Death crash trial halted after defendant, 81, suffers family tragedy

Ann Diggles, 81, leaves Preston Crown Court.

Ann Diggles, 81, leaves Preston Crown Court.

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A jury in the trial of an 81-year-old motorist who claims an electronic “malfunction” in her Nissan Qashqai caused a fatal crash has been discharged after the defendant suffered a family tragedy.

Nissan Motors flew in a senior official from Japan to give evidence for the prosecution but the case was halted after a judge ruled it would not be appropriate to continue.

Ann Diggles, from Leyland, says the car “took off” as she attempted to park and she was unable to prevent it colliding with 53-year-old Julie Dean outside a charity shop in July 2014.

Her lawyers say the incident was caused by “a complex electronic scenario”, possibly due to a combination of factors including an undercharged battery.

The Crown say there was no evidence available of any fault in the car’s electronics system and that the driver had simply pressed down on the accelerator pedal instead of the brake.

Takuni Nakamura, a deputy general manager at Nissan, was due to enter the witness box at Preston Crown Court yesterday before information about the defendant’s family tragedy at the weekend was passed to the court.

Alistair Macdonald QC, defending, told jurors: “The position is that over the weekend Mrs Diggles suffered a tragic bereavement in her very close family and therefore is in no fit state to continue with the trial.”

Judge Pamela Badley said: “I have to say that Mrs Diggles herself was of the view that although she was very distressed she said she wanted to continue with the trial straightaway.

“One of the important factors in my decision is that this is an emotional trial to start with.

“In any trial of sensitivity there is an importance balance to maintain between the dignity of the case and to also ensure that everyone who wishes to put forward their case can do so in the proper atmosphere.

“I have come to the conclusion that it would not be possible for Mrs Diggles to carry on this week.”

A fresh trial has been listed for January 23 next year.

Diggles, of Dalehead Avenue, Leyland, denies causing the death of Mrs Dean by dangerous driving.

She has also pleaded not guilty to causing her death by careless driving.

Last Thursday, Richard Archer, opening the prosecution case, said numerous witnesses saw the defendant’s car strike a parked vehicle before it mounted the pavement, hit Mrs Dean, and become wedged against a wall.

He said the collision was “not particularly high speed” but sadly the victim ended up face down with the Nissan Qashqai over the top half of her body.

Mrs Dean, who had just stepped out of St Catherine’s Hospice charity shop, was pronounced dead at the scene in Sumner Street, Leyland, on the afternoon of July 7.

The court heard Mrs Diggles told police she “moved to the right” and the vehicle “took off” and went out of control.

She said: “I could not stop it. I saw the lady but I could not stop it.”

Mrs Diggles said she believed she had pressed her brake and nothing happened.