Councillor cleared of death crash charge

A SENIOR councillor last night told of his “14 months of hell” after he was cleared of criminal charges relating to a crash that killed a church minister.

By Danielle Nuttall

A SENIOR councillor last night told of his “14 months of hell” after he was cleared of criminal charges relating to a crash that killed a church minister.

Harold Mangar, a Suffolk county councillor and a former member of Suffolk Police Authority, was driving along the A145 at Shadingfield, near Beccles, on the evening of March 22 last year when his Mazda 626 car collided with the Rev Stephanie Neal.

Mrs Neal, who was the minister for Shadingfield, Sotterly, Stoven, Brampton, Weston and Westhall villages, had been on her way to a meeting at Shadingfield Village Hall at the time of the accident. She died of multiple injuries at the scene.

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Mr Mangar, 70, of Colchester Road, Ipswich, told police he was travelling at 30mph prior to the accident and was on dipped headlights because he did not want to dazzle any on-coming vehicle.

He said he had not seen the victim, who was dressed in dark clothing and carrying a torch with a failing battery, until the moment of impact.

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But he was later charged with driving without due care and attention and speeding.

The prosecution said he should not have been driving on dipped headlights because the oncoming vehicle was too far in the distance and said police experts estimated his speed to be between 36 and 41mph.

But Mr Mangar, who denied both charges, was acquitted by Ipswich magistrates yesterday after a leading crash collision expert, Dr Darren Walsh, gave evidence to contradict the formula used to calculate Mr Mangar's speed, saying he was more likely to be travelling at between 28 and 32mph.

His solicitor, Geoffrey Payne, had also argued it was “perfectly proper” for the reasonable driver to have had their headlights dipped at that particular time.

In acquitting Mr Mangar, District Judge David Cooper said: “I have to say I can find nothing in the Highway Code or any case that says one should drive full-beam in any given circumstances.

“There is nothing that says when driving through a particular unlit area that you should be on full beam.

“There is a sort of feeling that someone must be blamed. It's a blame culture that we live in. Accidents do happen. People do not necessarily have to be to blame.

“There can be a conjunction of tragic circumstances that produce, well, tragedy.”

Speaking after the case, Mr Mangar said the strain of the past 14 months had put both him and his family through hell.

“This has been the worst 14 months of my life,” he said.

“My sincere condolences go to Mrs Neal's family and friends. She lost her life. I have always maintained this was a pure accident. I'm really happy to be acquitted on both charges.”

Mrs Neal's sister, Celia Richards, who was present at yesterday's hearing, also said she was pleased with the result and said friends and family of the deceased did not blame father-of-three Mr Mangar in anyway.

She said: “We are absolutely pleased. In our view this was a tragic accident.

“The last 14 months must have been awful for Mr Mangar. We think the outcome is as it should be.

“We do not blame him at all. We think he's gone through hell.”

Mr Mangar, the councillor for Bridge ward in Ipswich, stepped down from his position on Suffolk Police Authority when it emerged he would face criminal charges in relation to the accident.

But he spoke yesterday of his hopes of returning to the authority in the future, if members accepted.

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