evidence given at the inquest was of a conflicting character, each side attaching blame to the other, and in returning a verdict of “Accidental death” the jury requested the Coroner to severely censure the driver of the taxi-cab.
Before the taking of any evidence the Coroner, addressing the jury, said the case in which they were to adjudicate was one deserving of thorough investigation and a more complete and thorough investigation was always assured by the presence of a jury. It did not, however, necessarily follow that the case would be one of manslaughter. There might be civil liability involved but that was a different matter from criminal liability and would be fought out elsewhere. It might also be that they would think that the justice of the case might be served by police court proceedings being taken against someone for driving to the danger of the public. As a matter of fact he believed that there was a summons pending against the driver of the taxi-cab.
Mr. Gilbert Jordan (barrister) instructed by Messrs. Hartley and Son, Rochdale, represented the widow and family of the deceased; and Mr. V. S. Wood of Messrs. Wood and Lord, Manchester, appeared for Charas (Rochdale) Limited, the proprietors of the char-a-banc concerned, and it’s driver: and Mr. Dennis Hickey represented the driver of the taxi-cab.
The Coroner: Did you see anything coming towards you? – Yes, a car.
How far away was it when you first saw it?—I couldn’t tell exactly. I should say about 70 yards.
What part of the road was the char-a-banc in?—It was running next to the kerb on the left-hand side of the road.
What was the course of this approaching vehicle?—I saw it swing round a bend in the road in front of us on to its wrong side of the road. The driver swerved in the road and then continued towards us on the wrong side at a high speed. Just before the crash came our driver blew his horn and commenced to slow down. The taxi ran past the bonnet of the char-a-banc and struck us against the first seat on the extreme left, just where my father was sitting. As the two vehicles were almost meeting our driver turned a little towards the center of the road to try to avoid a collision. My father was struck by the windscreen—the framework on the left-hand side of the char-a-banc was pushed into his face and we had to break it away before we could get him out of the char-a-banc. I think some part of the taxi must also have hit him.
Did you notice any tramcar in the road?—I can’t remember when I saw the last, but the road was perfectly clear at the time of the accident and had been for some distance.
Had your driver drawn out into the middle of the road at any time to pass trams?—No; his usual method had been to pull up behind them.
Examined by Mr. Hickey the witness said he did not hear the taxi-driver sound his horn. At the time of the impact the taxi was between the kerb and the char-a-banc, on its wrong side of the road.
CHAR-A-BANC DRIVER’S STORY
Wilfred Trippear of 12 Union Street, Rochdale, the driver of the char-a-banc involved, said that his speed when nearing the Three Arrows Hotel would be about 10 miles an hour. He was driving on his proper side and the rear wheels would not be more than three feet away from the kerb.
The Coroner: Did you pass any tram about this time?—Witness; To my knowledge I last overtook a tram against a bridge about three quarters of a mile back.
What did you first see of the taxi?—I just noticed the side lamps when it was about 100 to 150 yards away.
Could you judge at that distance what part of the road it was on?—No, sir.
When did you first notice whereabouts it was?—I first saw that it was on the wrong side when it was 15 to 20 yards away.
What did you do?—I immediately put on my brakes when I saw he was not changing his course. The next thing was that he took further in to his wrong side and then cannoned into me.
Could you judge the pace of the motor?—I do not think I am making a very bad estimate when I say about 25 miles an hour.
Did you do anything besides?—I just gave a little to the right to give him a sporting chance of even getting through on his wrong side—but very little indeed.
ACCIDENT IN 15 YEARS
Witness agreed that on his near side the road measured approximately 8 ft. from the kerb to the tram lines and on the off side about 29 ft. from the tram lines to the kerb.
At the corner of the Three Arrows isn’t there a land?—I don’t know. There is a bit of a street.
Would you, as an experienced driver coming down Middleton Road, go over towards that lane or not?—It would depend on whether it was a busy thoroughfare.
This lane is on the same side as the Three Arrows garage. Would you come down from Middleton on the same side as that lane?—No: I would keep to my right side—that would be my left.
I suggest to you that the driver of the taxi kept to his proper side and avoided going to his wrong side at all?—I don’t know anything about that.
You did not see the driver pass the lane?—No. There is a bend in the road at the Three Arrows just at the point where he came down.
Did you see him pass the Three Arrows?—Yes; on his wrong side.
When the taxi came towards you did the driver sound his horn?—If he did I did not hear it.
What was the actual damage done to your char-a-banc?—The front axle on the near side was bent. The next thing he caught, to my knowledge was the dash board and the windscreen. He also caught the front door, the foot boards and the back mud guard—all on the near side. The off side was not damaged at all.
TAXI LIKE A
Also that the driver of the taxi had turned to his wrong side to avoid you?—What I say is, I was on my right side and he had 29 ft. on his own side. Why didn’t he get there.
I suggest to you that instead of him hitting you, you hit him?—No; never!
After the collision the taxi was like a concertina, wasn’t it?—Yes; and all on his near side.
