There was a
station data and
the evidence of the
to 25 degrees Celsius at the three nearest
weather stations at about 3.30pm.
Weather station data suggested a rather windy
day. Mean wind speeds were around seven to 11
knots at ten metres above the ground (force three
to four on the Beaufort wind force scale – a gentle
to moderate breeze). At times gusts were almost
– or even more than – double the mean speed.
However, an examination of the upper air
sounding from Albemarle showed the wind at the
surface at 1pm from the ascent was only three
knots from the west.
Further, almost all of the witnesses described
the wind as being light, and only two referred to
winds stronger than light – one witness said there
was a light to moderate breeze (two to four on the
Beaufort scale) and another said that at around
3.30pm ‘a very moderate breeze was blowing
across the park’.
There was, therefore, a disparity between the
wind conditions at two of the stations and the
evidence of many of the witnesses, the CCTV
coverage, and the data from the upper air ascent,
all of which indicated there was very little wind.
An examination of the topography of the area
showed that the park was sheltered by high
ground to the west, with the town being on
The defence theory was that a strong
convection current formed on the top of the
structure during a period of bright sun, causing
it to be sucked into the air.
Convection occurs when differential heating is
caused by the proximity of hot and cooler areas.
In this case, the top of the structure would have
been much hotter than the surrounding grass in
the park from early in the morning. At about
3.30pm, the cloud was well broken with a long
period of bright sunshine. It is possible that the
temperature of the upper surface of the structure
exceeded 35 degrees Celsius. Some of the
witnesses also said that it became very hot
CCTV showed that just prior to its lifting, at
about 3.30pm, the sides of the structure were
sucked in and then out for a matter of minutes,
rather like a wobbly jelly but with an up-and-
down motion too. At the same time, trees just to
the west were quite vigorously blown about,
where before they were almost still. This indicated
quite a strong wind towards the structure. Where
there is a strong vertical motion, air is sucked in to
replace the rising air (sea breezes and tornados
are good examples).
In the event, it appeared that the CCTV
evidence was conclusive in destroying the wind
The jury could not agree on a verdict on the
charges of gross negligence manslaughter and
the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to ask
for a retrial. Agis was found guilty of failing to
ensure the safety of members of the public under
section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act
Road traffic accident
Goodes v East Sussex County Council
UKHL 34, the weather was again important.
The claimant was driving along a road when he
skidded on ice while overtaking and crashed into
the wall of a bridge, suffering severe injuries. He
claimed damages on the basis that the Highway
Authority had failed in its duty to ‘maintain the
road’by not putting down salt or grit in time to
prevent ice forming.
A weather report showed the high probability
of the presence of ice on road surfaces, which
would have been obvious to drivers due to hoar
frost appearing on grass and trees.
The claimant was initially successful but lost after
the local authority appealed to the House of Lords.
My first court appearance was in 1984, one month
after joining the legal enquiries section of the Met
Office, with no formal training in the legal sense.
The case was one of murder. During the miners’
strike of 1984, two strikers threw a rock from a
bridge on to a taxi taking a non-striking miner to
work. The taxi driver was killed.
A policeman had given evidence that he saw
the accused by bright moonlight. I testified that
weather reports showed this was a cloudy night
with light drizzle. The police evidence was later
A career in forensic
John Coates-Greetham started his
meteorological consultancy following a career
in the Met Office spanning 37 years, from
1951 to 1988. After starting as an observer, he
became a forecaster and eventually, in 1986,
head of the legal enquiry section as a senior
Reports prepared by Coates-Greetham over
the last 30 years have examined the weather
in Bangladesh, the West Indies, Bulgaria,
Romania, and at 37,000 feet over the eastern
Atlantic, just off West Africa, and have been
submitted in both civil and criminal cases.
Criminal cases have covered a wide
spectrum from murder and rape to minor
traffic offences; on the civil side, cases have in-
volved personal injury, road traffic accidents,
and building delays covering many months.
Expert Witness Supplement Spring 2016