BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009
Anatomy of a crash

Anji Archer and Shaun Henderson
Anji Archer and her partner, Shaun Henderson, who was killed in a road crash

Every day, several people are killed on the UK's roads. With each casualty there is a tale of lives shattered. In the first of four articles looking at the anatomy of a fatal road crash, Adrian Brown pieces together the events that led an ordinary day to end in tragedy for one family.

Wednesday 3 January 2007 began much like any normal day for Anji Archer and her partner, Shaun Henderson, and their two young children. It's a day Anji has played over in her mind countless times since.

"We did the usual things. Shaun got up, had breakfast, helped get the children ready and then he left for work," Anji begins. "It was his first day back after the Christmas and New Year break."

This is an account of a single fatal road crash. Each chapter follows a stage of the incident.

Most computers will open this document automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader

Anji and Shaun had both been looking forward to the coming year after going through a tumultuous time.

In less than three years, they had gone from being good friends to being in a relationship and becoming parents of two small boys, both of whom had difficult births.

They had met a decade earlier through Stevenage's arts scene and become firm friends. They talked often and Anji, an established artist, discovered Shaun's talent for art and writing poetry.

Anji Archer
Anji Archer recalls the day Shaun died

Then, one day, out of the blue, Anji received a letter. It was from Shaun.

"It was just an amazing hand-written letter. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Basically, he was saying, 'I am in love with you and if I don't say it, I'll live to regret it'".

Within months, they'd moved in together and soon afterwards along came their first son.

"When Malackay was born he was the spitting image of Shaun. I couldn't ask for a more perfect baby. I remember thinking, 'I've got my family now'. This is it. This is all I wanted," Anji says, her voice catching slightly with the memory.

Within a year, a second son, Reilly, had arrived. The family was complete.

Later that Wednesday in 2007 in the afternoon, Shaun returned from his job as a chef at a local cafe.

"Considering it was his first day back at work, he came back," she says, suddenly hesitating, before continuing; "just full of life."

'I didn't say goodbye'

"After dinner it was bath the children, read them a story and put them to bed. Shaun was a very, very hands-on father, very practical, very helpful."

Just before 7.30pm, Shaun said he had to go and meet some friends.

Shaun Henderson
A younger Shaun on a classic scooter

"I said, okay. That's all I said," she says with regret in her voice.

"I heard him get himself ready, he walked down the stairs. I picked up Reilly from the cot as he was a bit disturbed, so I didn't go downstairs, I didn't follow Shaun to say goodbye. I heard him go."

Shaun left on his silver classic Vespa scooter. He'd been into scooters since he was a teenager and was a member of a local scooter club. Though at the time, he rarely travelled beyond Stevenage on his bike.

It's likely that Shaun rode little more than a mile before the crash.

To reach the spot where it occurred, Shaun would have threaded his way through the residential area where the family lived to reach a roundabout before turning left on to Six Hills Way, one of Stevenage's main roads.

After Shaun rode away, Anji came downstairs and got on with the household chores.

Phone call

"I remember as I was ironing, I could hear the wind outside and thinking to myself, 'that doesn't sound very nice out there. I hope Shaun's okay on his scooter'."

The lay-by where the van driver made his phone call
The lay-by where the van driver made his phone call

At around the time Shaun was leaving home, the driver of a Citroen van had pulled over into a lay-by on Six Hills Way to make a mobile phone call.

When he had finished, he pulled the van forward to get back on to Six Hills Way. As he did so Shaun was travelling up the hill towards him on his scooter. His lights were on and he was probably travelling no faster than 30mph on the 40mph limit road.

Though it was raining, visibility was good. At night, the street lamps along this stretch cast an orange glow over the road. The van's windows were clean and being high up, the driver should have had a good view of the oncoming traffic.

Emergency brake

When Shaun's scooter was approximately 20m away, the van driver pulled out into his path. Assuming Shaun's reaction time was the single second it typically takes to react to the unexpected, he'd have travelled a further 13m towards the van before responding.

The road where Shaun's crash occured
Six Hills Way, where Shaun's crash occured

According to the police accident investigator, Shaun emergency braked, causing the front wheel to lock up. Unlike in a car, on two wheels this can have a dramatic effect, instantly throwing the bike onto its side - which is exactly what happened.

The police crash investigator estimates Shaun and the scooter slid along the wet tarmac together at between 23 and 28mph until his scooter hit the van. As it did so Shaun's head struck the van's front off-side wing.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific