Wednesday 23 August 2017 17.02 BST
A heavy-handed prosecution against a cyclist for manslaughter has failed but a charge of “wanton and furious driving” has succeeded.
In 2016 more than 400 pedestrians were killed on UK roads. Each a terrible tragedy to those involved and almost all avoidable. One of these casualties, Kim Briggs, died after a collision between herself and a teenage cyclist, Charlie Alliston.
She was extraordinarily unfortunate. Research indicates that 10% of pedestrians struck by a motor vehicle at 20mph are killed. A rider on a lightweight bike will have less than one 10th the mass and therefore kinetic energy and momentum of an average car, and the speed of impact was said by the prosecution to be “up to 14mph”.
Yet tragically the unsuccessful efforts of Briggs and Alliston to avoid each other led to her death from a brain injury. This is a very rare occurrence and has received much publicity. We are inured to the 400 or so pedestrian deaths linked to motorised traffic but not to the vanishingly rare occasions that are linked to bicycles.
It is no coincidence that the one death of a pedestrian involving a cyclist is the one case where a manslaughter charge has followed. This is reported to be a first. It is also one of the few cases where wanton and furious driving has been charged. These are both offences triable only in the crown court and were no doubt selected in preference to summary offences (triable by magistrates) due to the perceived seriousness of the offending and its consequences.
Alliston could have been charged with one or more of the lesser offences of breaching the Construction and Use Regulations, of dangerous cycling or of careless cycling. Prosecutors appear to have wished to get around the fact that parliament has not legislated for causing death by careless or dangerous cycling offences.
The allegation against Alliston essentially related to the absence of a front brake on his bicycle. From reports of the evidence given at trial, it seems clear that Briggs stepped out on to the road into the path of Alliston. Alliston has always been adamant this was so (including in some very poorly judged online forum comments he made in the days after the incident when Briggs lay in hospital) and the prosecution, who had access to CCTV and witnesses, did not contend otherwise. Instead it was alleged that with a front brake Alliston would have been able to stop before any collision took place.