Thursday, 11 December 2014

Inquest into death of Michael Mason

I do not normally comment upon cases in which I am involved but this one is exceptional and I shall confine myself to (relatively) neutral observation upon evidence given in a Court open to the public.

Mr Mason was run down from behind by a Nissan car as he rode his bike North up Regent Street, \north of \Oxford Circus and near its junction (on the other side of the road) with Little Portland Street.  The collision occurred at around 6.20 pm on 25th February.  Sadly Mr Mason died of his injuries on 14th March.

At the outset the Coroner (to his considerable credit) asked his officer to read out a moving tribute to Michael Mason written by his daughter Anna Tatton-Brown.  The tribute is set out here on Ross Lydall's blog

The Coroner then asked Mr Mason's daughter to give some evidence about his long experience riding bicycles.

Witness evidence and CCTV evidence was less than entirely clear but left no doubt that no witness aside from the Nissan driver failed to see Mr Mason on his bicycle.  The evidence was quite clear that he had the required lights including a brightly flashing rear light fixed above a red reflector which would reflect back light from car headlights.  The evidence was also clear that the area (as one might expect) was well lit by street lights.  The CCTV footage did not cover the immediate location of the collision.

The scene in daylight and in different traffic conditions is shown on google thus



The fatal collision occurred just south and west of the traffic island in the photograph.  you are looking North and you have to imagine the yellow line is not there.  The bus stop has apparently moved as it was further North alongside the pedestrian island at the time of the collision.

Although some witnesses queried and offered explanations as to why Mr Mason was riding towards the centre of the road, the police investigator had no difficulty in agreeing that Mr Mason had every right to be there for any number of reasons and there is no possible criticism of his position in the road.

The collision investigator also gave evidence that the physical evidence on the car and the bicycle made it clear that this was a 'linear' collision with the bicycle and the car pointing in the same direction at the moment of impact. This ruled out any swerving immediately before the collision.Further the rear tyre left a mark and dent mid way between the centre line of the car and its offside.  That is to say right in front of the position where the driver was seated.

The driver was commuting home in Hertfordshire from her work at a hairdresser's salon in central London.  She was driving a 'motability' car owned by a disabled friend.  She gave evidence consistent with her accounts to the police that she did not see Mr Mason or his bicycle at any time before the collision.  She was travelling at somewhere between 20 and 30 mph and did not brake before impact.  She carried on and parked 30 metres up the road before returning to the realisation she had hit a cyclist.  In answer to a question which she was warned that she need not answer she accepted that if the cyclist was there (which from the physical evidence he unquestionably was) she should have seen him.

The driver was asked questions about her eye-sight.  She passed the police's vision test (reading a numberplate) at the scene at night using her distance vision spectacles.  She kept about her person a further pair of spectacles for reading and was adamant that at the time of the collision she was wearing the distance vision spectacles used to demonstrate acceptable vision to the police.

A detective from the Serious Collisions Investigation Unit confirmed to the Coroner that there were no criminal proceedings taken against the driver and that decision had been taken by the Metropolitan Police without reference to the CPS.

The Coroner returned a finding of accidental death and declined an invitation to consider a Prevention of Future Death Report relating to a default 20 mph speed limit.  He observed that when the Met Police collision investigator was invited to consider whether a 20 mph speed limit would save lives he regarded such a notion as speculative.  He commented that Mr Mason had not been wearing hi-viz or a helmet but did not go so far as to suggest that either would have made any difference.  (Indeed he could not have suggested any causal relevance as there was absolutely no evidence of such).

I have only included reference to that which came out in Court and have not covered everything but this should be sufficient to give a reasonable impression of the evidence and the decisions taken.

56 comments:

  1. Bewildering decision by the police based on the account here

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  2. Thanks for the report.

    In my opinion it is more evidence to back up the view that unless there is some undeniable evidence of intentionally dangerous behaviour, incidents involving motorists colliding with cyclists are treated, at best, as cases of civil liability in negligence. I.e. such incidents attract no more criminal responsibility than as if the motorist had struck another car causing nothing more than a bit of bent metal and some soft tissue injuries.

    I suspect this is in line with jury norms: 'I might not have seen the cyclist either'. This jury 'equity' is one of the flaws built in to the map that shows freedom lives (Devlin).

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    1. My wife was killed by an HGV whilst cycling. The case went to trial, 'Causing Death by Careless Driving'. Police and CPS presented compelling evidence for a conviction.In summing up the Defence nailed its case to, "in this terrible blame culture that we live in we always want to blame someone when something bad happens, and that's not right'. The Judge said nothing. Not guilty verdict returned in about an hour.

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  3. The refusal of the police to take this forward with criminal proceedings is utterly disgraceful - what kind of message does this send out?

    The fact that the official "road safety" lobby and industry tolerate this is yet another reason to see them as part of the problem of road danger - why are they not forcefully lobbying against the absence of criminal proceedings in cases such as this?

