Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Joao Lopes Sentence

This afternoon I joined Kate Cairns, the admirable woman who has campaigned so tirelessly to prevent others sharing the fate of her sister Eilidh who was run down and killed by a lorry driven by Lopes in Notting Hill in February 2009, together with a representative of Roadpeace and a Cairns family friend, at Isleworth Crown Court.  We were there to see Lopes sentenced for the crimes of (1) causing the death by dangerous driving of Ms Nora Gutmann, an elderly pedestrian whom Lopes ran down in June 2011 with a lorry on a light controlled pedestrian crossiing  near Madame Tussauds on Euston Road and (2) falsifying data from the tachograph of the lorry he was driving.
I could have spent the first day of the long legal vacation watching Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome winning medals in the Olympic Time Trial but I am glad that I instead spent time seeing a case of the type I regularly comment upon.  As a mere member of the public I struggled even to remain in the Courtroom - but this is not the place for me to express my views on the importance that Justice is dispensed openly and publicly.
The simplified facts were that Lopes did not see Ms Gutmann on the pedestrian crossing when he moved off once the lights had changed in his favour.  He was not wearing the glasses that he was required to wear as a condition of his licence following his conviction of driving with uncorrected defective vision which resulted from the investigation, such as it was, that followed the death of Eilidh in February 2009.  When the police drove the lorry away from the accident scene they noticed that the tachograph had been induced to record that the vehicle was at rest.  This had the effect of disabling both the speedometer and the milometer and would have prevented the brakes from applying automatically in the event of an emergency.  Chillingly the magnet was then stolen from the lorry when it was in the police compound, though there is no way of knowing whether Lopes or his employer was responsible for this.
The relevance of Eilidh's death was of course that it made it plain to Lopes that he needed glasses to drive and one would have thought that tragedy would be a sobering experience for any driver regardless of whether or not the police investigation had demonstrated fault on his part.  Yet his subsequent driving record was appalling.  In July 2009 he drove into the rear of another vehicle causing £3,000 worth of damage.  In August 2010 he was involved in a collision though he disputes this was his fault and the Judge therefore rightly disregarded it.  In March 2011 he collided with a parked motor vehicle and failed to stop, as a consequence of which he was dismissed by his then employer.  In June 2011, shortly before he killed Ms Gutmann, he attempted to overtake a minicab so closely that he removed the wing mirror.
His solicitor argued that since none of these incidents had resulted in any conviction they should be disregarded but the Judge wisely disagreed.
His best mitigation was that he had, in interview, come clean over the fact that he had not been wearing his glasses and the effect that imprisonment was having on his family.
The sentence was 4 years imprisonment for the causing death by dangerous driving with disqualification from driving for 6 years following which he would be required to take an extended driving test.  On the tachograph matter he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment to be served concurrently (i.e 4 years in total).
My own take on this is how very bad we are at preventing needless tragedies on the roads.  I say no more about the admitted deficiencies of the original investigation into Eilidh's death.  The July 2009, March 2011 and June 2011 events are all strongly suggestive of driving offences that merited (at least) points on a licence but it is no surprise that no prosecutions followed these damage only incidents, let alone any near misses there might have been.  Equally it seems implausible that Lopes's employers were unaware that the tachograph on their vehicle was being disabled, yet no action appears to have been taken to ensure that that particular haulier was closed down.
Both Eilidh's and Nora's families have been very generous in their forgiveness, preferring that Lopes never drive again than that he go to prison for a prolonged period.  Their joint press release deserves all the publicity it can get and I reproduce it below.  It is perhaps to be hoped that one day the Court of Appeal will revisit their caution over prolonged and even lifelong driving ban, as technology develops to make such bans more reliably enforceable.

The remainder of this post is the families' press release:


In a momentous week for cycling when Great Britain's first 2012 Olympic medal has gone to Lizzie Armistead in the women's road race, and Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton ever to be crowned Tour de France champion, families of the nation's everyday cyclists live with fear.  

