Coroner refuses to blame motorist who killed Harpenden student
PUBLISHED: 05:56 05 February 2015
The devastated family of a university student killed by a 4X4 vehicle in America have had their grief further compounded after a coroner refused to acknowledge the driver's role in her death.
A row broke out in the Herts Coroners’ Court last Friday (30) at the inquest of Hannah Elledge, 21, of Coleswood Road, Harpenden, as her relations expressed their wish for justice.
On November 18, 2012, Hannah was crossing a road with a friend at 2.10am when she was hit by a Jeep Cherokee.
Hannah was an undergraduate at Nottingham University reading politics and American studies. The third year of her course was being spent at the College of Charleston, South Carolina.
She died of her injuries the same day at MUSC Medical Centre in Charleston.
Deputy Coroner Graham Danbury upset members of her grief-stricken family attending the inquest, including her parents, after he refused to accept a statement submitted by them prior to giving his determination.
He told them that despite their strong feelings about the lack of action from police against the driver at the time of Hannah’s death, their statement could not be taken into account.
Hannah’s grandfather, Gordon Leadbeater, objected to that comment and her mum, Sarah Elledge, said: “The driver was responsible for my daughter’s death.”
But Mr Danbury replied: “Those aren’t matters for me. Don’t think I’m not being sympathetic.”
Gordon asked how his referral to a police statement concluding that the driver had committed no offence could not be considered as relevant.
Explaining what happened that fateful evening, Mr Danbury said that after Hannah had attended a party with a friend they began walking back to the college residence.
They were crossing a major four-lane road when “Hannah and her friend were struck by the vehicle travelling in the lane nearest to them”.
Mr Danbury said a police report stated that pedestrian lights at the junction were “in favour of the driver”.
But “Hannah was struck very forcefully by the Jeep Cherokee, and suffered fatal injuries.”
The inquest was told that Hannah’s alcohol consumption at the party “may have impaired her judgement”.
Explaining that she died after receiving severe injuries to her brain following blunt head trauma due to a road traffic accident, Mr Danbury added, “these are the facts of the evidence from America”.
Mr Danbury added that Hannah had “put herself in the path of the vehicle” and ruled it as an accidental death.
He said that with regard to the culpability of the driver, he would not make any comment as he was constrained by the rules of the Coroners’ Court.
But her grandfather questioned his refusal to acknowledge the driver’s role in Hannah’s death.
The deputy coroner said the family could speak to members of the press about their concerns.
After the inquest, Sarah said the police report stated the driver had visited a bar and had been speeding.
At the crux of the family’s concern about the aftermath of Hannah’s death is that the police failed to breathalyse the motorist, or have his vehicle’s brakes investigated.
Sarah told the Herts Advertiser that the driver had not apologised for killing her “beautiful, precious” daughter.
The student’s uncle, Simon Leadbeater, said: “The deputy coroner’s behaviour emphasised the family’s sense of injustice for Hannah.”