Of lorries and London cyclists

London vigil in memory of cyclist Eilidh Cairns, 3 July 2009

Eilidh Cairns

Yesterday afternoon I attended a vigil in central London outside the offices of the Crown Prosecution Service on Ludgate Hill. The event, which was organised by the London Cycling Campaign, had been called by Kate Cairns, whose sister Eilidh died in February after being run down by a lorry in Notting Hill.

Also taking place yesterday, this time in Reading, west of London, was a demonstration outside the local office of the Crown Prosecution Service to protest the lack of action following the death a year ago of cyclist Anthony Maynard. The van driver responsible made the excuse that he didn’t see Maynard, and the authorities decided not to prosecute.

Anthony Maynard

Readers in countries in which drivers responsible for the deaths of cyclists are routinely investigated, prosecuted, jailed and banned from ever driving again will be shocked by the “shit happens” attitude displayed in Britain. But it is very difficult here to secure the prosecution and conviction of reckless drivers, and in many cases police officers and state prosecutors appear to care little about the growing problem.

Eilidh Cairns and Anthony Maynard are but two of many London area cyclists killed recently by commercial drivers. Writing in yesterday’s Evening Standard, Justin Davenport reported on PR executive and experienced cyclist Catriona Patel, who on Monday was crushed to death under the wheels of a lorry near The Oval cricket ground. Patel was the seventh cyclist in less than five months to be killed in a collision with a heavy goods vehicle.

Catriona & Anish Patel

Nearer to home, Adrianna Skrzypiec was killed in May by a hit and run driver in Greenwich, while riding home from work to her best friend’s birthday bash in a local pub.

I was made aware of this incident just after it happened, when caught up in a traffic jam caused by police sealing off the accident site. As I passed the scene, I observed a small group of police officers laughing and joking with each other. This despite Skrzypiec being immediately declared dead at the scene. Shit happens and life goes on. Very quickly, it seems. The accident spot is now marked by a flower-adorned white ghost bike, left by members of Greenwich Cyclists. The driver responsible for Skrzypiec’s death has yet to be found.

Adrianna Skrzypiec

From the London Cycling Campaign:

“Cyclists in London believe that it is crucial that all drivers involved in fatal crashes should face examination in a public court to answer for their actions. The employers of drivers should also face prosecution if they have not taken every practical step to ensure the safest possible driving behaviour of their employees. All eight of the cyclists killed in London this year died in work related crashes, seven of these involved HGVs.”

Cycling in central London scares the hell out of me, and I avoid it wherever possible. I’m just glad I don’t have to commute. The attitude and behaviour of lorry, bus and taxi drivers is often appalling, and roads are not planned with cyclists in mind.

In Boris Johnson we have a cycling mayor committed to building a network of twelve “cycle superhighways”. But painting a small strip of road on a handful of principal commuting routes a different colour to the rest is far from the integrated and comprehensive approach required to make London a cycle-friendly city.

Comment added on 25/8-09

It has come to my attention, through various sources, that the comment below by “julie” (a) contains allegations strongly contested by the family of the late Catriona Patel, and (b) omits a highly pertinent point.

I have been asked to delete julie’s comment, but feel that this would not be appropriate in the circumstances. Instead I shall add the following comments…

Julie claims that a witness came forward to say that Catriona was leaning on the front of the lorry. While I personally have seen a few cyclists engage in such reckless behaviour, they were clearly not competent riders, and certainly not trained and experienced in the way that Catriona is reported to have been.

As for red-light jumping, this is a very serious allegation. Unless it is contested by eye witnesses, it is an allegation difficult if not impossible to challenge in court. You cannot libel the dead.

The driver responsible for Catriona’s death has been charged with drink-driving, and this throws into doubt his partner’s testimony here.

The full truth will no doubt emerge in due course, in a court of law.