The failure on the part of authorities to properly protect cyclists and pedestrians on our streets, or to treat these deaths as real crime, is a cause for shame not pride. The families of two victims today stand together to demand better.

They are calling for the Judge at Isleworth Crown Court to permanently revoke the license of Joao Lopes, 56, who has killed not one, but two Londoners. He is to be sentenced today for death by dangerous driving after he killed youthful, fit and active 97 year old Nora Gutman, at a pedestrian crossing in Marlebone.

Shockingly, Lopes had already killed before, but had not been prevented from driving again. In February 2009, Eilidh Cairns, 30, died after being knocked off her bike from behind, run over, and crushed by Lopes' truck. Eilidh, a TV producer, was a strong and experienced cyclist who did a daily 20 mile commute and knew of the dangers of HGVs.

The police found no connection between Eilidh's death and the actions of the driver.  Lopes pleaded guilty to the minor charge brought of driving with uncorrected defective vision. He was fined £200 pounds, given three points on his licence and permitted to carry on driving a tipper lorry.

Police later admitted the investigation had been substandard and carried out a full review following the death of Ms Gutman but the CPS again decided that no charge would be brought with respect to Ms Cairns' death.  Lopes went on to have at least three more driving collisions before finally killing Nora Gutman whilst driving without his glasses. He also pleaded guilty to a tachograph offence.

There is a shocking disconnect between our national pride and support for the cyclists representing our country in competition and the inherent complacency about the slaughter of cyclists and pedestrians on our streets. HGVs are involved in more than 50% of deaths of London's cyclist and yet make up less than 4% of road traffic. Twice as many pedestrians were killed by HGV than cyclists in the first decade of this century.

And yet, dangerous drivers generally do not have their licences revoked after fatal collisions. Only three drivers were given a lifetime ban in 2011. If Lopes is banned for life today it will be two deaths too late.

Kate Cairns, sister of Eilidh, set up the See Me Save Me campaign to eliminate the blind spots in lorries.

Kate says: The defence of most drivers involved in the death of vulnerable road users is that they simply didn't see them. This is not good enough. We have affordable technology such as cameras and sensors which eliminate blind spots. It is installed on new cars to protect bumpers so why do we value the life of a cyclist less than the sheen of a bumper? We need to re-evaluate the focus on victim blaming. More pedestrians are killed by HGVs than cyclists, but the government doesn't urge pedestrians to wear high vis and helmets. The danger is posed by huge clumsy vehicles driven blind in tiny shared spaces. Focus has to be on the vehicle that poses the greatest risk, the trucks, and the responsibility to manage the risk has to be proportionate.

It is clear that the justice system in Eilidh’s case failed to respond properly and Lopes was allowed to carry on driving. If it is decided he will be kept off the road today it will be a great relief but it is too late for Nora, and too late for Eilidh. We need to treat road crime as real crime.  We need proper and competent police investigation that is transparent and accountable. We need to afford cyclists and pedestrians the protection of the law, just like any citizen.

Stricter liability, as in so many other countries, would incentivise employers to equip their drivers properly and to train them to do the job asked of them. It would also ensure truck companies and construction clients set and enforce proper standards and best practice. All we are asking is that the legal system is such that people on our streets are not at danger of death and maiming from commercial activities. HGVs are mobile places of work.

Having campaigned for three years since Eilidh's death so others do not have to die I am here because of the death of another amazing woman, Nora Gutman, who was run over by the same kind of truck by the same driver. None of us should be here to today and that includes Lopes. Blind spot danger could have and should have been designed out. Because our transport and justice systems tolerate risk on our roads, my family and the Gutmans are shattered, whilst that of Lopes will suffer his imprisonment. No-one should have had to suffer, least of all Nora and my sister.

