Portsmouth Cycle Forum

Portsmouth Cycle Forum

Portsmouth Cycle Forum is a group for anyone who cycles, or wants to cycle, in and around Portsmouth UK.

Learning Lessons From Tragedies

Learning Lessons From Tragedies

“Take care and be considerate of each other”

…these are the words of Cambridgeshire Constabulary in relation to the tragic case of Celia Ward, a 77 year old cyclist, who was killed in Huntingdon in October 2020. She fell off her bicycle into the path of a car, when a pedestrian, Auriol Grey, shouted at her to “get off the f*cking pavement” and gesticulated/waved her arms at the cyclist. The pedestrian’s conviction for manslaughter was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 8 May 2024 because no “unlawful act” (i.e. assault) had caused the death (there was no physical contact between pedestrian and cyclist).

Grey’s legal team said that the “accident” would never have happened if a cycle path had been in place separating “vulnerable” pedestrians from cyclists. The Court of Appeal expressed surprise that, “remarkably”, it remained unclear at trial whether the pavement in question was a “shared path”.

In the eyes of the law, therefore, the pedestrian had committed no criminal offence. Alexander Horne wrote in The Spectator on 9 May 2024; “sometimes an accident is simply an accident”; cold comfort to the loved ones of Celia Ward (a grandmother and retired midwife).

Another tragedy occurred in June 2022 when a pedestrian, Hilda Griffiths aged 81, was knocked down and killed by a bicycle ridden by Brian Fitzgerald on The Regent’s Park Outer Circle (ring road) in London. He was part of a club ride, doing laps of the park. He was travelling at 29mph (in a 20 mph zone) when he struck the pedestrian. He committed no speeding offence, because (strangely, one may think) speed limits only apply to “motor vehicles”.

Cyclists can, in appropriate cases (a matter for the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service), be prosecuted for careless or dangerous cycling or the 1861 offence of wanton or furious driving. Cyclist, Charlie Alliston, was convicted of this Victorian-era offence following the death of pedestrian, Kim Briggs, in London in 2016. His bicycle had no front brakes. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

On 15 May 2024, the Government agreed new laws (as an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill) to create an offence of causing death or serious injury by dangerous, careless or inconsiderate cycling. This offence would put cyclists in the same position as drivers of motor vehicles, carrying a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, proposing the law change in Parliament, said that there was; “a clear discrepancy between different forms of dangerous behaviour on roads”.

Cyclists and pedestrians are recognised within the Highway Code as vulnerable road users, being those who are “most at risk from road traffic”.

The vast majority of collisions in which cyclists or pedestrians are killed or seriously injured on our roads/pavements/paths are caused by a lack of care on the part of drivers of motor vehicles. Relatively few pedestrians are killed or seriously injured by cyclists, or vice versa.

Using Sir Iain Duncan Smith’s words, pedestrian Auriol Grey might be said to have displayed “dangerous behaviour” which led to the tragic death of cyclist Celia Ward. However, there is no call for a law change to protect cyclists.

It has been well known for many years that the law of manslaughter can be highly problematic. As Sir Iain himself said in Parliament; _“”As far back as the 1950s, it was recognised that juries were slow to convict in motor manslaughter cases—that is recognised in a report that I will come to in a second—which led to major changes in the law for drivers….Back in 2018, the Department for Transport commissioned an independent inquiry into this very issue….The report quoted a barrister—this is a key component: “I consider that this legislative change would have a positive effect on all road users.” They went on to say that it “would have a positive impact purely and simply on the basis of cyclists being well aware that if they were to ride in a careless or dangerous manner and were unfortunate enough to kill someone” laws would proceed against them.”

One might therefore ask; “If a cyclist can be jailed for 14 years for carelessly or inconsiderately causing the death of a pedestrian, why not the same for a pedestrian (also a “road user”) where a cyclist is killed?” Those who say; “sometimes an accident is simply an accident” risk double standards. The focus of justice would be upon the same thing; a lack of care or consideration which leads to a road user’s death.

The Auriol Grey/Celia Ward case raises the question of poor/unclear cycling and walking infrastructure. Bicycles and pedestrians move at very different speeds, and Government guidance is clear; bicycles and pedestrians need their own safe space. There is, however, a lack of ambition and funding to ensure a safe and sufficient network of cycle and walking routes. Interestingly, on 11 May 2024, Fred Kelly wrote in the Daily Mail; “Remarkably, a programme running from 2016 to 2025 will see £6 billion spent on cycle infrastructure across the UK. As a cyclist myself, this should be good news. But in reality, the money has been woefully misspent with no thought or consideration to the safety of pedestrians. For example, a favourite cycle route of mine takes in the A104 that joins Woodford to Clapton in east London. The road has a cycle lane almost indistinguishable from the pavement, meaning unknowing pedestrians often wander across my path. Of course, I’m not travelling at 30mph, but — as the case of Kim Briggs shows — a collision at 18mph is enough to kill.”

Every death or serious injury is a tragedy, and the victims/families are entitled to criminal and civil justice. As a driver, cyclist, runner and walker, I know that motor vehicles are particularly “dangerous weapons” (responsible for the vast bulk of road deaths and injuries in the UK), and that we drivers need to take particular care of vulnerable road users. When cycling, running or walking, I know that I am vulnerable/at-risk but that I also need to take care of others. I return to the words of the Police (as above); “Take care and be considerate of each other”.

However, vulnerable road users can only be safe if safe cycling and walking infrastructure is prioritised and properly funded. Currently, it isn’t.