Parents must take responsibility for children’s safety, coroner warns, after inquest into death of three-year-old Lowestoft boy Rio, hit by a car at King’s Lynn Mart
PUBLISHED: 07:55 20 November 2012 | UPDATED: 11:09 20 November 2012
Rio Bell slipped from his mother’s grasp and ran straight into the path of a car during a faimly visit to the King’s Lynn Mart on February 15.
He suffered multiple injuries when he was hit by an Audi A4 outside the Globe Hotel in King Street and was pronounced dead at the town’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital shortly afterwards.
The inquest heard Rio had been spotted walking in a neighbouring road with his eight-year-old brother just two hours before the accident, while his mother Kelly Rawlinson and her partner Martin Daw, of Lowestoft, walked some distance behind.
Greater Norfolk Coroner William Armstrong said he would write to West Norfolk Council asking it to explore further road safety measures during the historic fair’s stay in the town centre, but he was satisfied the driver was completely blameless.
“I don’t wish to add to the distress and anguish of Rio’s family, but the primary responsibility for young children must rest with those having care of them,” Mr Armstrong said.
“At the time of this tragedy, Rio was not under suitable control or supervision. He should have been under very close and direct control. Under these circumstances, he should either have had reins, been in a buggy or had his hand held.
“It pains me to say that.”
Giving his verdict, Mr Armstrong said Rio died as a result of a road traffic collision and would have lost consciousness immediately.
More than 30 people attended the inquest at Lynn County Court yesterday, including Rio’s father, grandfather and aunt, and proceedings were interrupted while extra seating was arranged.
Witness Natasha Hunt told the hearing she had seen Rio and an older boy walking in Ferry Street, outside the Globe, at about 3.30pm on February 15.
She had been driving at about 10mph and came to a complete stop when she saw the two boys walking towards her.
“They were not paying any attention,” she said. “I heard a man shout out his name and they moved.”
In his evidence, Mr Daw said he and Ms Rawlinson had been following the boys, but conceded they were some distance away.
“Rio was independent. He always walked with his older brother,” he added.
Mr Daw said the family, including Rio’s older brother and sister, had gone to the Globe Hotel for a meal at about 4.45pm that day after going on some of the rides.
As the group left just before 5.30pm, he said Rio slipped from his mother’s grasp and ran straight past him into King Street, opposite the Prezzo restaurant.
“I followed him to the road to catch him and that’s when the accident happened,” Mr Daw said.
Ms Rawlinson said Rio and his sister had walked off to look again at the fairground ride outside the former Barclays bank. She managed to grab hold of the little girl’s hand, but Rio had slipped from her grasp.
“He was determined to get away,” she told the hearing. “When I used to put his reins on his wrist, he would take them off.
“Rio ran past Martin into the road. I didn’t see what happened, I just heard it.”
Witnesses described hearing a loud thud when Rio was hit and one said she heard a loud scream of “No!” as the accident unfolded.
Driver Thomas Dinneen said he had been driving home from work, carefully making his way around the busy marketplace to King Street.
“I saw nothing at all,” he said. “I was aware of a noise and my initial thought was that I had hit the pavement. Then I realised something had happened.
“It felt strange and I stopped the car gently.”
The police were satisfied Mr Dinneen had not been speeding, driving impatiently or driving aggressively before the crash, the hearing was told.
Following Rio’s death, a campaign was started calling on West Norfolk council to improve safety measures while the annual mart is in progress.
More than 5,000 people signed a petition calling for further road closures and the council formed a task group to explore the issue.
David Clack, the council’s safety and welfare advisor, said members had agreed a number of changes, including the introduction of crossing marshals in King Street paid for by the fair operators, closing Ferry Street to traffic and only allowing the mart to stay for nine days.
Mr Armstrong said the council had acted responsibly and given a proportionate response to events, but he would write asking whether any further action should be taken.
He said he recognised the imprtance of the mart and its traditions, but safety should be paramount.
“My last words must be about Rio,” he added. “He was a bright and happy little boy. His life has been cut cruelly short, but he remains a precious gift never to be forgotten.”