Rasen men sentenced for part in a fatal road traffic collision

When 70-year-old Keith Smith went for a ride on his prized Triumph motorbike on a sunny day on October 6, 2021, his family never realised that would be the last time they would see him alive.
Keith Smith died in the collision. Image: Lincs PoliceKeith Smith died in the collision. Image: Lincs Police
Keith Smith died in the collision. Image: Lincs Police

Keith was very much loved by his wife and family and was widely known and respected amongst his friends.

According to Lincolnshire Police, he had a vast amount of experience riding both motorbikes and push bikes. He was a member of the Lincoln branch of the Triumph Owners Club and also a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorcycle Training; he trained other riders in advanced riding skills to become as skilled and safe as he was at riding a motorbike.

Keith’s wife of almost 50 years, Mrs Viv Smith, said after the sentencing, as reported by police: “My husband was our rock, this is the worst tragedy ever for our family to lose him in such unbelievable circumstances; we are all so devastated. He had a passion for motorbikes almost his entire life, from the age of 12-years old. He covered hundreds of thousands of miles over the years on his motorbike, mostly with me as a pillion.

Thomas O'Brien has been sentenced to five years and ten months in custody, half of which will be served on licence. Image: Lincs PoliceThomas O'Brien has been sentenced to five years and ten months in custody, half of which will be served on licence. Image: Lincs Police
Thomas O'Brien has been sentenced to five years and ten months in custody, half of which will be served on licence. Image: Lincs Police

“The only person responsible for this collision and the trailer becoming detached was Thomas O’Brien. He sought to blame everyone else, even my husband Keith. The evidence speaks for itself and the witnesses said Keith had no time to react to the trailer in front of him. We have had to sit through a trial where O’Brien showed no remorse, he did not take any responsibility for his actions and has shown, in my opinion, complete arrogance.

“Keith was our hero, such a quiet, loving, unassuming man and we’ll miss him forever. We’ll remember him with such love and affection.”

Keith had set out on his Triumph motorbike to make the most of the good weather and have a cup of tea at Willingham Woods, near Market Rasen, it would be the last cup of tea he had.

Thomas O’Brien, 34, from Dear Street, Market Rasen, pleaded not guilty to causing the death of Keith Smith by dangerous driving, and attempting to pervert the course of justice at a trial held at Lincoln Crown Court which began in January 2024. He was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and not guilty of intending to pervert the course of justice. His co-defendant, Connor Janney, 24, of Lammas Leas Road, Market Rasen, pleaded guilty to intending to pervert the course of justice.

According to police, the court heard that just after 5.15pm as Keith Smith was riding along the B1202, Linwood Road, Lissington, away from Market Rasen, he was suddenly confronted with an 18-foot flatbed trailer in his carriageway. The trailer had become unhitched from a black VW pick up which was travelling in the opposite direction to him; his Triumph hit the front corner of the trailer and he was thrown from his motorbike. He hit a tree and tragically died at the scene. The Triumph motorbike burst into flames.

O’Brien was driving his black Volkswagen Amarok pick up and towing an Ifor Williams trailer towards Market Rasen. He had travelled just under a mile from a yard he rented to run his business from. O’Brien said he became aware the trailer had become unhitched and had seen the motorcyclist approaching.

In his police interview, which was read out during the trial, he said he saw the motorcyclist approaching, he said he was flashing his lights, beeping his horn and screaming inside the truck; he felt the rider could have ridden round the trailer. In court, independent witnesses said there was nothing the motorcycle rider could have done to avoid the trailer.

The investigation by Lincolnshire Police Serious Collision Investigation Unit and the Forensic Collision Investigation Unit was detailed and thorough and included many hours of reconstruction and testing around the hitch and coupling mechanism.

