Handbrake on car which killed Pearl Black not applied sufficiently, inquest told

The father of a toddler who died when an unattended Range Rover rolled from a driveway and into a wall has described how he tried to save her.

Pearl Black, aged 22 months, was killed as she walked to play on swings in Heolgerrig, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, with her father and baby brother.

An inquest heard the handbrake of the 2.6-tonne car had been applied at two of six notches, which was not sufficient to secure it on the steep driveway.

Flowers and a teddy bear lay on the remains of the collapsed wall at a property in Heolgerrig, South Wales (Ben Birchall/PA)
Flowers and a teddy bear placed at the scene of the tragedy in Heolgerrig (Ben Birchall/PA)

Police examinations revealed driver Andrew Williams had left the gear lever between park and reverse, effectively putting the vehicle in neutral.

Officers told Pontypridd Coroner’s Court the vehicle would have been “held” on the driveway if the handbrake or the gear lever had been applied correctly.

Paul and Gemma Black, the parents of Pearl, are now calling on the Government to close a legal “loophole” that prevents Mr Williams for being prosecuted in relation to their daughter’s death.

The couple say the law means they cannot get justice for their daughter, as the Range Rover began its descent on private land.

Undated family handout photo issued by South Wales Police of Pearl Black (South Wales Police/PA)
Pearl Black was on her way to play on swings with her family when she was killed (handout/PA)

Speaking after the inquest, Mr and Mrs Black said: “We shouldn’t be here at the coroner’s court today.

“We should have been given the justice we deserve at criminal court.

“Instead, the law as it stands has prevented any repercussions for what was not a fluke accident and could have been completely avoided had the handbrake been fully applied and the automatic transmission correctly placed in park.

“This is why we are now calling on the Government to change the law so that no other family has to suffer as we have.”

They paid tribute to their daughter’s “infectious laugh and mesmerising big brown eyes”.

Mr Black described how he had been taking his “happy and joyful” daughter, who had just started to walk, to the swings with her baby brother Asa on August 6 last year.

He told his daughter “Daddy hand now, tight, tight, tight” as they walked along the pavement at about 1.30pm.

“I could then hear the rubber against the tarmac as I was looking down to take Pearl’s hand,” Mr Black said.

“I looked up and I could see a vehicle coming towards me and building up speed. I shouted ‘woah’. I thought there was someone in the vehicle at the time.

“The vehicle hit the wall. I threw Asa out of my right arm. I tried to step in front of Pearl. I went for her coat but I wasn’t quick enough to throw her as well.”

Pearl Black death
Police at the scene where Pearl was killed (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr Black said the Range Rover crushed his daughter in front of him, with the impact and the weight of the wall meaning her coat slipped out of his hand.

“It was like a scene from a horror film,” he said.

“I could see the death appearing on her face. She was dead instantly. I pulled the wall off her and picked her up in my arms.”

Neighbours heard a loud banging sound and rushed outside, with some performing CPR on Pearl before paramedics and the air ambulance arrived at the scene.

Mr Williams told the inquest he heard the noise between 10 and 20 minutes after he had parked his Range Rover on the driveway.

He initially insisted he had left the vehicle in park and sufficiently applied the handbrake.

But Pc Gareth Davies, of South Wales Police, said the Range Rover would not have come down the driveway if this had been the case.

“Both handbrake and gear lever were checked and both would hold the vehicle on the incline in isolation,” he said.

“The handbrake wasn’t applied and it wasn’t in park.”

Pearl Black
Pearl Black’s parents described her brown eyes as ‘mesmerising’ (handout/PA)

Examinations found the handbrake was applied at two of six notches. If it had been applied at four notches, it would not have left the driveway, police said.

Speaking after the inquest, Richard Langton, a serious injury lawyer from Slater and Gordon, said he would strongly urge the Crown Prosecution Service to review whether a charge of gross negligence manslaughter could be brought.

“The gearbox was in neutral and the handbrake was not properly on – both clearly in breach of the Highway Code,” he said.

“In our view it should have been obvious to any driver leaving a two-and-a-half-tonne vehicle in such a dangerous place that, if it rolled away, death or serious injury to pedestrians was entirely foreseeable.”

Pearl was airlifted to the Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil but she was pronounced dead a short time later.

A pathologist recorded her cause of death as catastrophic head and neck injuries.

Andrew Barkley, senior coroner for South Wales Central Area, reached a conclusion of accidental death and said the tragedy was one of “driver error”.

The coroner described how Mr Black attempted to save the lives of both Pearl and her baby brother.

“Instead of throwing Pearl, he went to grab her coat to try to pull her out of the way,” Mr Barkley said.

“As he did that, the Range Rover struck him. As the Range Rover hit him, the grip on his daughter was taken away from him.

“The Range Rover hit the wall and the wall then fell on her, crushing her, as he said, like a Coke can before his very eyes.

“He knew instantly that she was dead. [He said] the life drained from those beautiful brown eyes.”

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