Would it be possible for that damage to have been caused by the taxi hitting you?—Yes, at the speed he was going.
Wasn’t it the speed of you char-a-banc that caused the damage to the taxi?—No; I was almost stopped dead.
Answering the Coroner, the witness said that the minute he saw the lights of the approaching motor cab he sounded his horn.
Mr. Hickey; Can you state any reason why he should come on his wrong side ultimately?—Witness: Not unless he was out of control.
QUICKLY TO NEGOTIATE THE CURVE
Dr. Howard Buck deposed to having made a post-mortem examination of the body of the deceased. Externally he found bruises on the left side of the nose and the left side of the jaw was broken. Internally all the organs were healthy except the brain. In the brain there were small lacerations and small hemorrhages. There was no fracture of the skull. The cause of death was laceration of the brain due to injuries such as might be caused by some violent blow.
The Coroner: Was he sober?—Witness: Yes, sir. He smelled of drink, but he was sober.
Was the driver of the char-a-banc sober?—Yes, sir.
I think the driver of the taxi made a statement to you shortly after the accident. Had he been warned or cautioned?—No, sir.
The Coroner: Well, I shall not submit that statement.
TAXI DRIVER’S EVIDENCE
BLAME THROWN ON THE CHAR-A-BANC DRIVER
LADY FRIEND BESIDE HIM.
At an earlier state in the proceedings the Coroner asked Mr. Hickey if his client would give evidence.
Mr. Hickey replied that he had only been instructed in the case that morning and was not in a position to get at the full facts. He would, however, consult the taxi driver on the matter.
On returning to the court, Mr. Hickey said he thought it would be as well if his client gave evidence.
Accordingly, John Pemberton of 25 New Bridge Street, Manchester, the taxi driver concerned said the power of the motor he was driving on the night of the accident was 12-16 h.p. When near the Three Arrows Hotel he was traveling from 15-18 miles an hour. As he got to the corner of the bend above the Three Arrows Hotel he saw a char-a-banc coming down pretty well on the wrong side of the road on the macadam. Witness blew his horn to warn the char-a-banc driver to get over on to his own side but the did not appear to give way at all. Witness then applied his brake, but still the char-a-banc seemed to be heading right on to him. Pemberton proceeded. “I swerved to the wrong side of the road to avoid a collision. At the same moment he did the same thing, swerving back to his own side and trapping me between the off side kerb and his near side. Witness had a lady and a gentleman—Mary Sullivan and Bob Metcalfe—inside the car, and there was a third passenger, a young lady, whose name he did not know, seated beside him.
Replying to Mr. Hickey, witness said he had been driving a taxi cab for three years and had been a motor driver in the Army for four years. He had had one previous accident.
The Coroner: What had you had to drink that night?—Witness: Prior to driving the car two bottles of Bass and a glass of beer. That was between 7 and 9:45 p.m.
AGAINST THE REGULATIONS
Mr. Jordan: Is this a taxi that plies in Manchester?—Witness: Yes.
You know it is against the regulations to have a passenger sitting beside you?—In the Manchester area, yes.
Was the lady a stranger?—Yes. I had met her that night for the first time.
You say the char-a-banc was coming practically on the wrong side of the road?—Yes, sir. I should say his off side wheel was well on the macadam, and his near side wheel just on the setts which are in the center of the road.
Did you slow down when you saw he was on the wrong side of the road?—Yes. I applied my brake and blew my horn.
At what speed do you think the char-a-banc was traveling? Was it reasonable or unreasonable?—I should say fairly fast.
As fast as you?—Yes: I should think so.
Mr. Wood: Did Metcalfe engage the car? Witness: He was going to pay for it.
It was engaged about 10 o’clock that night?—Yes. He had looked for his own and couldn’t find it.
Has he a licence in the city?—Yes.
Was the young lady sitting at the front all the way?—No: not all the way.
Where did she change?—On Rochdale Road. Was that in Manchester?—Yes: I should think so.
How far did you go that night?—We left Manchester about 10 o’clock.. We didn’t go quite on to Middleton but turned back at Rhodes.
Did you stay anywhere on the way?—No; only to drop one of the lady passengers. Just before the accident one of the other ladies came to the front.
Don’t you know the regulations are issued to prevent passengers from distracting your attention?—Yes.
Was she talking?—She may have said a word or two on the journey.
Did she get hold of the wheel?—No.
Are you quite sure?—Positive.
Then you didn’t teach her to drive?—No.
Had she suggested that you should show her?—No such suggestion was ever made.
THE TAXI PASSENGERS
Robert Metcalfe of Carruthers Street, Ancoats, said he was a passenger inside the taxi. He did not see the accident, but at the time of the collision the taxi’s speed would be 18 miles at the outside.
Mary Sullivan of Upper Moss Lane, Halms, who wore a bandage across her upper lip and was also inside the taxi said she saw nothing of the accident.
Margaret Lyons of Fawcett Street, Ancoats, deposed that at the time of the accident she was sitting next to the taxi driver.
The Coroner: Were you talking to the driver at the time?—Witness: No.
