Date: 5 Oct 1957
Place: Midsomer Norton, Somerset
Peter Christopher Smith died in a motorcycle accident on 5 October 1957 at Midsomer Norton. However, it was not known whether he had been driving the motorcycle or his friend who was also injured in the crash but who was unable to remember anything and an open verdict was returned.
The Coroner noted that if it had been Peter Smith that had been in control of the bike when he lost control then his death would have been considered accidental, but said that if it were his friend, who remembered nothing, then the matter became complicated as if it were agreed that he had been driving the motorcycle in a gross careless manor that the jury would be right to send him to trial on a charge of manslaughter.
Peter Smith was a garage mechanic and had lived at Oakenhill Farm in Oakenhill Lane, Brisington.
His death was given as being due to multiple injuries, compatible with a vehicle having gone over his body.
His friend was 18-years-old and was a British Railways fireman and had lived in Belroyal Avenue in Brislington. It was said that he only held a provisional driving licence and his brother said that he did not think that he could drive a motor-cycle.
The crash had happened near the Five Arches on the way from Midsomer Norton towards Bath.
A 69-year-old man that had lived in Bath Road, Peasedown said that he had been driving a car from Midsomer Norton to Bath at about 11pm on 5 October 1957 and that as he was approaching the railway bridge, travelling between 20 mph and 30mph he saw a motorcycle coming towards him completely out of control, flat on its near side with nobody on it.
He said that he then applied his brakes and that something then hit the front of his car. He said that he didn't know what it was but that when he got out of his car he saw two people in the road. He said that he didn't notice anyone under his car until his wife told him, adding that he then saw someone under his car by the offside wing.
He then noted that the other man was lying behind his car. He said that the motorcycle did not come into contact with his car but said that the motorcycle had come across the white lines onto his side of the road.
His wife said that that as soon as her husband saw the motorcycle that he braked. She said that she heard just a bump, only one, but did not think that the car had gone over anybody.
A man that lived in Welton Vale, Welton said that he had been driving from Radstock to Midsomer Norton in the night, noting that visibility was good and said that as he approached the bridge a young fellow waived him down and stopped him and that when he got out he saw a body under a car and that with the help of another man lifted the car in order to pull the man out. He said that when he then went to move his own car out of the way he saw another body in the road and that he then went off for a doctor.
Another witness, a man that had lived in Radstock, said that he had been walking from Midsomer Norton towards Radstock with a friend and that he had seen a car overtake them at a steady pace on its proper side and that just afterwards he heard a loud crash followed by another bang.
A 50-year-old man that lived in Bristol Hill said that he knew both Peter Smith and his friend and said that he had ridden as a pillion passenger on the motorcycle on 5 October 1957 and that when he had got off that Peter Smith got on the pillion and that he and his friend went off, with the friend driving. He said that he had not seen Peter Smith on the back of the machine before.
After the accident Peter Smith's friend was taken to St Martins Hospital where for the first three weeks he was aware that he was in hospital but did not appreciate very much. It was reported that he was mentally ill and that from his injuries it was only natural that he could not remember what had taken place before the accident and at the time of the accident.
The doctor said that he had a bruise on his left temple and other injuries and that because of the injuries that his recollection of the events would quite likely have been affected.
A policeman that arrived at the scene said that when he got there he saw a stationery car on its proper side of the road and that lying on the road parallel to the white line and about two feet from it he found Peter Smith. He said that Peter Smith's friend was then lying about 45 feet further along the road close to the white line and that the motorcycle was lying about 75 feet on from the rear of the car. He said that the scene of the accident was where the railway line crossed the road at an angle and made a double bend.
When the police questioned Peter Smith's friend shortly after the accident on 29 October 1957 he confirmed that he was the registered owner of the motorcycle and that when he was asked whether he had been riding the machine between Radstock and Midsomer Norton at about 11.15pm on 5 October 1957 he replied, 'I know I had her out that night, but I didn't think it was at Radstock or Midsomer Norton'.
The police said that when they asked Peter Smith's friend whether he ever let anyone else drive his motorcycle, he replied, 'No, I am the only one that has ever driven this one'.
When Peter Smith's friend later gave evidence at the inquest on 19 December 1957 he said that the motorcycle had been his and gave the names of two other young men who had also ridden it.
He said that he knew Peter Smith quite well and that on 5 October 1957 that he went to a dance at Midsomer Norton but did not remember driving with the 50-year-old man who said that he had been on the pillion shortly before the motorcycle went off with Peter Smith on the pillion. He also said that he didn't remember going back to Radstock from Midsomer Norton and had no recollection of what happened on the evening.
When he was questioned by the Coroner he said that the last thing that he remembered was getting a new battery and two sidelights at Bristol.
He also said that he remembered telling a policeman whilst he was in hospital that he did not let anyone else drive his motorcycle although he said that since being in hospital he had remembered certain people that had ridden it. He later said that if Peter Smith had asked to ride his motorcycle that he would have let him but that he could not remember if Peter Smith had been driving the motor-cycle that night.
However, he added that he had no recollection of saying to the policeman, 'I thought it happened in Bath'.
It was also heard that when the policeman had asked him at the hospital whether he knew that Peter Smith was dead, he had said that he did not.
He also said that he had no recollection of Peter Smith having gone to the dance that night.
He said that he had been driving since February 1956 but had had an accident in April 1957 although no proceedings had been taken against him for that accident.
When the Coroner summed up he said that it was their duty to find out where, how and by what means Peter Smith came to his death. He said, 'You may think there is no doubt where he came to his death. You know the immediate cause of death, which was multiple injuries. The problem arises that you have to consider by what means. Can you be satisfied who was driving the motor-cycle? On the face of it there appears to be only two alternatives. Either his friend was driving with Smith, or Smith driving with his friend on the pillion. If his friend was driving you will remember that the other man said that Peter Smith got on the machine and saw the machine leave with his friend driving. There is no evidence of any change, but let us look at the other side, to the possibility that Smith was driving. He had worked in a garage. Can you exclude the fact that after they had gone to Midsomer Norton that he might have said, 'Let's change places?'.
The evidence tends to support the view that his friend was a more experienced driver than Smith. The friends evidence can be summed up in three words, 'I don't remember'. There is the importance of the evidence of the doctor. You may think that evidence tends to support that the friend is right and speaking the truth when he said, 'I don't remember'. If you come to the conclusion that Smith was driving that would be accidental death and no complication. But if his friend was driving there is a complication. If anybody has been driving a machine in a gross careless manner, or at exceeding speed, and death resulted, it would be right to commit him to trial for manslaughter. You must not let that deter you from doing your duty.
If you cannot decide on the evidence who was driving it is not an enviable position, but if that is so your verdict will be open.
I sympathise with you in your problem because it is a difficult one'.
When the jury returned their verdict after two hours consideration they said, 'About 11.15pm on October 5 the body of deceased was found under the front wheels of a motor-car on the Midsomer Norton side of the railway arch crossing the road leading from Midsomer Norton to Radstock. The evidence does not fully disclose the means whereby the cause of death arose'.
The bridge appears to have been since demolished and the railway line removed. An article by the Midsomer Norton, Radstock & District Journal details an incident from 1967 near the Midsomer Norton South Railway Station in which a timber lorry crashed into the bridge at Silver street, on the other side of Midsomer Norton, indicating that the railway line was still there then, but other sources show that the railway station itself closed in 1966. Midsomer Norton is currently the location of the Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust which operates some of the track and engines from the line today. Analysis of maps indicates that Five Arches bridge was possibly over the Radstock Road where Five Arches Close currently is today.