Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Eilidh Cairns - was the inquest into her death adequate?

BBC News has been reporting the Judicial Review proceedings heard today by Mr Justice Silber in the Administrative Court.  The legal action has been taken by the family of Eilidh Cairns against the Deputy Coroner of West London, Dr Shirley Radcliffe.  Dr Radcliffe was responsible for conducting the Inquest into the death of Eilidh who was killed by a lorry whilst she was cycling in Notting Hill in February 2009.
Counsel for the family is quoted as arguing that Dr Radcliffe failed to comply with her duties to "fully, fairly and fearlessly" investigate the facts of the death.  "There was a failure to consider the wider impact of Eilidh's death and the huge problem facing cyclists in London."
Counsel for the Deputy Coroner is quoted as arguing that the type of accident was "tragically common".and that there was no element of the accident which gave the coroner reason to think it "illustrated a systemic problem or that it might call for some specific response".
I confess that I find this response challenging; the fact that this type of accident is 'tragically common' may be thought to suggest that there is a systemic problem to which there could helpfully be 'some specific response'.
The death this month of fashion student Min Joo Lee in the motor-centric area of London around Kings Cross means that another Inquest will shortly be examining another death of a cyclist under a lorry.  Her death is the subject of an interesting article at The Guardian Bike Blog
An active participation in the prevention of future unnecessary deaths might be thought to be one of the strongest justifications there is for the coronial system of investigation that has come down to us from Medieval times.
I, for one, will be awaiting Silber J's Judgment with interest.


  1. "tragically common" but hasn't "illustrated a systemic problem..." ? the mind boggles

  2. It now looks like the driver who killed Eilidh has killed again:


  3. Yes, I was about to post the same thing.

    It's incredible that our legal system has let a man away with a killing, then put him in a position where he has killed again. Is it possible to prosecute the whole useless shower for criminal negligence? Doubtless not.

  4. Having sat through the inquest and JR I can a testify to the compounding tragedies that that followed Eilidh's death.
    The first was the inadequacy of the police response and subsequent investigation. ACPO guide lines were disregarded with regard to securing evidence, evidence was contaminated and also lost. The electronic tachograph data which the family requested so as to have it examined by independent expert witnesses was refused. Whilst it is a legal requirement that HGVs mirrors must be correctly adjusted the collision investigation team had no equipment or standard methodology for testing this requirement and the ad hoc method they did use was a complete foul up.
    The coroner then compounded the Police errors by
    a)not allowing the family an adjournment so that they could present an independent view via their own expert witness.
    b)Allowing the police expert witness PC Rathie to be excused from appearing at the inquest as a witness and to be substituted by PC Clarke who had not been involved in the investigation As a result the family were denied the opportunity to question PC Rathie( note we subsequently learned that PC Rathie was unavailable as he was implicated in his wife's criminal investigation at the time ...he was acquitted his wife received 6 years )
    So were there systemic issues that the Coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe missed and should have identified?
    I believe that there were a number.
    1) The EU laws on HGV lorry blind spots (Blind spots are a misnomer) are inadequate and in operable see Danish road safety reports and the UK's Transport research labs reports into their inadequacies and the inability of drivers to use up to six mirrors particularly whilst driving in congested city traffic they are ok on motor ways .
    2) The issue above is further compounded in London where many of the tipper lorries are effectively operating on a piece work basis resulting in driving standards that are very poor.
    3) The manufacturers of HGV vehicles appear not to have any responsibility or accountability for ensuring that their vehicles are safe with regard to vulnerable road users or that they design out the so called blind spots or apply technological solutions to overcome them in the vehicles they produce Why not ?
    3) many of the deaths of cyclists in London are the result of collisions at slow speed with HGVs... yet the Police road traffic investigation teams appear inadequately trained for investigating this type of collision, for example the sergeant leading one of the teams was unaware of the wealth of data available from modern electronic tachographs. The collision investigation teams have no access to scientific tests to establish how the cycle and HGV came into contact. In the absence of CCTV footage or direct eye witnesses they appear to rely on supposition and guestimates?

    5)Eilidh was killed on a pelican crossing which acts as a road constriction. The west bound cycle lane stops at the start of the crossing and resumes after it. At no point was Mr Lopes the driver asked by the police or the coroner if he understood the meaning and purpose of the zig zag lines or why they are marked on the road at pelican crossings and what action drivers are supposed to be taking when driving within them.Note Mr Lopes was unable to answer questions put to him in English nor did not obtain his HGV licence in England? It should also be noted that even in England you can obtain your HGV licence without being tested on the use of class V and class vi mirrors.
    The coroner is mandated to conduct an inquisition at no point did I see any evidence of such an inquisition in her questioning of Mr Lopes or by the Police investigation team and there lies another tragedy.