‘Jail is not the justice we want’
On 5th February 2009 lorry driver Joao Lopes ran over and killed fit, strong and experienced cyclist, Eilidh Cairns as she rode ahead of him on her daily 10 mile commute through Notting Hill Gate.
Just days after what would had been her 32nd birthday in June 2011 he again ran over bright and active holocaust survivor 97 year old Nora Guttman at a pedestrian crossing. This week at Isleworth Crown Court Joao Lopes pleaded guilty to causing the death of Ms Guttman by dangerous driving and also to falsifying data on his tachograph.
Whilst Lopes is remanded in custody there are others who may be feeling uncomfortable at the avoidable heartbreak of three broken families.
At Eilidh’s death the police failed to check Lopes’ eyesight, and did so only at the family’s request and then three months after the crash. His eyesight was so bad that it did not meet the standard to drive a car let alone an HGV. The police failed to find witnesses as they turned away vehicles without taking details. Eilidh’s sister Kate, after a personal public appeal, found two witnesses who gave key evidence at the inquest clarifying that Eilidh had been in front of lorry and not coming up alongside as assumed by the police.
Coroner, Dr Shirely Radcliffe, failed to use her powers under Rule 43 to make recommendations to prevent further similar deaths and concluded that it was just an ‘tragic accident’. Kate challenged her and won permission to apply for judicial review. But at High Court, Judge Silber accepted Radcliffe’s argument that there were ‘no practicable preventative measures’ which could be applied to prevent further similar deaths.
The police eventually acknowledging that the original investigation report was inadequate have only in recent weeks finished a complete review of the investigation into Eilidh’s death. But the CPS this month rejected any proposed charge and will be taking no further action. Following Eilidh’s death Lopes was charged with driving with uncorrected defective vision and given three points and a £200 fine. He did not have his licence revoked.
Kate Cairns said:
For three years I have battled the whole way through an inadequate system which assumes the guilt of the cyclist, and which is rife with incompetence and complacency and which has failed us all on so many levels. There was no interest in carrying out a proper investigation nor in finding witnesses. The police report was riddled with assumptions, omissions and conclusions contrary to evidence, obvious even to a layperson but there was no interest from the CPS in questioning it. Only after the death of someone else, three years later, have the police acknowledge the report was inadequate and reviewed the case of Eilidh’s death.
Then there is an absolute failure of the coronial process to be meaningful in anyway when the coroner refuses to put her mind to ways to avoid similar deaths.
Nora Gutman did not have to die, Lopes did not have to loose his freedom, if the professionals had done their jobs.
All I wanted was the truth so that other deaths could be avoided and other families did not have to suffer. We have not had justice today, clearly there are many more drivers like Lopes on our streets. Their employers need to take responsibility and train them and incentive them, and comply with legislation and provide the tools and equipment to protect everyone from their business activities. These trucks are lethal killers, not designed for our urban streets. Those presenting the most risk must manage that risk. Whilst they profit, innocent people die.
The President of the Institution of Highways Engineers yesterday called for a ban on HGVs on motorways on Sundays. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers last month called for a ban of HGVs in urban areas until they are made safe (Intelligent Transport Intelligent Society). The BMJ called for a ban on HGVs in 1992 following the deaths of vulnerable road users. A report ten years later also called for a ban on HGVs until the risk they posed could be reduced.