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Family of fatal crash victim not told of faulty bike brakes

Better times: fatal road crash victim Matthew Cooper and his son, Joseph. Mr Cooper was visiting Bermuda on a work trip when his black mountain bike, travelling east down Flatts Hill, Smith’s, collided with a car on October 17, 2021 (Photograph supplied)

A son whose 58-year-old father died on Bermuda’s roads says important information about the collision was not shared with the family by island authorities.

Joseph Cooper said he discovered police found faulty brakes on his dad Matthew’s rented pedal bike at an inquest held in London 2½ years after he died.

Mr Cooper said the hour-long hearing at East London Coroner’s Court last month was crucial in helping him and his relatives understand what took place and come to terms with their loss.

“That was the first time I felt like I could actually properly visualise what happened, which is quite crazy, that it took 2½ years for that to happen, when obviously that’s such an important part of the process,” the 24-year-old told The Royal Gazette.

Matthew Cooper — a keen and highly competent cyclist, according to his son — was visiting Bermuda on a work trip when his black mountain bike, travelling east down Flatts Hill, collided with a blue Suzuki car coming in the opposite direction on October 17, 2021.

The wine buyer, from Bow, East London, suffered traumatic brain injuries and died 12 days later at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

At the inquest into his death, statements from Bermuda Police Service revealed that the condition of the bike’s front brake “would have reduced the braking efficiency by about 90 per cent”.

Graeme Irvine, senior coroner for East London, said it was “disappointing” and “an omission” that the BPS had not investigated rental company Oleander Cycles further.

He also said numerous attempts were made by the British Foreign Office to find out more about the circumstances surrounding the death.

Joseph Cooper said: “The brakes thing, that’s a massive point. We did not know about that until the inquest. No one told us about the brakes at all. That’s a massive part of the puzzle, a huge part.

“That leads to more questions. No one in Bermuda ever mentioned to us about the brakes. That was never mentioned to us once.”

He and his sister, Phoebe, 21, along with their grandmother and aunt, travelled to Bermuda after the crash and were in constant contact with police while here.

“They looked after us,” said Mr Cooper. “We felt very supported; we were talking to the police every day.”

However, he added: “We didn’t actually get a lot of details. There were a lot of things that were a bit up in the air. No one gave us much definite pieces of evidence.”

Mr Cooper said: “It was all a bit loose and broken up. We had to put things together ourselves a bit, which was weird at a very confusing time of our lives.”

Police arranged for Phoebe to meet Gayle Ventures, the driver of the Suzuki, but still none of the family could understand how an "extremely strong cyclist“ like Matthew ended up as a road fatality.

“It was a completely random event,” said Mr Cooper. “My dad was a really good cyclist, he’d done it a lot of his life, he was very strong at it.

“There was a level of confusion about how it happened, especially when they are saying there was no human error, no road fault, no driver’s fault.

“It was pretty confusing to us because of how strong he was as a cyclist.”

A statement from Ms Ventures was read out at the inquest in which she described how the cyclist turned to look for a hat, which had flown off his head immediately before the collision.

However, the coroner concluded the cause of death was the result of a road traffic collision and not the fault of either Oleander Cycles or the cyclist’s own actions, “given the absence of evidence”.

Joseph Cooper, who attended the hearing via video link, along with his sister, said the various pieces of evidence were set out clearly, but the coroner apologised that he did not have the power to call witnesses from Bermuda and dig deeper into the circumstances.

Mr Cooper said that as much as he and his relatives missed their loved one, they were now “at peace” about the tragic circumstances surrounding his death.

He added, though, that they would welcome further answers about the findings of the police inquiry, including whether the bike was safety-tested before it was rented.

Darrin Simons, the Commissioner of Police, said: “Mr Cooper’s tragic death was investigated by the Bermuda Police Service.

“Investigators examined the cycle and determined the front brake was defective.

“They followed up with the livery company. It is undetermined if the front brake was defective before or after the collision.

“The investigative file was sent to the Coroner’s Office in Bermuda for review. The decision whether to hold an inquest is a matter for the coroner.”

Mr Simons did not respond by press time to a request for further details about the police inquiry or the extent of information provided to the family.

Coroner and senior magistrate Maxanne Anderson has not responded to repeated requests for comment about why a public inquest into Matthew Cooper’s death was not held in Bermuda.

Chief Justice Larry Mussenden did not respond to a request for comment and nor did Oleander Cycles.

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