    Dr Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

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  4. Accidental death. Just an "oops". A pity that someone died.

    Why does a supposedly civilised society accept this?

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  5. Regardless of whether Michael Mason was, or was not, a member should not CTC and British Cycling be taking an interest in this sad state of affairs?

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  6. You've covered the test of what constitutes careless or dangerous driving before I think? ie that it falls below the standard any reasonably careful and competent driver would expect. So this is the state of affairs that the Met consider we have reached? It is now "reasonable" that a drive can kill a cyclist because "they did not see them"? Surely the most basic skill of driving starts with observation? I cannot see how failing to look out for cyclists (for that is what this clearly is) cannot be considered driving without due care and attention?

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  7. Does the borrowed 'motability' have no bearing on this case? Is the brake in the same position as on a standard production vehicle?

    I presume the vehicle has been used in this instance to avoid paying the congestion charge.

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    1. The borrowed vehicle and the location of the brake are irrelevant in this case as the driver admits that she simply didn't see the cyclist and there was no attempt to brake at all.

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  8. I haven't seen anything in the reports to give the age of the driver or the standard of her eyesight. At the least the police should have checked her eyesight at the site of the collision and it should have been queried in court.

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    1. I wonder if witnesses can give an accurate and consistent description OF WHICH PAIR OF GLASSES the driver was wearing? This is not mentioned anywhere so far above. The only contentious piece of evidence is that the (assumed-biased) driver is "adamant" that she was wearing one of two pairs of glasses - one of which wasn't suitable for driving, the other, as tested by the police, which was. The most plausible explanation was she got the wrong pair and didn't change them as was in a rush to go home? This is speculation, obviously. Why people who live in such a well-served area as Hertfordshire, choose to commute by NON-public transport, car nonetheless, when it's still quite a hassle, I don't understand. Perhaps decades-long, vastly-inadequate public transport policy can be blamed, quite rightly?
      Beeching has blood on his hands, if one follows the logical conclusion.
      He - and his backers - made a conscious decision to mess with something. A decision that the economics didn't actually justify - over the long term. Thus they had no real excuse to make access to travel by railway so patchy.
      One could actually quantify deaths caused due to congestion / stress behind the wheel / numbers of extra drivers on the road, that simply keeping the railway network pre-Beeching would have prevented.
      It's not pure contention to make these claims as I do above.

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  9. I spoke to Anna Tatton-Brown recently in relation to her work and we discussed this very sad case and the police's handling of it. It's appalling that the police have taken no action. It's very hard to see how this doesn't meet the standard for a prosecution for causing death by careless driving.

    You haven't mentioned it and I'm sure there's a good reason for that but it does sound as if there must be some issue of distraction here.

    I know you'll have represented the family diligently and thoroughly, Martin. Thank you for your hard work on such cases.

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  10. Now much did the driver pay the Met or the CPS? Nothing of course as they are both so incompetent that they don't need bribing in order not to prosecute dangerous drivers. #shameful

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    1. Bennett Griffin - obviously not in the field of EU laws on spam, though. You need to learn how to use the internet to self-promote, or preferably atone for your selfishness by doing some pro-bono work for cyclists after making sure you're not a liability to them.
      I won't be holding my breath...

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  11. It is not improbable that this driver has some defect of vision. Night blindness is common, and has many underlying medical causes. The driver having a visual field defect would also fit with the behaviour described here.
    In my view, the minimum the law should provide for in circumstances where a driver's 'defence' is "I didn't see you" is that the police remove the driver's license at the time of the "accident," and a court restore it once medical evidence has been provided of fitness to drive (including formal assessment of night vision and visual fields). Police powers to summarily withdraw driving licenses "sur le champ" (=in the field, straight-away) may be another reason--together with the loi Badinter de 1985--why the lot of the cyclist in France is, in my view, somewhat happier than his English comrade's.

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    1. Road safety in France has been greatly increased, to my surprise, by Sarkozy, who scrapped the yearly "presidential pardons" that traditionally got thousands of drivers off the hook for speeding. He also implemented a zero-tolerance policy towards pretty much any road infraction, but particularly drink driving and speeding, such that over there 12 points really means you lose your license.

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    2. It's been a three decade campaign. Libération had a good article within the last six months or so (?Sept) tracking the fall in road deaths from the peak of ~10,000 (!!) in 1974. This year's road deaths were about 2,400 IIRC: obviously still too high, but in a country with a much higher rural population than the UK, with (presumably) the higher kilometrage that implies, I guess it's not going so badly as it used to.
      I should probably leave it there: that's as far as my familiarity with the French road safety statistics extends. There are of course many interesting legal and cultural differences between France and the UK, and doubtless inter-cultural comparisons could be a fruitful source of inspiration: on both sides of the Channel?

