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Rally car came within a foot of hitting two child spectators, inquest told

An out-of-control rally car that crashed, killing its young driver, came within a foot of ploughing into two child spectators, an inquest has heard.

One of the children watching the Ulster Rally stage that claimed the life of Timothy Cathcart was filming the vehicle as it approached a stage finish at an estimated 110mph.

The modified DS3 Citroen span out of control after flying over a road crest just metres before the finish line near Fivemiletown, Co Fermanagh, and careered into a fence where the two children and an adult were watching from.

Mr Cathcart, a 20-year-old student from Ely Lodge, near Enniskillen, sustained fatal head injuries in the August 2014 crash and his Welsh co-driver Dai Roberts was seriously injured.

The fence divided the narrow country road from a private house and garden.

Sections of the fence penetrated the front of the car on impact.

Coroner Patrick McGurgan noted that the area had been designated as prohibited on a pre-race safety plan and questioned race organisers on why marshals had allowed people to gather there.

Mr McGurgan, who watched the iPad footage of the crash filmed by the child, and also in-car GoPro video, said he and the two other spectators were "very lucky".

"Not only could we be hearing Timothy Cathcart's inquest today, there could have been one, if not another potentially two or three people, that I could be dealing with in an inquest hearing today," Mr McGurgan told Belfast Coroner's Court.

A police constable told the coroner that Mr Cathcart's car had destroyed a 20-metre section of the fence.

He said the car impacted inches from where the spectators had been standing in the garden.

"They were extremely lucky," said the officer.

"I would estimate that it probably came within a foot."

Ulster Rally chief safety officer Michael Johnston acknowledged that spectators should not have been standing at the point where the car crashed.

He said on reflection the prohibited area could have been extended and further advice given to marshals to enforce the restriction.

Mr Roberts, from Carmarthen, broke four vertebrae, fractured ribs and lacerated his liver and a kidney in the crash.

He told the court Mr Cathcart was really keen to perform well in the race, as it was in his home county.

"He wanted to go to his home rally and get a top result," he said.

Mr Roberts, a British champion, said the car had not been handling well over crests and bumps on the day of the crash and said they had been planning to get their mechanics to adjust the suspension after the stage.

The coroner asked the co-driver if he thought Mr Cathcart's age and experience was a factor.

Mr Roberts said he had driven with him when he had gone over crests on worse terrain and at higher speed without a problem.

"It was just something that happens," he said.

Retired pro-rally driver Niall McShea also gave evidence to the inquest.

He had been asked by the Cathcart family to give his assessment of what happened.

He said losing control of a car on landing from a crest was not uncommon and said "99.99 times out of 100" it would not have resulted in a fatal crash.

"Timmy was just so, so unfortunate," he said.

Mr McShea said an earlier incident in the race, when Mr Cathcart overshot the road and ended up on the verge, would not have impacted his state of mind at the time of the crash.

Mr Cathcart's father Ian, once a rally driver himself, said the family were still struggling with their loss.

"We are still heartbroken to be honest, we have a very close family," he told the coroner.

"Timmy was a very bubbly, forward-thinking, friendly, outgoing fella. It's just a very sad loss."

Mr Cathcart raised concern about using race routes where the particular type of "D-fencing" was in place.

He acknowledged it would be "impossible" to protect all fences on road rallies.

"The reason Timmy is dead today is because the fence caused the fatal injury, the broken fence," he said.

The Cathcart family's lawyer also raised concerns about the safety of having a finish line so close to a road crest.

Clerk of the course Gary Milligan said there were "numerous similar crests" on the route.

"There was nothing specific or out of the ordinary on that crest in comparison to other crests on that route," he told the court.

The inquest continues.

Mr McShea was later asked to explain why rally drivers engaged in such a potentially hazardous sport.

He said he did not think of the dangers and was instead motivated by the thrill of competition.

"Timmy loved his sport - he really, really loved it," he said.

"I absolutely get that and know where he was coming from.

"I could see myself in Timmy when I was starting - that determination."

In further exchanges with a race time keeper, the coroner noted the issue that was presented when there was private land close to a rally route.

He pointed out people had a right to stand on their own land to watch events but highlighted the need for organisers to advise what was a safe distance to spectate from.

The inquest is due to conclude on Thursday.

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