Victim impact statement from the family of Nora Gutmann

Though 97, Nora Gutmann was still youthful when she died. She was still healthy, still living on her own, still totally independent. We all looked forward to many years left with her. She was also still totally engaged in living, learning, growing. She listened to various engaging programmes on the BBC on a regular basis, read voraciously and has, for many years, been enrolled and engaged at the University of the Third Age -- a school for retired people where she had signed up for a course in Buddhism for the fall term. Nora was also a deeply forgiving person. I don’t think she would have wanted Joao Lopes to be sent to prison, or to deprive his family of a breadwinner. As a family we don’t feel a desire for retribution against Lopes. We have been informed by the police that Lopes may drive again, and could even get his Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) license back at some point. We find the possibility that Lopes could ever drive again to be completely outrageous. Lopes killed Eilidh Cairns, a 30 year old experienced cyclist in 2009. He continued driving dangerously after that, having at least three more driving collisions before killing Nora, and shockingly there was no system in place to monitor this dangerous behavior or to take him off the roads. We ask the court to do everything in its power to protect the public and prevent Lopes from ever again getting behind the wheel of any vehicle.


  1. How tragic that as Wiggins was winning Gold & Lopes was receiving his sentence, another cyclist was killed on London's roads - by an Olympic media bus.

    Yet when Wiggins was asked about this during his press conference, he focussed, like so many others, on the cyclist ("cycle helmets should be law"). If only he had instead read extracts from Kate Cairns' statement above. What a missed opportunity. What another tragic & unnecessary waste of a life.

    1. The cyclist died by being dragged for ten meters on the underside of a bus.

      I'm relatively new to cycling, but I was wondering what kind of helmet Wiggins would recommend to protect against this type of injury.

  2. Thank you, Martin, for your blog and your tireless work to highlight the complete injustice. This case makes me so sad and angry.

  3. Regrettable that Briggo missed the Golden Op. to side with Cyclists ! He will in the near future have to take his son out on the roads and will he be any safer than you or i ?
    Riding the London Super cycleways in recent days i can say definitively that they are NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE ! Following " Police Investigation Land Rovers and Commer Vans with one wheel on the " White dividing line " does not inspire confidence .
    Police officers will tell you that signalling overtaking a cyclist is not required when there is no vehicle immediately following . In my opinion , it should already be a legal requirement , regardless of whether there is any following traffic ! Further UNTIL the Emergency Services signal when passing a Cyclist , there is No Hope of " Joe Public " adopting this simple behavior . When a truck or bus passes a cyclist , those tail gating , have no warning of the cyclist being passed .
    Oops just hit a cyclist , not my fault they were there , i couldn't see them , as i read the text , ate my sandwich , used the mobile , read my paperwork , looked at my tomtom , whatever ! So sorry won't do it again , UNTIL NEXT TIME !
    Justice for a grieving family ? Light slaps on the wrist and community service does nothing to safeguard V R Users !
    First thing an Officer will ask you is " What do you think of Cyclists shooting the lights "! Not " What do you think the people who create the laws we are obliged to enforce could do to make Cycling Safer " ?

    In the past 10 days i have made countless Police Officers aware of your blog , i hope they are visiting and going over past posts and that material . One told me he had obtained convictions from his Camera and was a aware of your " death threat story " but not the blog . KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK , you are safeguarding Cyclists lives !

  4. A helmet is little protection against a ten ton truck or bus. Bradley Wiggins should know this and get on the side of the cyclist, not against them. Not everyone can have cleared roads around London.

  5. I am really shocked that he was not permanently disqualified from driving. Given that he failed to comply with the terms of his license, in wearing glasses, and tampered with the tachograph - possibly to get round maximum driving hour restrictions - how can the court have any confidence that he will comply with any conditions if he gets his license back?

    Furthermore, I cannot understand how his defence can claim he's repentant if he's not only continued to drive, but continued to drive dangerously. That shows a clear lack of insight into the impact of his behaviour.

    I would sincerely hope that if he attempts to get his license back, any examiner would realise he is not safe to be on the road. And any responsible employer should decline to hire him for a role that involves driving.

