Monday, 1 December 2008

Lorry safety campaign – and a hollow laugh

The Royal Borough's cycling champion, Cllr Maighread Condon-Simmonds, said: "Even the most road-aware cyclist will probably never have seen what a cyclist looks like in the mirror of a HGV and more importantly when they don't appear in the mirror. This event gave cyclists a chance to brush up on the basic rules of the road and see things from a different perspective. I'm also very pleased to hear that the campaign will also encourage lorry drivers to pay special attention to cyclists."

The campaign follows a series of fatal accidents throughout the capital, including the death of Victoria Buchanan. She died on October 17 last year after being in collision with an HGV at the corner of Fulham Road and Beaufort Street, Chelsea.

Now there’s a lot to be said for HGV driver-cyclist safety awareness. One lesson I’ve learned in the past year is never to undertake a lorry, no matter how tempting that lovely cycle lane might seem, and to stay well away from lorries at traffic lights. Never, ever, get alongside the driver’s cab, because you won’t be seen.

But in the case of poor Victoria Buchanan, shall we remember what happened?

Cyclist Victoria Buchanan, 28, was dragged under the wheels of Colin Jones's HGV at a junction. Ms Buchanan was head of operations for Chelsea Pitch Owners and her death in October last year brought tributes from club stars including a goal dedicated by striker Didier Drogba. Richard Lomax, prosecuting, said Ms Buchanan was cycling in Fulham Road during the morning rush hour when Jones hit her back wheel as he turned left.

It seems to me that a lorry driver who hits a cyclist’s back wheel is driving recklessly. But needless to say Jones was not charged with causing death by dangerous driving but with the favourite CPS charge, wheeled out in numerous inappropriate situations (such as mowing down a pedestrian on a crossing).

Jones claimed he’d checked his mirrors before turning but needless to say it was impossible for anyone to confirm the truth of his claim or to say he was a liar.

He was cleared of driving without due care and attention by City of Westminster magistrates.

Personally I have no confidence in magistrates. All road deaths involving criminal charges should go before juries, not magistrates. Juries are much better at assessing the veracity of witnesses. Juries are drawn from a cross-section of society, whereas magistrates tend to be male and conservative. Unlike juries, magistrates are notorious for believing the word of police officers against that of witnesses who are members of the public. Ironically, there’s a case in the national news at the moment. Three cops pounced on an innocent man and one of them gave him a ferocious and unprovoked beating. He was then arrested and charged with assault. It turned out that their victim was a soldier who’d served in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the whole episode had been caught on CCTV. A judge has now thrown the case out. And what did the magistrates do when the case first came to court?

Despite viewing the footage, magistrates found him guilty of the assaults, sentenced him to community service and gave him a suspended-prison sentence. They also ordered him to pay £250 compensation.