Words by Chris Marshall-Bell
A petition has been set up to allow the return of coached cycling at a closed circuit where a police officer sustained fatal injuries in March.
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Richard Phillips-Schofield, 33, suffered severe head and chest injuries whilst racing at the Portsmouth-based Mountbatten track in the spring. He died as a result of his injuries two days later.
All cycling activities were suspended at the track three weeks after the accident. Prior to this suspension, British Cycling had suspended all racing and coach-led racing but permitted normal coaching sessions.
David Gwilliam, a BC level 3 road and time-trial coach, has spoken to the coroner in charge of the inquest into Mr Phillips-Schofield’s death who has said that it was not within his remit to cease activities at the centre – that is the duty of the council and Parkwood Community Leisure who manage the facility.
Mr Gwilliams has since set up a petition calling for controlled coaching sessions for young cyclists to be allowed once more. He says that such cyclists are now using busy public highways, being coached in unused car parks and being forced to ride at nearby facilities in Bournemouth, Brighton, Castle Combe and Herne Hill.
Councillor Robert New responded, saying he has made it a “priority to be briefed by council officers on this matter to find out the full facts behind decisions that have been taken so far to close the track and why the track hasn’t reopened, as we’d naturally assumed it would do.”
The full petition had attracted close to 200 signatures by noon on June 6.
Updated: Since the publication of this story, Cllr Robert New, Cabinet Member for Environment and Community Safety at Portsmouth City Council has issued the following statement:
“As soon as I took up my position on the council last month I made it a priority to look into this. I absolutely understand the frustration felt by users of the track, particularly those who simply want to carry out coaching. On the other hand, there’s been a very tragic accident and it’s important that all proper steps are taken.
“The council owns Mountbatten Leisure Centre but doesn’t operate it. The decision to close the track was made by the operator, Parkwood Community Leisure, and the decision to reopen it is one for Parkwood too.
“The council has done a safety report on the track, which is with the coroner.
“The report makes some recommendations, and the coroner agreed we can share these with Parkwood to help move matters along. We did this about a week ago, and are waiting for Parkwood’s response. I’m sure they’ll make a decision on whether to reopen or not as quickly as possible.
“I’m seeking a meeting with them urgently.
“The coroner hasn’t given permission for the recommendations to be made public. The inquest will be the place for all the facts of the case to be presented.”