O’Brien said he had fitted the hitch of his VW pickup correctly, with his colleague Janney, to make sure it was attached properly. During his police interview he said that he used the jockey wheel of the trailer to lift the back of the truck up slightly. He said: “Once it starts lifting the back of the truck up you know that you are on there safely”. Both O’Brien and Janney said they had checked the lights were working on the trailer including the brakes, indicators and side lights. As O’Brien drove towards Market Rasen, he negotiated a left-hand bend and at a point following the bend the trailer became detached from the rear of his vehicle. During O’Brien’s defence, he said there was a fault with the coupling, that hitting a pothole and wear and tear on the coupling head and tow ball meant the trailer had disconnected. He said he felt the rider could have ridden around the trailer.

As part of the investigation, CCTV was located which covered the yard and was used in court to dispute the account O’Brien had given. Using the CCTV and analysing the footage closely, Expert Witness and Forensic Collision Investigator, PC Godfrey Barlow, disputed O’Brien’s accounts. He found there was only 55 seconds from O’Brien getting out of his VW, coupling the trailer and getting back into the vehicle before moving off. He found the process of raising the jockey wheel, so the VW truck is lifted, wasn’t carried out. In PC Barlow’s opinion 55 seconds is not sufficient time to carry out all the checks that O’Brien and Janney suggested they did. PC Barlow concluded that following extensive examinations and tests, there was no evidence of a component failure with either the towbar, tow ball or hitch of the trailer and the detachment must have occurred as a result of the trailer not being coupled correctly to the VW by O’Brien.

Forensic Vehicle Examiner, and Expert Witness, Cameron Smith, examined both the Triumph motorbike, the VW Amarok and the Ifor Williams trailer. He concluded that if the hitch had been connected correctly it would not have become detached. He found the brakes on the trailer were in an unroadworthy condition due to the dangerous condition of the braking system and also the lack of maintenance evident from the trailers overall condition. He adds that while the brakes were not a direct result of the trailer detachment, due to the condition of the brakes as the trailer became detached from the VW and the brakes applied via the breakaway cable, this could have caused the trailer to deviate towards the offside and into the oncoming carriageway. In addition, he found the electrical socket on the trailer was a 7-pin plug and the socket fitted to the VW was a 13-pin plug, so they wouldn’t have connected and the lights would not have been working. No defects were found on the Triumph motorcycle.

The offence of causing death by dangerous driving is defined as driving falling far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and where it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous. It also includes driving where it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving a vehicle in its current state would be dangerous. It includes not only the circumstances of which the driver could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within their knowledge. It also includes when the driving is a cause or factor in the death of another person. (CPS Guidance Road Traffic – Fatal Offences and Bad Driving.)

Detective Sergeant Adam Doona, Serious Collision Investigation Unit, said: “My thoughts are with the family and friends of Keith Smith. They have been devastated by his loss. We have completed a very detailed and balanced investigation to determine how the collision which led to the death of Mr Smith was caused. This was presented to the court with the jury finding a guilty verdict of causing death by dangerous driving.

“I hope this never happens again; anyone using our roads must make sure their vehicle is safe and roadworthy, that it is fit and legal to be on the road. The tragic and avoidable consequences of this collision show just how crucial it is to take the time to check and maintain any vehicle or trailer that is being used.”

Both O’Brien and Janney were sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court today, Friday March 1. O’Brien was sentenced to five years and ten months in custody, half of which will be served on licence. He was disqualified from driving and must pass an extended retest before he can drive again. He was disqualified from driving for 4 years and ten months. A deprivation order was granted in respect of the trailer. According to Lincolnshire Police, as he was led out of the dock, O'Brien turned to the family and apologised. Janney was sentenced to nine months in custody which was suspended for 18 months; he must do 200 hours of unpaid work.

During sentencing, as reported by Lincolnshire Police, Judge House mentioned that nothing the court did today can change the outcome, or reflect the value of Mr Smith. He added that no sentence can bring back Mr Smith; his loss has left a gaping hole to his family and their loss and grief is as raw today as on the day of the collision.

The family of Keith Smith have asked for their privacy to be respected.