Bill Heine recounts the anguished tale told by Thomas Harding about the death of his son
Thomas Harding witnessed the violent death of his 14-year-old son Kadian.
They were cycling in the Wiltshire Downs. Kadian told his dad “It’s so beautiful here” – his last words before he set off down a steep hill towards the A4 near Marlborough. His bicycle brakes failed. He was hit by a van at the bottom of the hill. Even though he was wearing a helmet, Kadian was killed instantly.
Life for Thomas changed completely with this death.
“He was lying on the road. He looked like a young boy again. He wasn’t moving. And then I was howling. Crouched a few yards away, hands over my face. Wailing. Mad.
“I had to ring his mother. She was in Washington DC. But how? I knew the consequences of what I had to say. Yet I knew I must. I called her.
“I said there had been an accident, she stayed with me on the line. She heard the ambulance and helicopter arrive.
“This was the first of what would be an endless stream of impossible tasks: telling our daughter, dealing with the police, organising the burial, speaking at the memorial service. Attending the inquest.”
At the inquest, the Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner David Ridley gave a narrative verdict and said the front brake suffered “a complete catastrophic failure” and with reference to the rear brake it was “unclear as to the extent of its function”.
This accident happened just two hours after Kadian had been to a bike shop to get his brakes repaired.
That was two years ago this month. Now Thomas Harding has written a book: Kadian Journal, A Father’s Story, published last week.
I first met Thomas and his wife Debora when they asked me to present a politics show on a new TV station they were opening called The Oxford Channel, known by some as Channel Six. Thomas had previous experience in film. He started the radical environmental and social justice production company called Undercurrents in East Oxford in the 1990s which took film to the forefront of alternative political protest.
Thomas wrote the handbook which still stands as a reference point for film makers around the world.
The Oxford Channel was born out of a determination by Thomas and Debora to find a fresh, creative, new way into local news. It was born against the odds. The obstacles they overcame were Herculean.
The first time I met Kadian was when his parents invited me to a Thanksgiving Day dinner (Debora is American) at their home in an old quarry in Charlbury and Kadian showed me the family pets, two Vietnamese pot belly pigs.
He must had been three years old and he was already a force to be reckoned with. But what I took away from that family meal was the power of the bond between parents and children. It was also something fresh, creative and new.
The two kids, Kadian and his sister Samantha, a year younger, were not treated as toddlers, but as a kind of independent and surprising pair of equals. It was a family dynamic I have rarely experienced.
Now that dynamic is shattered.
Thomas captured the fall-out from the accident.
“The day after Kadian died, my wife and I woke up in a terror. Is it true? Is he gone? How can it be possible that our generous, kind, smart, quirky, assured, beautiful boy could be gone? The pain was massive, unbearable. How were we supposed to live in this world?”
One of the ways Thomas and Debora live in “this world” is by changing it, and maybe the next change will be in the ‘bicycle bit’ of this world.
The family is based on bikes. Kadian’s mother was chief executive of City Bikes, a firm in Washington DC, and Thomas puts it more graphically: “You could say that Kadian had been born from a bike. Debora and I met when we took part in a coast-to-coast trip across America in 1987. There were 30 of us in all, mostly students. It was an extraordinary way to get to know the country. Kadian developed a similar love for bikes. He liked to go on rides with friends, exploring the small lanes around our home.”
This death raises a question that will touch any parent of a bicycling child. How do you know your child’s bike is safe?
Thomas Harding put the question starkly. “Bike shops used to be run by semi-professionals. Today mechanics can work without certification. Many small bike shops are set up by people with no experience.”
Should bike mechanics be qualified before they can be employed? The coroner in Kadian’s inquest said he did not believe the Government should “create further regulations for small businesses.”
Is he right?