By Nigel Wynn
A driver acquitted by an Old Bailey jury last week after being accused of causing the death of a cyclist by careless driving has said that it is "horrifying and profoundly affecting to have any involvement in the death of another person".
Gail Purcell, 59, was driving her Nissan Juke behind cyclist Michael Mason, 70, on Regent Street, London, on February 25 2014, when she hit him from behind. Mason suffered a severe brain injury as a result of the incident, and later died in hospital.
After the Metropolitan Police decided against referring the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Cycling UK's Cyclists Defence Fund (CDF) took the case to court via a private prosecution, supported by £80,000 raised from members of the public via crowd-funding. It is thought to be the first private prosecution of its kind.
Speaking to the Evening Standard after she was found not guilty by the Old Bailey jury, Purcell said: "I have lost a great deal of sleep thinking about Michael Mason and his family.
"It is horrifying and profoundly affecting to have any involvement in the death of another person, whatever the circumstances, and it will stay with me for ever... I will always be grateful to the members of the jury for seeing this as the tragic accident it was."
Purcell said that she did not see Mason prior to the collision.
Purcell's acquittal has highlighted concerns that serious injury and death caused by careless or dangerous driving are not being dealt with uniformly or fairly by the justice system.
Mason's daughter, Anna Tatton-Brown, said that she respected the jury's decision, but that she was 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."
Tatton-Brown continued: "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."
British Cycling policy adviser Chris Boardman supported Cycling UK's position after the case, issuing a strongly-worded message on Friday.
"We are disappointed and dismayed by the outcome of a case that further highlights that a review is needed of how the justice system responds to collisions on the road," said Boardman.
“Everyone should be concerned about this matter – no matter how you travel – because bad driving can affect us all. The standards of what constitutes careless and dangerous driving need to be looked at very carefully to make sure cases of bad driving can be dealt with effectively.”
Relating to its decision not to refer the case to the CPS, a Met Police spokesperson was quoted by the Evening Standard as saying: "The test for referral to the CPS, as laid down by the Director of Public Prosecutions, was applied and found not to meet the required threshold.
“The evidence was also tested in the Coroner’s court and not referred for further investigation or examination by any other agency, statutory or otherwise. Her Majesty’s Coroner concluded that this was the result of an accident and the investigation supports this finding."
Reacting to the Met's statement on Monday, CDF spokesperson Duncan Dollimore said: “Given that the trial judge accepted there was a case which Ms Purcell had to answer, and which a jury should consider, we hoped the Metropolitan police would reflect upon aspects of their investigation and decision making in this case. Sadly, they don’t seem to want to address the fact that Cycling UK’s CDF presented additional evidence to their initial investigation.
“It’s worrying the Met still seeks to justify its decision not to refer the case to the CPS by referring to the Coroner’s Inquest. It is not the function of the Coroner to apportion criminal responsibility. The Coroner’s remit is simply to ascertain the cause of death, with the Coroner in this case reliant substantially on evidence from a police investigation which CDF maintains was tarnished from the outset.
“Later this week CDF will publish a detailed article explaining why it believes the decision to prosecute Ms Purcell was the correct one notwithstanding the jury’s verdict, and we will outline the changes Cycling UK believes are now needed concerning investigations, referrals to the CPS in fatal collision cases, and the current definitions of careless and dangerous driving offences.”
Cycling UK's continuing Road Justice campaign aims to improve the way in which the justice system deals with bad driving. Cycling UK, British Cycling and other organisations have also been involved in the Justice Review working group alongside representatives from the CPS, Ministry of Justice, Department for Transport, Home Office, and Association of Chief Police Officers.
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