FRIDAY, 14 APRIL 2017
(Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with this case, except that my partner was a Trustee of the Cyclists Defence Fund, the charity that took this case to court.)
Michael Mason was a lifelong cyclist who was cycling up Regent Street in Central London on 25 February 2014 when he was given fatal injuries through being struck from behind by a car travelling at speed. I wrote two years ago, after a vigil had been held at the site of the collision, and the Metropolitan Police had refused to initiate any legal proceedings agains the driver, that:
If this is allowed to stand without further legal or political challenge, the position seems to be that any good and responsible cyclist cycling in every way within the law can just expect to be be killed by a driver running them over from behind, there need be no rational explanation of the incident, and the driver may just walk away from such a killing with no legal procedure following and a blameless record. The implications are quite horrific for all who cycle on our roads.
As I anticipated then, a rare private prosecution subsequently took place, funded by donations to the Cyclists Defence Fund (CDF). And, as I acknowledged might happen, the jury did take the same view as the police, who did not want to prosecute this case, and acquitted the driver of the charge of causing death by careless driving.
Nevertheless, I am absolutely certain that this case should have been brought to court. The CDF doing this brought to light a mass of evidence that was not available when I wrote in 2015. This eye-opening evidence would not have come to light otherwise. It is described in Duncan Dollimore’s long blog post for Cycling UK, and this is essential reading as background to the rest of what I write here, or certainly the first nine sections of it (down to the heading There to be seen).
I’m going to set aside here any deficiencies in the police investigation of the case, which may be regarded as serious, and just base what I write on that report of what happened in court, on the evidence that was gathered and presented to the jury. In doing this, I am assuming that the account referenced is a fair, accurate and complete one, as I was not present in court. It is, admittedly, difficult to separate the court case from the administrative cock-up that preceded it. The jury may well have been influenced by knowledge that the police had not wanted the case to go to court, though, as Dollimore’s account makes clear, the judge was of the opinion that it was a case that should be tried.
The key points that came to light, it seems to me, are that:
- Michael Mason, cycling at night with lights and reflectors in a brightly-lit Regent Street, pulled out into the right-hand lane to overtake a stopping bus (as cyclists have to do constantly in UK towns and cities)
- After he did that he was hit squarely from behind by Gail Purcell’s (the defendant’s) car, so hard that he was thrown into the air, a large dent was made in the front right-hand bonnet of the car, and he subsequently died from head injuries.
- Purcell claimed never to have seen him, though she said she heard an impact
- Purcell did not stop until made to do so by a witness who ran after her and caught her at traffic lights.
These are my reflections: