Sister loses fight over cycle death
Monday 07 November 2011
The sister of an "enthusiastic and proficient" woman cyclist killed by a lorry has lost her High Court battle for a fresh inquest to investigate "the huge problem" of cycling deaths in London.
A judge ruled he was not satisfied that a new hearing would result in a different verdict.
Eilidh Cairns, 30, a television producer, was riding through London's Notting Hill Gate in morning rush hour traffic on February 5, 2009 when her bike was trapped by a tipper truck.
Seriously injured, she lay under the wheels of the 32-tonne vehicle still conscious and able to talk to witnesses. She was airlifted to hospital but died hours later.
She was one of nine cyclists killed by heavy goods vehicles on London's roads in 2009 - eight of them women.
Anna Morris, appearing for the family, had told the judge: "There was a failure to consider the wider impact of Eilidh's death and the huge problem facing cyclists in London."
An inquest held on January 22 2010 at Westminster Coroner's Court heard that Miss Cairns had been cycling to work from her home in Hampstead Heath.
To her family's dismay, the coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Her sister, Kate Cairns, 38, asked Mr Justice Silber, sitting at London's High Court, to quash the verdict and order a fresh inquest, accusing Dr Shirley Radcliffe, Deputy Coroner for Inner West London, of failing in her duty to carry out an adequate investigation, and to consider making recommendations that could prevent similar tragedies in the future.
But the judge rejected the application and said he was "a long way from being satisfied" that a fresh inquest would reach a different verdict.
Describing Miss Cairns as an enthusiastic and proficient cyclist, the judge said a police officer involved in the collision investigation had explained that he was "unaware of anything which could be done to prevent accidents of the kind in which Miss Cairns was tragically killed".
The judge said: "I am conscious that this judgment will be a disappointment to the Cairns family to whom we all send our deepest sympathy, but my duty is to apply the law, which I have sought to do.
Ms Morris said at a recent hearing that the family's perception was that the inquest was "perfunctory" and the coroner appeared "unwilling" to explore any issues which related to how the truck driven by Portuguese lorry driver Joao Lopes came to collide with Miss Cairns' bike.
She said the coroner had failed to comply with her statutory duties to "fully, fairly and fearlessly" investigate the facts surrounding the incident.
Mr Lopes claimed he did not see Miss Cairns. He later pleaded guilty at Kingston Magistrates' Court to a charge of driving with defective vision. He received three points on his licence and was fined £200.
But at the inquest the coroner drew a line under the questioning as to whether Mr Lopes had made adequate visual checks just before the collision, said Ms Morris.
Dr Radcliffe had been generally unwilling to explore the manner in which the truck was being driven seconds before the accident, she added.
The coroner had also failed to consider whether she could make recommendations under Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules aimed at preventing further accidents.
Kate Cairns, a mother-of-three from Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, said a proper inquest into her sister's death was vital to help stop the growing number of cyclist deaths involving lorries.
She said: "It is a national issue, not just London."
The family has launched a See Me, Save Me campaign for the mandatory installation of cameras and sensors in lorries to eliminate blind spots.
They are calling for action in the European Parliament, with the support of Fiona Hall MEP.
Ms Cairns said: "Clearly it is an issue that needs addressing. Since Eilidh's death there have been 19 other cyclists killed by lorries in the capital - almost half the cyclists killed in London.
"What we want is for the professionals to do their job and carry out a thorough investigation into how Eilidh died.
"For my own peace of mind, I want to know why I have got to live every day without my little sister and why my parents have had to bury their daughter."
Jonathan Hough, appearing for the coroner, argued that Dr Radcliffe had been faced with a type of road traffic accident, in which a cyclist had been killed by an HGV, which was "tragically common".
There was no special feature which had given the coroner reason to think "that it illustrated a systemic problem or that it might call for some specific response".
Mr Hough successfully contended there was nothing in the argument that the coroner had improperly restricted the questioning of Mr Lopes.
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