Law: Accidents will happen: Sharon Wallach meets an expert witness

'SOLICITORS rarely tell me the result of a court case. But I shouldn't be interested in the outcome anyway,' says Jim Brooking, engineer, accident investigator and expert witness. 'It's not for me to make judgements on who is right or wrong.'

Mr Brooking works for E J Allen & Associates, consulting engineers based in Thornton Heath, Surrey. The company was set up four years ago by Ted Allen, who has 30 years' experience of investigating road traffic and industrial accidents. Mr Brooking joined in 1991 from Mercedes Benz (UK) Ltd, a useful background in terms of both technical knowledge and referrals of work.

E J Allen takes on work for the legal aid authorities, insurers and private individuals. Ted Allen stresses the importance of integrity. 'It would be all too easy for an engineer to feel he has to make a case for those paying him,' he says. 'But our first task is to assist the court. Obviously, we will put our best foot forward for our client, but we have a duty if he has no case to tell him so. The engineer's point of view has to be technical, not legal. We are involved with both criminal and civil proceedings, which demand different standards of proof. Our report has to be as unprejudiced as possible, given the limitation that we hear the story of one side only.'

Mr Brooking adds that he has been asked occasionally by instructing solicitors to leave information out of his report. 'But we can't do that because then the report would be unbalanced. We have to be seen to be impartial.'

The first action on receiving instructions is to visit the scene of the accident and reconstruct events. A site visit can take place months, or even years, after the incident. Mr Brooking describes one such job: a commercial vehicle had skidded on a bend and collided head on with a car, killing its driver. Following a police investigation, the van driver was convicted of several offences, including careless driving and using a vehicle with defective brakes.

The van's front disc pads had been recently changed by a garage which was joined by insurers as second defendants to a civil claim on behalf of the dead driver's estate.

Some two years after the accident, E J Allen tracked down the van, persuaded its new owner to release it for examination and carried out a reconstruction. 'We were able to establish that the police evidence on the condition of the brakes was inaccurate,' says Mr Brooking. As a result of E J Allen's evidence, the insurers dropped their action against the garage.

Another recent case concerned two drivers involved in a head-on accident, who were each convinced that the traffic lights in their own directions were green. It turned out that neither was lying - one factor Mr Brooking was able to establish was that a cycle lane light was misleadingly facing in the wrong direction.

E J Allen is one of 15 or 20 firms offering its brand of specialist service. According to Mr Brooking it is doing well. 'But we are only as good as our last job,' he says. In an attempt to stay at the forefront of technology, the company has invested in an American software programme, Edcrash, which reconstructs the technical elements of accidents, including speed, impact force, vehicle deformation and road position.

Edcrash, explains Mr Brooking, works on two basic principles:

vehicle-based co-ordinates and earth- based co-ordinates at the scene of the accidents. As yet, it cannot handle all types of accidents (and can only draw square trees). It is none the less invaluable, Mr Brooking says, as a working tool to calculate and cross- check. 'But at the end of the day, what counts in court are the engineer's own calculations.'

The company's engineering philosophy, says Ted Allen, is to 'test everything and believe nothing'. He adds: 'All the theory in the world is worth nothing unless you test it practically. The whole function of our work is to challenge not only what is said by both sides, but what we have said ourselves. At the end of the day, we have to stand up in court and face a barrister, and barristers are very clever people.'

Mr Brooking is calm in the face of what he calls barracking from barristers. 'I ignore it,' he says, 'because I can be confident that my report is carefully prepared and right.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat