Nissan boss tells court ‘impossible’ for malfunction to have caused fatal crash in Leyland

Defendant Ann Diggles
Defendant Ann Diggles
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A senior boss at Nissan has told a jury it was “impossible” that an electronic malfunction caused a Qashqai vehicle to surge forward and kill a pedestrian in Leyland.

The automotive giant flew in its deputy general manager to give evidence at the trial of an 82-year-old who knocked down Julie Dean, 53, outside a charity shop in Leyland, Lancashire, as she attempted to park up.

Ann Diggles says the car “took off” because, her lawyers say, of a fault with the car’s electronic throttle system which resulted in an “uncommanded acceleration”.

Prosecutors argue no problem was found with the throttle and that the collision in July 2014 was simply caused by the driver pressing down on the accelerator pedal instead of the brake.

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.

Preston Crown Court heard the “low speed” collision happened as Mrs Dean stepped out of St Catherine’s Hospice charity shop in Sumner Street on the afternoon of July 7.

Mrs Dean was hit by the Qashqai and ended up underneath the vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Takuma Nakamura, who has responsibility for engine control systems development at Nissan Motor Group, was asked by prosecutor Richard Archer: “Is it possible, in your opinion, for a malfunction in an electronic throttle to cause sudden acceleration of the vehicle?”

Mr Nakamura replied: “I think that’s impossible.”

He explained the system, in which the computer rather than the driver controls the throttle opening settings, had a self-diagnostic feature and that any problem would have been recorded.

Mr Nakamura also discounted the defence’s theory that an undercharged battery could have led to the malfunction and said the vehicle could not accelerate in those circumstances.

Mr Archer asked the witness: “Applying your knowledge of the circumstances of this collision, what do you consider was the cause of Mrs Diggles’s vehicle moving forward before the collision?”

Mr Nakamura said: “In my opinion, for some reason the accelerator has been stepped on.”

The witness agreed with defending barrister Alistair Macdonald QC that legal representatives from the company were in the public gallery because they were concerned about allegations that a Nissan car was defective and could prompt product liability claims.

Mr Macdonald told the jury that the US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had recorded a “small number” of complaints about uncommanded accelerations of Nissan vehicles, although the Qashqai was not sold in the country.

He said one claim was that a 2007-model Nissan Altima was being driven at 2mph when the revs started to increase and the vehicle accelerated suddenly when the motorist was trying to park.

Mr Nakamura said he was unaware of the US complaints.

The witness disagreed with Mr Macdonald that short-term “voltage glitches” could cause the vehicle electronics to malfunction.

The jury was told that Mrs Diggles had been the sole owner of the Qashqai involved in the collision.

It was registered in November 2007, she had driven it for six-and-a-half years, its original battery was in place and it had been fully serviced in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

The trial continues on Wednesday.