  6. Martin, thank you for this post. Are you able, and/or are the courts able, to say who employed Lopes at the time he killed Ms Gutmann? From his previous conviction and the intervening incidents you list, it seems completely clear to me that he should not have been left in charge of a HGV. This surely constitutes negligence on the part of his employer, yet there never seems to be any sanction for them in such cases.

    1. My note of the prosecution opening is that the employer (who was interviewed by police) was Patrick Harding. It was also said in Court that when interviewed, Mr Lopes said that on the day he killed Nora Gutmann he had been working for Flannery Wembley on a trial basis. I am not clear about whether that meant that Flannery had engaged Harding on a trial basis or whether Flannery had employed Lopes.

  7. Thank you for this carefully written and thought-provoking article.

    Often when hearing stories like this, my mind makes the leap from the tragedies of those killed in road traffic collisions to the related tragedy of the hundreds/thousands (who knows?) who choose not to cycle on Britain's roads because of the subjective danger. We will never know how how to count the life years lost due to people choosing not to opt for a healthier more sustainable - and potentially more enjoyable - method of transport.

    I don't blame anyone highlighting the actual danger, as long as it isn't sensationalised. I blame the legislation and the culture which fails to protect cyclists and pedestrians. And while I would welcome a willingness to prosecute the likes of Lopes more appropriately, I would prioritise changes in infrastructure and speed limits which would make us all safer, and make us *feel* safer, in the first place. Of course both would be nice, but even if you get Lopes off the road there will be more like him, and I don't want to cycle across busy junctions or along fast roads with cars, let alone lorries. Strict liability doesn't make the roads feel safer, or help me much *after* I've been run over - see: for the Netherlands angle. (climbs down off soapbox)

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  9. The dominant cause of death and injury is just one type of vehicle the 4-axle rigid 32T tipper truck, and derivatives carrying skips or concrete. DfT figures note that the 40T articulated tipper truck causes less damage to the streets, and naturally carries 25% more per trip making it more economical to operate BUT it requires a Class 1 driver, and with the cleaner, better paid and more comfortable work driving retail, and parcels, few drivers want to drive articulated trucks on muckshifting. So we get a very wide variation in the quality of vehicles and drivers available and a huge demand on the supply when massive tonnages need to be shipped out and (since TfL shut down their freight unit) this is largely by road. As an example the Francis Crick site at St Pancras had 30-40 such trucks lined up almost back to Camden in the mornings ready to begin moving around 5000 Tons a day for about 2 months, as the basement (4 floors) was excavated, making around 150 trips per day out to Pitsea. This was avoidable, with an existing bulk materials siding less than 0.5Km away, and disused trackbeds at Maiden Lane and Kings Cross, which could have moved that material with 2-3 trains per day, and 3-4 trucks shuttling to and from the loading point. A masive reduction in damage to the City's streets, CO2 emissions, and most important reducing the level of risk by removing those trucks from the length of the route. The King's Cross Central site is generating similar tonnages, also being moved by road. Both sites will then demand concrete for continuous pour (although it could almost be pumped through a pipeline from the concrete plant, with that rail connection) both are likely to approach the scale of the big pour for The Shard that demanded 30 concrete jiggers running round the clock with 3 drivers per truck for at least a week. Every trip raising the hazard and damage, especially as these vehicles manoeuvred through the back streets of Bermondsey.

    Trains can move between 1000 and 2000 tons (2-5 trains/day) barges of up to 2000 Ton capacity can work up as far as Battersea, and large loads used to work up to Brentford for the gasworks and the docks. As a guide the barges you see moored between Cannon Street Station and Southwark Bridge can carry 20 25Ton containers from the under utilised depot for handling general waste from the City of London. Whether this could take the quantity of materials moved for the substantial number of sites in the city is doubtful, but there are other possible wharves that could be prepared to handle such traffic, and abandoned railway tracks - an entire line between Barbican and Moorgate, where trains could be loaded up in the day and moved overnight if the will was there.

