Newport crash victim 'denied justice on technicality'

By Caleb Spencer
BBC News

  • Published
John after waking from an induced comaImage source, Emma Ross
Image caption,
John Conibeer spent six weeks in an induced coma after he was the victim of a hit and run

A man injured so badly in a suspected hit-and-run that he was given a 2% chance to live, said he has been denied justice "on a technicality".

John Conibeer spent six weeks in a coma and needed multiple life-saving operations after he was hit by a van on the A48 near Chepstow last year.

The man charged with the hit and run walked free because of a clerical error, he said.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would be "inappropriate" to comment.

Gwent Police said it had "followed the standard procedures" while investigating and had sought advice early from the CPS.

The hit-and-run

Image source, Emma Ross
Image caption,
John Conibeer's partner Emma Ross was with John when he was struck by the van

In the early hours of 17 February 2018, Mr Conibeer, then 32, was one of three passengers in a car being driven by his partner Emma Ross on the way home from a meal together in Chepstow.

Ms Ross lost control of the car and crashed into a wall. There were no injuries and Mr Conibeer got out of the car to check for damage.

As he was attempting to push the car back on to the road, he was hit from behind by a Ford Transit van.

Mr Conibeer became trapped between the van's wheel and the wheel arch and was dragged around the wheel twice before being thrown to the side of the road.

He was left with 24 broken bones, including a fractured pelvis, hip, shoulder and four vertebrae.

He also suffered a punctured lung, a lacerated kidney and liver and injuries to his bowel, urethra and bladder.

Mr Conibeer was taken to the Royal Gwent Hospital, but needed transferring to specialists at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff.

He had to be resuscitated twice during his first operation, which lasted 24 hours as surgeons worked in shifts, and Ms Ross estimates her partner was operated on for about 80 hours.

Image source, Emma Ross
Image caption,
Mr Conibeer had to be resuscitated five times during about 80 hours of surgery

The investigation

After a lengthy appeal to catch the suspect, police made an arrest in March, but no charges were brought until September.

The BBC has learned the suspect was facing three charges - causing serious injury through careless driving, failing to stop at the scene of an accident and failing to report an accident.

Mr Conibeer said police had told him the suspect had admitted he was driving the van.

The defendant was due to appear at Newport Magistrates' Court on 14 November but the case, which was being prosecuted by the police, was withdrawn after the district judge ruled the case had "timed out".

With certain motoring offences, prosecutors have six months to charge someone, at which point the offence becomes "timed out" unless the prosecutor issues a certificate of extension.

Image source, Family photo
Image caption,
The ambition to get back to his job as a roofer motivated Mr Conibeer during his surgery

Ms Ross said the certificate was not present in the case file, which allowed the defence to call on the judge to throw it out.

One of the charges - causing serious injury through careless driving - was also missing from the charges on the court sheet, Ms Ross said.

The couple claim police and the CPS have "blamed each other" and Ms Ross has complained to the CPS and is considering complaining to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

"I have lost out on justice because of a technicality," Mr Conibeer said.

The recovery

The physical and mental recovery has been an arduous one for Mr Conibeer.

"It's set him back years. He's had to develop again - for him it has been like being a child again physically and mentally," Ms Ross explained.

Mr Conibeer said: "It makes me really angry when people say 'you're so lucky to be alive'. Part of me wishes I had died that night because I don't feel lucky.

"I have battled with suicidal thoughts - the pain was in every part of my body."

Despite the struggle to overcome the lasting consequences of that night, Mr Conibeer said he was genuinely grateful, particularly to his family, friends and the medical staff who saved his life.

Image source, Emma Ross
Image caption,
Despite appearing physically well, Mr Conibeer is unlikely to ever fully recover from his injuries

Ms Ross was asked what the couple would like to see happen.

"I would like to see him admit what he did in front of a judge, and then face us and hear how it has affected him," she said.

"If you look at him, he looks brilliant now. But his life will never be the same."

A spokesman for the CPS said: "We have received a complaint in relation to this case. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this stage."

Gwent Police said: "We note the legal arguments raised by the defence. It would be inappropriate to comment further."