Monday, February 13, 2017

Great-grandmother who claimed her Nissan Qashqai ‘took off’ and sped forwards out of control is CLEARED of killing pedestrian

Great-grandmother who claimed her Nissan Qashqai ‘took off’ and sped forwards out of control is CLEARED of killing pedestrian

Ann Diggles, 82, knocked down and killed Julie Dean, 53, outside charity shop

Two other owners came forward admitting similar experiences with the model

By James Tozer for the Daily Mail

PUBLISHED: 7 February 2017

A great grandmother who claimed her faulty Nissan Qashqai ‘took off’ and sped forwards out of control was yesterday cleared of killing a pedestrian.

Lawyers for retired nurse Ann Diggles, 82, argued a malfunction in the best-selling family car’s electronic throttle led to an ‘uncommanded acceleration’ which knocked down and killed Julie Dean, 53.

Two other Nissan owners came forward after reading press coverage of the case to report similar experiences, and both gave evidence in Mrs Diggles’ trial.

Yesterday the committed church-goer wept in the dock as she was cleared of two alternative counts of causing the death of Mrs Dean by careless or dangerous driving.

Following the shock verdicts, Nissan insisted the hugely popular model – built at its plant in Sunderland – was safe and continued to insist the vehicle involved in the crash had not been faulty.

The Nissan Qashqai is Britain’s fifth best-selling car behind the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.

The Japanese auto giant had flown in an executive to dispute her lawyers’ efforts to blame the car, while its legal representatives were in the public gallery amid what the court heard were concerns about possible product liability claims.

Mrs Diggles, who has been driving for more than half a century, was parking her Qashqai automatic in her home town of Leyland, Lancashire in July 2014 when it suddenly shot forward.

The vehicle mounted a pavement and ploughed into Mrs Dean, who was walking out of a charity shop, causing fatal injuries.

The pensioner said she put the vehicle into drive and then put her foot ‘very gently’ on the accelerator before it surged forward and she was unable to stop it careering towards a row of parked cars.

She told police it ‘just went’ and insisted there was ‘no way’ she had pressed the accelerator instead of the brake by mistake. 

Her car, which she had owned since new in 2007, had always been fully serviced in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Police vehicle examiners working with experts from Nissan said there was no evidence of any braking at the time of the tragedy and no faults with the accelerator.

An expert witness in electronic engineering told her trial at Preston Crown Court that ‘uncommanded acceleration’ could take place if an undercharged battery failed to give appropriate voltage to the electronic components in a vehicle.

Mrs Diggles’ Qashqai hadn’t been used for three weeks as she had been on holiday to Madeira, the court heard.

The US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had recorded a ‘small number’ of similar complaints about Nissan vehicles, the court heard - although the Qashqai is not sold in the country.

One claim was that a 2007-model car was being driven at 2mph when the revs started to increase and the vehicle accelerated suddenly when the motorist was trying to park.

But Takuma Nakamura, who is responsible for engine control systems development at Nissan, gave evidence that any such fault would have been recorded in the vehicle’s on-board computer.

‘In my opinion, for some reason the accelerator has been stepped on,’ he said.

However on Monday the court heard from two Nissan owners who came forward after reading about Mrs Diggles’ claims.

Sharon Davies, of Marford, near Wrexham, told how she was turning into her drive after a Tai Chi class on January 10 when her automatic Nissan Juke lunged forward and knocked over the garden wall.

‘Just as I had turned into my parking space the car made a funny clunking noise and almost came to a stop, and I remember thinking the car was going to stall,’ she said.

‘I went to touch the accelerator and the car just ploughed forward into the wall much quicker than I would have expected it to have done.’

The vehicle had been MoTd and serviced the previous week, but when she took it back to her local Nissan dealership she was told it had been tested and no fault was found, she told the court.

Mrs Davies said after the collision, which happened while her three-year-old son was in the car, she lost confidence in the vehicle and had now part-exchanged it for a different make.

Another woman, Naomi Taylor, said her 2015 Nissan Qashqai had suddenly sped up as she turned into her mother’s drive, causing her to miss her turning.

‘I just needed to concentrate and look out for any pedestrians,’ she said. ‘I am absolutely clear that I did not have my foot on the accelerator at the time when the vehicle sped off.’

Nissan found no electronic malfunction with the car, the court was told, and the vehicle was returned to her.

In his closing speech to the jury, defence barrister Alistair MacDonald QC said their accounts ‘provided powerful support that these surges of acceleration do in fact happen’ and it was ‘not a theory’.

The prosecution cautioned jurors they were not being asked to decide whether sudden acceleration could happen but whether they were sure the defendant pressed the wrong pedal.

Yesterday Mrs Diggles sat in the dock in tears after the jury cleared of her causing death by dangerous driving or by careless driving.

Following the verdicts, trial judge Mr Justice Fraser said: ‘I would like to put on the record that both Miss Taylor and Mrs Davies are to be commended for the efforts that they individually took to contact the defence and come to court at very short notice.’

Mrs Diggles later left court without commenting.

Last night Nissan said its experts had thoroughly examined her car and had not found any faults which could have caused the accident.

‘This verdict does not reflect on the safety of the vehicle, the only issue to be decided in this case was whether the driving of the defendant was dangerous or careless and caused the death of the victim,’ it said in a statement.

‘The prosecution was unable to prove this beyond reasonable doubt.’

A spokesman added: ‘The Qashqai has an exemplary safety record, and has been tested and complies with all safety regulations in all markets.

‘Both Nissan and the police have concluded that the vehicle was operating as expected and with no fault that could have contributed to this tragic set of circumstances.’

A spokesman for Which? said it had not been informed of similar incidents. Both the AA and RAC declined to comment.

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