What did you see of the accident?—I did not see anything.
Weren’t you looking?—No; I had just turned to look through at the back.
Mr. Jordan: Did you say anything afterwards about something having been a lark?—Witness: No, sir.
Mr. Wood: It was a merry party—laughing and talking all the way? I suppose you were tapping the window and talking to those inside? Witness: I never tapped the window. I had just turned round and hadn’t time to peak.
I suppose you spoke to the driver?—I hadn’t spoken for a long time.
But you had been earlier on?—Yes.
Mr. Hickey: Did you try to learn to drive the taxi?—Witness: No.
Mr. Hickey asked permission to point out that Mr. Milne had said in his evidence that when 29 yards from the char-a-banc the taxi was on its right side. Then, too, the police-sergeant had stated that after the accident the char-a-banc was pointing in towards the near kerb.
The Coroner: You have to allow for impact in this case.
After the jury had deliberated in private for a time the foreman announced that they had not found Pemberton guilty of criminal negligence, but they thought he ought to be severely censured by the Coroner.
Addressing Pemberton, the Coroner said: The jury mean to imply that Mr. Miller has unfortunately met his death accidentally owing to injuries sustained in the collision, and are of the opinion that you are not guilty of criminal negligence. That is to say, it would not be right to place you on your trial for manslaughter, and I am inclined to agree with the jury on that, but at the same time they say that you have been negligent in driving this taxi, although not criminally negligent, and think you ought to be severely censured. I hope this will be a lesson to you to exercise more care in the future. When driving a motor car you must not go round bends at an excessive speed, and you must be careful to maintain the rule of the road and not encroach upon other traffic coming on the opposite side of the road.
Mr. Wood, on behalf of Charas (Rochdale) Limited expressed deep sorrow with the widow and family.
THE VICTIM’S FUNERAL
IMPRESSIVE SCENE AT THE CEMETERY
The interment of the remains of the late Mr. Donald, Angus Miller took place at the Rochdale Cemetery yesterday afternoon amid manifestations of deep regret, crowds of people being present at the final scene.
A service was first held in the Trinity Presbyterian Church. Mr. J. J. Smithies’s employees ceased work for the day at 11 a.m. and so the mourners filed into the church they ranged themselves on either side of the approach afterwards attending the service. The central part of the church was full. Among those present were the following representatives of the Presbyterian Church officials: Dr. Melvin and Messrs. R. Campbell and S. Werrall (leaders); Mr. J. Walker (session clerk); Messrs. G. B. Stewart, J. W. Clegg, J. W. Laurie, and Dr. Riddick (managers), and Mr. Arnold Watson (a former manager). Mr. Fred Leach (conductor) represented the Rochdale Philharmonic Orchestral and Choral Society of which the deceased was a member. While the coffin was being borne into the church Mr. A Wright (organist and choirmaster) played “I know that my Redeemer liveth”. During the course of the service, which was conducted by the Rev. D. Livingstone Ward, the hymns “Our God, our Help in ages past.” And “Now the labourer’s task is o’er” were sympathetically sung, and the choir contributed the anthem “Comes at times a stillness.”
The funeral cortege was preceded on the way to the Cemetery by a procession consisting of the employees of Mr. J. J. Smithies, the Trinity Presbyterian Church choir, and officials of the Trinity Presbyterian Church. On arrival at the Cemetery the employee of Mr. J. J. Smithies again lined up in two ranks. The private mourners rode as follows:
First carriage: Mrs. Miller (widow), Miss Carrie Miller, Miss Margaret Miller, Miss Crissie Miller, Mr. Alexander Miller, Mr. Donald Miller, Master George Miller, and Master Angus Miller (daughters and sons).
Second carriage: Mr. Donald Angus (uncle), Mrs. Iriam (sister-in-law), Mrs. Berchard (sister-in-law), Mrs. Holmes (sister-in-law) and Miss Ashworth.
Third carriage: Mr. And Mrs. R. H. Smithies, the Rev. D. Livingstone Ward, and Mr. R. H. Sherrard (representing D. Anderson and Son Limited, Liverpool).
Fourth carriage: Mrs. Smithies, Mr. W. N. Smithies, Mr. Vernon Smithies, Mr. R. Osbaldeston, and Mr. E. A. Mills.
The coffin was of polished English oak with double panel lid and solid brass fittings. The plate bore the inscription: “Donald, Angus Miller, died June 15th. 1922, aged 45 years.” The wreaths were exceedingly beautiful. Those of a public character were from the following:
“Charas (Rochdale) Ltd.”
“The char-a-banc driver, W. Trippear.”
“The officers and members of the Rochdale Philharmonic Orchestral and Choral Society”
“The members of the Trinity Presbyterian Church Choir”
“Mr. J. G. Ramsbottom, on behalf of the Rochdale Association Football Club”
“The employees of J. J. Smithies and James Marshall”
“His comrades of the Rochdale Special Constabulary Corps.” and
“The employees of John Petrie (the Baum) Limited”