A man who was accused of causing the death of an 11-year-old boy has been told he has ‘no case to answer’ by the judge presiding over his trial.
Richard Stemler, 70, formerly of Wishing Tree Road, St Leonards, but who now lives in Spain, denied causing death by dangerous driving at Hove Crown Court.
Harley Simpson, 11, of Bulverhythe Road, St Leonards, died in hospital on November 4, 2016, after being involved in a collision with Mr Stemler’s silver Renault Espace, in Bexhill Road, while on his way to rugby practice on October 22, 2016.
On Monday (March 19), judge Jeremy Gold QC dismissed jurors after telling them Mr Stemler – who had undergone surgery to have a benign brain tumour removed four and a half months before the fatal collision – had no case to answer.
Jurors were previously told Mr Stemler had undergone the surgery at the end of May 2016 in Spain. He then collapsed three days after being released from hospital – on June 9, 2016 – while still in Spain which Spanish medical professionals put down to tiredness and made no link to the brain surgery.
Two medical experts both concluded Mr Stemler lost control of his car moments before the fatal collision as a result of a focal epileptic seizure, the court was told.
Judge Gold QC said the prosecution’s case – which was closed on Thursday (March 15) – was effectively made up of three strands: the fact he failed to notify the DVLA of his brain surgery, the fact the potential danger would have been reinforced in his own mind by the incident in June 2016, and the fact he omitted to tell police about his brain surgery in either of his two interviews.
In his ruling, he said: “I have the gravest reservations whether it can fairly be said that this defendant was driving dangerously on the day in question in the sense that the prosecution allege.
“There is no evidence whatever that he was given proper advice in Spain about the danger of focal epileptic seizures following the removal of his brain tumour, or the effect that might on his ability to drive safely on public roads. Absent such advice, or any other indication of his susceptibility to seizures prior to the tragic events on October 22, 2016, the prosecution have no case.
“If I am wrong about that, I have no hesitation in concluding that no reasonable jury, properly directed, could convict Richard Stemler of this offence on the evidence presently before them.
“For a combination of these reasons, my ruling is that the defendant has no case to answer.”
On the day of the collision, the court was told, Harley Simpson had been crossing the A259 and standing on the central refuge waiting to cross the eastbound carriageway.
Mr Stemler was driving west along the road when he drifted from his lane and collided with both the refuge and Harley. Efforts were made to save Harley’s life but he died from his injuries on November 4, 2016, the court was told.
Mr Stemler was arrested on October 22, 2016 – the day of the collision – and interviewed by police that evening and again on December 21, 2016.
The court was told Mr Stemler gave a full account and answered all of the officers’ questions but on both occasions failed to mention his surgery in Spain.
The prosecution argued this demonstrated he knew he should have reported his medical treatment and should not have been driving.
The court was also taken through evidence from consultant neurologist Dr Khaled Abdel-Aziz and consultant neurosurgeon Mr James Kellerman.
They were in agreement that the ‘key medical cause for the collision was likely to have been a focal epileptic seizure giving rise to a loss of control of his vehicle’.
Judge Gold QC said: “They both confirmed that, in the UK, doctors have a duty to advise patients that they must not drive for six months after such surgery and the patient must advise the DVLA. A failure to do so is an offence under section 94 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
“They both observed that no such advice appeared to have been given following surgery in Spain – there is certainly no note to that effect and it is not included on the extensive consent form that Richard Stemler was required to sign before the surgery took place.
“Neither expert was convinced that he had been given the correct advice regarding anti-convulsant therapy.”
Spanish medical notes concerning the incident on June 9, 2016, suggested the diagnosis for Mr Stemler’s collapse was fainting, the court was told.
Mr Stemler told Dr Abdel-Aziz that he had been advised not to drive for four weeks after his operation and, judge Gold QC, said there was ‘no evidence to suggest he did not comply’.
Judge Gold QC added: “I have been referred to section 94 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. That section imposes an obligation on any UK licence holder who ‘becomes aware that he is suffering from a relevant disability to forthwith notify the Secretary of State in writing’.
“It is worth noting that section 94 2(b) excuses the licence holder from that obligation if ‘he has reasonable grounds for believing that the duration of the disability will not extend beyond three months beginning with the date on which he first becomes aware that he suffers from it’.
“As stated above, the only evidence before me at this stage pertinent to this topic is Richard Stemler’s assertion that he was advised not to drive for four weeks which might well have provided him a section 94 2(b) defence if he were facing a charge under section 94.
“It seems to me that the prosecution must establish unequivocally that Richard Stemler would have been guilty of a section 94 offence bearing in mind how they put their case on this indictment.
“On the evidence before the jury, in my judgement, they fail to do so.”
The prosecution have indicated an intention to appeal the decision.
Judge Gold QC granted Mr Stemler unconditional bail.
Mr Stemler previously had his licence revoked.