A smiling Michael Croome strolled into Antrim courthouse yesterday morning. A few hours later the smile had disappeared as he was convicted by a jury of killing top Irish road racing cyclist David McCall by dangerous driving.
Croome’s actions on August 12 2008, as he rushed to catch a flight at Belfast International Airport, have devastated two families.
Mr McCall’s two daughters broke down in tears as the jury delivered their verdict. Sitting just a few seats behind them, Croome’s mother and sister also wept at the decision, which took the jury almost two days to reach.
Mr McCall (46), a Commonwealth Games medallist, was on a cycle race when his bike was hit by the black 308 Peugeot car being driven by Croome. The jury heard the car was driving at between 40mph and 50mph.
He died almost instantly. During the trial the court heard that Croome hit the Lisburn-based cyclist as he veered his bike slightly to avoid a dog during the Co Antrim inter-club cycle race.
The jury also heard that following the impact between Mr McCall's cycle and Croome's overtaking Peugeot car, the bicycle was snapped in two and Mr McCall was thrown into the air.
However, while the site of the actual impact is unknown, a forensic expert estimated that he could have been thrown anywhere from almost 60m to nearly 90m after bouncing off the windscreen of the Peugeot.
Mr McCall, who had represented Northern Ireland at major international competitions for years, was racing with a group of cyclists along the Belfast Road at Nutts Corner when he was struck by Croome, who was driving too fast and too close to the racing cyclists. His bicycle was broken in two and he was thrown into the air. Croome, who was rushing to catch a flight from Belfast International Airport, initially did not stop, but returned a short time later to the scene of the crash.
Mr McCall’s tragic death sent shockwaves through the international cycling community and tributes were paid to him from fellow sportsmen across the world.
Croome, a former call centre worker, is from Prior Wharf, Chester, but had an address on Belfast’s Cliftonville Road at the time of the crash. He denied causing Mr McCall’s death by dangerous driving. However, he was convicted yesterday after a jury of 10 men and two women reached a majority verdict.
The jury deliberated for almost two days and on Wednesday evening, when they failed to reach a unanimous verdict, Judge Norman Lockie told them he would accept a majority verdict. Yesterday, after requesting clarifications from the judge about the case, 10 of the jurors finally found Croome guilty.
The 26-year-old looked nervous as he sat in the dock with his head in his hands waiting for the jurors to enter the courtroom. Dressed smartly in a grey suit, he kept glancing towards his mother and sister who had flown to Northern Ireland from England to attend the trial. Mr McCall’s family held hands as they awaited the verdict. When the jury foreman told the court they found the defendant guilty Croome rubbed his face with his hands and shook his head.
He then mumbled to himself and put his head in his hands, while his mother and sister began to sob.
Mr McCall’s two daughters breathed a sigh of relief before they broke into tears.
The court was told that Croome has a number of previous motoring convictions, which the defence had wanted to introduce as bad character evidence during the trial, but the application was denied.
His defence barrister said that Croome is a businessman with a number of retail outlets in England, Scotland and Wales and he will now have to make arrangements to “put his house in order”, and asked Judge Lockie to postpone sentencing until a pre-sentence report could be produced to the court.
Croome looked relieved when Judge Lockie agreed to release him on continuing bail until March 25, when he will be sentenced. The judge, however, warned him that the granting of bail “was not of any significance to the ultimate sentence to be passed by the court”. The judge also decided not to immediately disqualify Croome from driving saying that “his business interests may be impeded”.
Mr McCall’s family were led from the court before Croome was released from the dock. They held hands and quietly wept as they left the courtroom. The family said they were still too upset to talk about the case or the verdict.
As Croome walked from the courtroom with his mother and sister he could be heard saying: “What was that all about?” Pulling his suit jacket over his head to try and hide his face, he was ushered out a side entrance of the courthouse to avoid the cameras. His smile had gone.
Popular competitor who gave his all to sport
David McCall was one of Northern Ireland’s best known competitive cyclists when he was killed.
The 46-year-old Lisburn man represented both Northern Ireland and Ireland on the world stage. He was a Commonwealth Games medallist and made three Commonwealth Games appearances. He also had a long list of honours in Europe and Ireland.
Following his retirement from international racing, Mr McCall served as an Executive of the Ulster Cycling Federation (Cycling Ulster) for several years. Mr McCall, who was married with two daughters, qualified as a level three coach and commissaire and was the driving force behind the motorcycle marshal training scheme which he launched
He jointly ran Sportactive, which organised cycling and walking trips to Majorca and the French Alps.
He was involved with Scottish Cycling and the Braveheart Fund, which raises funds to help young riders achieve their potential. He also cycled the length of Ireland in less than 24 hours to raise money for charity, while also holding down a civil service post.
Mr McCall was a member of the Maryland Wheelers club in Lisburn and his club have established a charitable foundation in his name to support cycling in Ulster.
A tribute to Mr McCall on the club’s website says that his “industriousness, positive and often brash attitude towards cycling” has been missed adding that “someday, somewhere, someone will say ‘I wonder what McCall would do?’ or ‘Davy would have done it this way’”, adding that his past ideas and methods “will still influence future club if not provincial cycling decisions”.
Mr McCall’s death sent shockwaves through the cycling and sporting community both internationally and at home.
Former Lisburn mayor Ronnie Crawford said at the time that Mr McCall was known for his “outstanding sporting ability”.
He added that the cyclist had also supported the council on a number of projects, including the Tour of Ireland Cycle Challenge in 2007 and the Irish Road Race in 2004.