By Nigel Wynn
A driver accused of causing the death of a cyclist by careless driving has been found not guilty by a jury at the Old Bailey after the case was brought to court by a landmark private prosecution.
Gail Purcell, 58, of St Albans appeared at the Old Bailey after the Cyclists' Defence Fund (CDF) had brought a private prosecution against her for causing the death of cyclist Michael Mason, 70, due to careless driving. The CDF – which is part of Cycling UK – had raised £80,000 from members of the public to assist in funding the case.
Mason died of his injuries after colliding with Purcell's Nissan Juke on February 25 2014 on Regent Street, London.
Mason was hit from behind by the car, suffering a brain injury. He died in hospital on March 14 2014 having never regained consciousness. Purcell had pleaded not guilty.
The Metropolitan Police had elected not to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), so the CDF took up the case on behalf of Mason's family.
Mason's daughter Anna Tatton-Brown commented on the jury's decision, saying: “My family and I respect the decision the jury have reached, although we are obviously disappointed. It seems that failing to be aware of what’s in front of you while you’re driving is an acceptable mistake, not careless, and that no explanation for that failure is necessary.
“We do, however, draw some comfort from the fact that the evidence was finally put to a jury, something that should have happened long ago. It should not have taken the intervention of CDF, and the support of many members of the public, to bring this case to court. Given that the Judge accepted that there was a case which the jury had to consider, we would hope that the Police will now conduct a review into their investigation, their rush to blame the victim, their refusal to seek CPS advice, and consider what lessons might be learned."
CDF spokesperson Duncan Dollimore said that they were "disappointed and concerned" at the outcome.
"While we accept the jury’s decision, CDF are disappointed and concerned about the message this conveys to the general public regarding driving standards," said Dollimore.
"Careless driving is supposed to be driving which falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver. If failing to see an illuminated cyclist on a well-lit road is not careless driving, and no explanation for that failure is required, that reinforces the arguments Cycling UK has made through our Road Justice Campaign for many years: namely the definition and identification of bad driving offences needs urgent review.
“Notwithstanding the jury’s decision, we believe it was right to bring this case to court given the Metropolitan Police’s unwillingness to do so. We do question why the Police failed to obtain witness evidence from relevant eye-witnesses which the legal team instructed by CDF were able to secure. If they had done so they would have recognised, as the Judge did yesterday, that this was a case which rightly had to be put before a jury. We believe they should review their investigation practices involving vulnerable road users, and their engagement with the victims’ families."
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