Top Gear presenter's condition remains 'serious but stable'

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The Independent Online

The Top Gear presenter, Richard Hammond, suffered a "significant brain injury" when he crashed a high-speed car while trying to beat the British land speed record in a film for the programme, doctors said.

Hammond's wife Mindy and both his brothers were maintaining a vigil at his bedside at Leeds General Infirmary where doctors are "reasonably optimistic" that the 36-year-old father of two, who remained in a serious but stable condition today, will make a good recovery.

The crash is now being investigated by both the police and the Health and Safety Executive. Should the inquiry conclude that the BBC had been negligent in its duty of care towards Hammond, it could face criminal charges.

The preparation and planning for the event will form a key part of the inquiry. Keith King, a principal inspector with the executive, said: " One would expect the BBC to have organisational arrangements and risk assessments for dealing with any production-related activity on a site like this and elsewhere. [We] will... look at what arrangements they had for dealing with emergencies.

"[This] is very unusual and personally I haven't dealt with [anything similar], which is why we are working with the police." The BBC declined to discuss what risk-assessment methods were in place for such stunts yesterday, though it has launched an internal investigation.

Claims that some of the programme's crew members planned to raise health and safety concerns at a meeting scheduled yesterday were carried on Broadcastnow, a website for the television and radio industry.

"People working on the show have been really concerned about health and safety and having to work from dawn until dusk," a source told the website.

A BBC spokesman said : "All BBC programmes, including Top Gear, take health and safety extremely seriously. If people were going to raise health and safety issues at this meeting it is the first we have heard of it."

Driving the Vampire dragster at speeds faster than he had ever attained in a presenting career renowned for daredevil stunts, Hammond was said to have been "euphoric" as he set off in high winds up the 1.8-mile runway at the Elvington airfield in North Yorkshire at 5.45pm on Wednesday. It was the presenter's last run of a day's racing in the jet-powered vehicle during which he had continually sought to increase his previous speed and had gone past 300mph.

He had switched on the vehicle's after-burner to increase power to the car when it veered to the right, half a mile after setting off. Though a parachute deployed, the vehicle spun over several times then landed on grass 200 yards away, trapping Hammond, who was clad in fireproof overalls, helmet and balaclava. The nose-cone of the car was destroyed in the accident, which experts say could have been caused by mechanical error, driver error or because of the high winds at the time of the

One car stunt expert said that even a world-class driver of the calibre of Michael Schumacher would struggle to control a vehicle if problems occurred at the speeds he was travelling at. Steve Truglia, who supervises TV car stunts, said: "I would have hoped they would have given him a lot of training in the run-up to it."

The diminutive Hammond, 5ft 7in and nicknamed "the Hamster" by his fellow presenters, has taken part in a number of stunts since joining Top Gear when it relaunched in 2002. He has sat in a car which was blasted with artificial lightning to demonstrate the effects of an electrical storm, and raced a powerful 4x4 vehicle against a jet-powered kayak along an icy patch of water in Iceland.

Hammond's Top Gear co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson visited him at the hospital yesterday, and told The Sun he had managed to provoke a reaction: "He was lying peacefully with a black eye but didn't react so I tried something else. I said: 'The reason you're here is because you're a crap driver'. He then smiled at me. It was an amazing moment, very moving." He said Hammond's only visible injury was a black eye and that he had no broken bones, adding that he was a "very lucky boy".