The death of a young man who fell out of a moving taxi in Doncaster town centre while fighting with another passenger has been ruled an accident at an inquest.
Relatives of Robert Ross Dowling were assured he was ‘not pushed’ out - but they expressed their disappointment at the verdict because they say the cabbie should not have driven off with an open door.
Taxi driver Ashfaq Khan told the hearing he did not realise the nearside sliding door of his Mercedes Vito had been opened on St George’s roundabout by Mr Dowling’s girlfriend, Corrianne Hooker, getting out when he stopped to complain about the behaviour of the five passengers, most of whom had been drinking.
Mr Dowling’s mum, Gwyneth Tivey, said afterwards: “I am disappointed and upset, but Robert can be laid to rest now. It’s been a difficult time for a close-knit family.”
The 27-year-old, of Owston Road, Carcroft, suffered a fatal head injury and died shortly after hitting the ground when he and two other passengers - his sister, Susannah Easton, and her partner, Darren Griffiths - all fell out of the taxi during the alcohol-fuelled argument.
The couple, Mrs Tivey and Ms Hooker, and the driver were all arrested after the incident but the Crown Prosecution Service decided no-one should be charged.
The group of five had begun arguing in a Silver Street burger bar before getting into Mr Khan’s taxi, and the row over children continued as the car headed towards the roundabout at around 2am on January 18 last year.
Mr Khan gave evidence that one of the women was hit by two of the others, and then the two men, Mr Dowling and Mr Griffiths, were standing up and wrestling.
“I decided to stop on the roundabout and asked the customers to calm down or they’d have to get out. I was getting no response because the two gents were fighting, pushing, and hitting each other,” he said.
“Nobody was listening so my decision was to head back to town so I drove round. The doors were shut when I looked round and in the mirrors.
“I pulled away and got up to second gear. I heard the door slam back, and as I looked to the left I could see a passenger coming out of the vehicle.”
A vehicle examiner found no faults with the taxi door, and concluded it had been opened and the other passengers had become unbalanced as the car went around the roundabout.
Ms Hooker, the only passenger who had not been drinking, because she was pregnant, was not seen by any other occupant getting out of the taxi, the inquest was told.
Doncaster Coroner Nicola Mundy said she did not consider Mr Khan had properly checked that passengers had alighted before resuming the journey, and the momentum had forced the sliding door fully open and locked it in position.
“Mr Dowling and Mr Griffiths continued their grappling and I do not consider the driver exceeded 28mph, but that speed created sufficient force to destabilise those in the back, and that caused all three in the altercation to fall out of the cab.
“I do not believe he was pushed out.
“It is clear this was an extremely unfortunate series of events.”