Girl injured at cycle race sues organisers

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A schoolgirl who was severely injured when she was struck by the winning cyclist in a mountain bike race began a High Court action for damages yesterday.

Gemma Deacon, 13, is suing race organisers the British Flag Carnival Club, from Bridgwater, Somerset. Her father Andrew, 40, is named as the third party in the action.

Gemma, then 10, was out for a walk with her family on the Quantock Hills, Somerset, on 2 August 1992, when the accident happened.

She and her father, from Weston-super-Mare, Avon, were at the finishing area, Judge Peter Fallon QC was told at a Bristol hearing. Gemma was knocked to the ground and injured as cyclist Jamie Fabrizio, 18, from Wellington, Somerset, completed the downhill straight section to win the Double Tee Challenge Race.

Gemma claims the club was negligent in failing to provide for a safe event. She alleges it failed to ensure spectators were not permitted in the finishing area and there were no suitable warnings that the race was finishing.

Her father is alleged to have failed to have supervised her adequately. It is alleged he did not heed warnings over the public address system that the race was finishing.

He is alleged to have failed to notice her moving forward at a bunting barrier and that he failed to catch hold of her. The club and her father deny liability or negligence.

Gemma sustained severe injuries and spent some days in hospital on a ventilator. She is said to require the intensive support of parents and friends and has had extensive occupational and speech therapy. She has not fully recovered and her prognosis is said to be uncertain.

Mr John Royce QC, said the club had not organised a finishing area adequately or safely.

"The arrangements were such that the winning racer arrived at some speed and collided with the 10-year-old plaintiff," he said. Evidence would be given that the cyclist was travelling at around 20mph when he finished.

Mr Royce said the Deacon family had been walking in a popular walking area when they came upon the race.

The arrangements for the finish were woefully inadequate, he said. There appeared to have been no actual finishing line and an organiser would simply shout to the riders that they had finished, he said.

Michael Gibbs, of Bridgwater, whose son was a race competitor, told the court there were race marshals with fluorescent jackets and walkie- talkies.

"The finish of the race was disorganised from the safety aspect. Any person with no knowledge of the race would have no idea where the riders were coming from."

He maintained that Gemma's injuries were caused as the race was "poorly organised" from a safety point of view.

Jamie Fabrizio said in evidence that he was knocked unconscious when he collided with Gemma. He said he was not at all sure where the race finishing line was.