Parents call for change in law following death of Pearl Black

The parents of a toddler who died when an unattended Range Rover rolled down a driveway and into a wall have called for the Government to close “a loophole of law” that prevents the car’s owner from being prosecuted.

Pearl Melody Black, aged 22 months, was killed while walking to play on swings in Heolgerrig, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, in August last year.

Her father, singer Paul Black, told an inquest that he tried to protect Pearl and threw her baby brother Acer to safety after seeing the driverless 2.6-tonne Range Rover coming towards them.

Pontypridd Coroner’s Court heard that the 4×4 had been parked at the top of a steep drive by owner Andrew Williams, who had not applied the handbrake sufficiently.

The automatic vehicle had been effectively left in neutral by Mr Williams, with the gear lever positioned between park and reverse.

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 on the remains of the collapsed wall in Heolgerrig (Ben Birchall/PA)

Police told Pearl’s inquest that the blue Range Rover would not have rolled down the driveway and careered into the street if the handbrake or the gear lever had been “applied correctly”.

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

Speaking after the inquest, Pearl’s parents, Paul and Gemma Black, said: “The past year has been the worst of our lives and, while we know that nothing can bring her back, one of the hardest things has been coming to terms with the fact that no-one will face prosecution for her death.

“The vehicle was mechanically sound. It would not have moved if it had been properly secured.

“Yet a simple loophole of law – that it started its descent on private rather than public land – has stopped us getting justice for our daughter.

“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.”

Undated family handout photo issued by South Wales Police of Pearl Black (South Wales Police/PA)
Pearl Black (Family Handout/South Wales Police/PA)

The family have already met their MP, Gerald Jones, and said he is keen to table a Private Member’s Bill.

Mr and Mrs Black said they hoped their daughter’s death could serve as a warning to motorists that “just a second’s inattention” can cause devastation.

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

“The vehicle was left on a slope leading straight down to the main road,” he said.

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

“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.”

Mr Williams, who had owned the Range Rover for about three years, told the inquest he had collected his 13-year-old daughter from her mother’s home on the morning of August 6 2017.

They returned there at about 1.15pm, with Mr Williams parking his vehicle behind his former partner’s car on the drive.

He initially told police that he had left the vehicle in park and applied the handbrake sufficiently but examinations later revealed this was not the case.

About 10 minutes after going inside, Mr Williams heard a loud banging sound and ran outside to see his car “embedded in the boundary wall” of a nearby property.

Pearl Black death
Police near the remains of a collapsed wall at a property in Heolgerrig, South Wales, where Pearl Black was killed (Ben Birchall/PA)

Pearl had been walking to nearby swings with her father and Acer.

“I said ‘Daddy hand, tight, tight, tight’,” Mr Black told the inquest.

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

“I looked up and I could see a vehicle coming towards me and building up speed. I shouted ‘Whoa’. The vehicle hit the wall.

“I threw Acer 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.

“The Range Rover went up on the road and proceeded to crush Pearl in front of me. 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.”

Mr Black told the hearing he tried to help his daughter and tell her “Come back to Daddy, come back to Daddy” before neighbours commenced CPR.

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

When asked about the extent of Pearl’s injuries, Mr Black said: “It crushed her like a Coke can. I have never seen anything like it in my life.”

A pathologist recorded Pearl’s cause of death as catastrophic head and neck injuries.

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