    Currently a massive amount of development is scheduled for the Elephant and Castle demolition and site preparation will easily exceed the tonnage at St Pancras, and will probably have substantial amounts to remove from the site - a rail line does run through adjacent to, or only a few hundred metres from most of the current sites. With a bit of commitment it may be possible to actually use that railway line and send 2-3 trains per day out - and in, massively reducing emissions, road damage and risk to other road users from the huge number of truck movements generated. It may generate a complete rethink about how we move construction site waste but greatly cut the impact this has on our cities and lives.

  10. PS on the use of the term Strict Liability.

    I have pressed for the use of presumed liability on both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, with the clear analogy with firearms.

    Firearms kill, main and cause damage when used inappropriately. When this happens there is a presumption of liability on both the owner of the gun - for letting it be used in such circumstances, and on the user of the gun for using it inappropriately. This we accept without question even if the person suffering injury, was the cuase of their own misfortune by walking or riding in to the line of fire. The same principle is transferable to the use of a motor vehicle - the driver has a presumed liability to take action to mitigate the outcome of a pedestrian or cyclist colliding with their vehicle even if the pedestrian or cyclist was negligent in their actions.

  11. Martin, if you have time I suggest you read the Annual Report of the UK Traffic Commissioners.

    It appears that only through informal arrangements with their local Police forces do Traffic Commissioners learn of incidents such as those described in Lopes litany of dangerous occurrences (I use this term to link with RIDDOR - the reporting system which should capture such data had the road been treated as a workplace under Health & Safety law). the call for a lifetime ban on Lopes ever holding a vocational licence should be directed to the Traffic Commissioner South Eastern & Metropolitan (Nicholas Denton) and his boss Beverley Bell.

    As well as the drivers' vocational licences for LGV and PCV, which they can revoke or call in for review, Traffic Commissioners can also act when the operators they licence fail to show competence - and employ suitably qualified (Certificate of Professional Competence) operating officers. I suspect that the potential of a reduction or revocation of their operators licence has been a strong persuading detail for other operators whose vehicles have been involved in fatal crashes to get their staff properly vetted, and monitored.

    Following had a couple of bad experiences (drivers fortunately spotted and arrested before any crash) you might notice your express coach driver has to use a mobile breath test kit before their tachograph card will let them start the coach engine. So letting drivers like Denis Putz report for work whilst still drunk can be stopped before the truck moves a wheel. After all these individuals only kill because someone has handed the keys for a dangerous piece of equipment to them. But as yet no one can tell me who Lopes was driving for when he killed Nora Gutmann, and who he drove for after killing Eilidh Cairns. Yet without these operators providing the vehicles to dangerous drivers these deaths might not have happened.

    Retired Traffic Commissioner Tom Macartney highlighted how rarely he has called in operators and drivers , and joins in emphasising the Commissioners concerns at the apparent failure to meet delivery targets for a 5-year 35-hour driver training package, which many have pressed to include a cycle awareness module, to the same standard as that which TfL London Buses requires to be delivered to their bus contractors. We need to both press the Commissioners to deliver and support their call for support in dealing with rogue operators and drivers

  12. Thank you Martin for another excellent blog.

    I presume the judge was following sentencing guidelines when he issued a driving ban for 6 years.

    What do the guidelines say about driving bans?
    Who writes the guidelines?
    How are the guidelines reviewed?
    Who can we lobby to get the guidelilnes changed so that drivers in this situation are banned for life?

  13. The guidelines are written by the Sentencing Advisory Panel, an obscure body which deserves far greater critical scrutiny than it currently receives from Britain's cycling community.

    I would very much like to know what convictions for motoring offences members of SAP have, if any.

    RoadPeace is deeply critical of SAP's attitude to road deaths.

  14. From the report I don't see what teh driver was doing wrong. He didn't go through a red light but a green one. Surely the fault lay with the pedestrian.

  15. What happened to justice? Why was he allowed to drive freely after the first accident? Or is his lawyer too strong that he was able to get away with the first accident?