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26

FEATURE

FORENSICMETEOROLOGY

There was a

disparity between

the weather

station data and

the evidence of the

witnesses

>>

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

high ground.

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

inside ‘Dreamspace’.

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

theory.

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

1974.

Road traffic accident

In

Goodes v East Sussex County Council

[2000]

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.

Miners’ strike

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

withdrawn.

SJ

A career in forensic

meteorology

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

scientific officer.

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

SJ 160/6