By MONIQUE DEVEREUX
"I heard four really fantastic words today. Appeal allowed, conviction quashed. And I cried."
The relief was evident on the face of Christchurch events organiser Astrid Andersen yesterday after hearing the Court of Appeal had quashed her conviction of criminal nuisance.
It was the last step in a legal battle that began when mother-to-be Vanessa Caldwell was killed during the Le Race cycle event from Christchurch to Akaroa in March 2001.
She had been overtaking other cyclists on a blind bend on the Port Hills when her bike and a car collided. She suffered head and chest injuries, a punctured and collapsed lung, and a swollen brain, and died soon afterwards.
A year later Miss Andersen was charged with criminal nuisance and last August a Christchurch jury convicted her. She was fined $10,000.
The conviction had a widespread impact on events around the country, prompting organisers to cancel last year's Huntly Christmas Parade, Nelson's 22-year-old Iron Person multisport race and a similar event in Geraldine, this year's Tour de Manawatu, and the postponement of the annual Queenstown Marathon.
All feared they too would be held liable in the event of an accident.
But yesterday the Court of Appeal overturned the jury's decision, citing misdirection by the trial judge.
The original case claimed Miss Andersen did not do enough to ensure the competitors realised the road was not closed to other traffic.
Miss Andersen appealed on four points, including that the overall conduct of the trial by Judge Murray Abbott was unfair and that he gave inappropriate answers and directions in response to questions from the jury during deliberation.
In their ruling yesterday Justices Susan Glazebrook, Willie Young and Mark O'Regan said they allowed the appeal because Judge Abbott had misdirected the jury on a key issue.
They said that under the section of the law under which Miss Andersen was charged, the accused would have to be found to have acted recklessly. But the judge had only "invited the jury to convict if satisfied the appellant was negligent", a lesser degree of culpability.
And because the Crown accepted it could not prove Miss Andersen "had actual knowledge that she had given the participants unclear and ambiguous information" about keeping left, the Justices ruled there was no point ordering a new trial and quashed her conviction.
Yesterday Miss Andersen's lawyer, Steph Grieve, said she thought that offered "some comfort for the whole events industry".
"I'm really pleased that at long last this journey is over," Miss Andersen said.
The past three years had taken its toll on her personal life. Her marriage had ended and she faced large legal bills and health problems.
The case was made more difficult because her own father had been killed just a year before Mrs Caldwell as he went for his daily bike ride near Hastings.
Yesterday she said she had no idea why the authorities chose to prosecute her.
At the time of Mrs Caldwell's death, Le Race was one of only two events in the country that had traffic management plans.
"We had hazard management reports, health and safety plans, we had one of the highest-qualified safety managers in the country running our event."
Ms Caldwell's father Wayne Eder, said the family was devastated by the outcome and had been left feeling helpless.
"What can we do? All we can do is remember a beautiful daughter, who's not with us any more - and her [unborn] baby."
By MONIQUE DEVEREUX