Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Biker death 'raises race ban issue'

Coroner John Leckey oversaw a preliminary hearing ahead of an inquest for motorcyle racer Martin Finnegan
Coroner John Leckey oversaw a preliminary hearing ahead of an inquest for motorcyle racer Martin Finnegan

Safety issues surrounding the death of a Co Dublin motorcyclist in a high speed road race crash raise questions as to whether the sport should be banned, Northern Ireland's senior coroner has said.

But John Leckey said that debate was beyond his remit and suggested concerns about course safety could be examined by a public inquiry, with the government making the ultimate decision over the future of road racing.

He was commenting during a preliminary hearing ahead of an inquest for racer Martin Finnegan, 28, who died when he crashed into a fence during an event in Tandragee, Co Armagh three years ago after experiencing a brake failure.

Ireland and the Isle of Man are the only places in the British Isles where motorbike races on normal roads, as opposed to on a closed circuit, are held.

But the sport has been blighted with tragedy, with a series of high profile riders losing their lives in crashes.

A year before Mr Finnegan's death, Co Down rider John Donnan died during the same meeting at Tandragee. The event was not held in 2010 but is due to take place again this year, with some changes to the course introduced.

A lawyer for the Finnegan family had urged Mr Leckey to widen the terms of the inquest to investigate whether a lack of run off area or air cushioning safety padding at the corner where the accident happened was responsible for his death.

Andrew Babington, who insisted he was not out to "attack" road racing, argued that the court had the power to examine whether any "acts or omissions" other than the brake failure played a part.

But Mr Leckey said those matters focused on issues of civil liability and were not for the coroner's court to probe. However he acknowledged the lawyer's point that road races did not have the same safety measures in place as other motor sport venues.

At the hearing in Mays Chambers, Belfast, Mr Babington said brake failure on its own was not necessarily the cause of death as the rider, from Lusk, could have survived if there had been safety measures. He claimed the corner where Mr Finnegan died was the only one on the course which didn't have precautions in place.

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