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  12. "The Coroner returned a finding of accidental death and declined an invitation to consider a Prevention of Future Death Report relating to a default 20 mph speed limit. He commented that Mr Mason had not been wearing hi-viz or a helmet but did not go so far as to suggest that either would have made any difference."

    the Coroner needs slapping around the head with a wet fish... it is so fscking wrong it's unbelievable....

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  13. Have the police been required to give their reasons for not prosecuting in this case? A failure to maintain a proper lookout at sea can result in a heavy fine, why not on the road?

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  14. Given that the Met have not done anything, is there anything to stop an individual or group bringing forward a private prosecution against the driver in this case? If not, how would one go about starting such an action?

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    1. Nothing to stop you, and it's likely CPS would take it over. Main issue is cost; you wouldn't be refunded and getting it there would run into thousands quite quickly.

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    2. I've often wondered if some private prosecutions might make the CPS think differently about these issues.

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  15. So, crowd fund?

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  16. Memorial at the spot.. 25th Feb at 18.20 ?

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  17. "At the outset the Coroner (to his considerable credit) asked his officer to read out a moving tribute to Michael Mason written by his daughter Anna Tatton-Brown."
    Sorry but I have to disagree. How can you give credit to an idiot? Typical British hypocrisy, "Let's give her five minutes of feeling that we are listening, and then back to business as usual"
    Usual #nastybritain: arrogance, hypocrisy and amateurism.

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  18. I agree with Anonymous that we need to act. Cannot just stand by and let this happen. A crowd funded private prosecution, a demonstration at CPS HQ at 2 Southwark Bridge which would be very central and public; a petition; a letter writing campaign to MPs, questions in Parliament, or all of these. Something has to happen.

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  19. Were mobile phone records asked for / checked?

    I have to agree with "The minimum the law should provide for in circumstances where a driver's 'defence' is "I didn't see you" is that the police remove the driver's license at the time of the "accident," and a court restore it once medical evidence has been provided of fitness to drive (including formal assessment of night vision and visual fields)." suggestion above. How many other objects, with or without bright flashing lights, will the driver fail to see?

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    1. I'd be very interested to know if the driver's phone was checked for phoning or texting...

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  20. Was the driver staring at a smartphone by any chance?

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  21. There may be an option to crowd fund an individual case like this but perhaps a greater value might be to back the CTC-supported Road Justice fund so that this can attain a financial position which will ensure they can confidently tackle such cases knowing that the substantial costs can be met.

    I agree on the careless driving issue and am appalled that the Met did not even 'test the case with the CPS. One for a formal complaint?

    That said if only we dumped the causing death by .... as a 'special charge solely for killing with a motor vehicle, and broughr it all into line by charging the driver with Manslaughter as in every other case where the user of any machinery (including a cycle) causes a death, without the intent sufficient to justify a murder charge.

    A really good idea too to remove the licence to drive immediately at the scene, even the innocent will normally be so shaken by the experience that their driving ability afterwards will be badly affected and poses a high risk of having a second crash shortly afterwards.

    As a road safety measure, and a minimum intervention the standard practice for rail and air incidents to automatically remove the 'driver' from 'duty' makes great sense. IF the Police had a formal connection to advise the Roads Regulator (for vehicle operation) may already have the powers to deliver this for the group of drivers who are proven to have the greatest potential to kill - and kill again as Joao Lopes actually did

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  22. What the hell is someone doing driving to Regent St from Herts anyway? Do us all a favour and use public transport. In 20 years time the fact that we allow private cars to clog up precious urban road space and kill people will be seen like smoking on planes - madness.

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    1. To be fair I drove into/around London from N.Herts daily for 8 years. Couldn't afford the train fares, no seats anyway & actually longer travel times +flexibility made driving the only option. Not all towns get a station & it's easily possible to drive 15-20 minutes each way to get to a station in certain locations before you've even started. That said the decision here is truly disgusting and the police & Cornoner should hang their heads in shame..

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    2. I know. To work in a hair salon? I'm not saying that there's any wrong with the profession, but are there no hair salons in Hertfordshire that are just as good. I can't believe that that hair salon in Oxford Street is so much better to work at than anywhere else more local to her that it's worth that commute! And she's a congestion charge dodger.

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  23. OK, A bunch of us from Stop Killing Cyclists are interested in the idea of a private prosecution on behalf of 'London Cyclists'. We are the bunch that organised the 'National Funeral for the Unknown Victim of Traffic Violence last month. Is this something that would be feasible?
    I've never seen such anguish as there has been over this case on our FB page.

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  24. Just to confirm that the trustees of the Cyclists' Defence Fund (www.cyclistsdefencefund.org.uk) are considering what support we may be able to provide.

    Roger Geffen
    Campaigns & Policy Director, CTC and
    Trustee of the Cyclists' Defence Fund

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  25. I see from Today's Evening Standard that the daughter is considering a private prosecution (http://www.standard.co.uk/news/cycle-death-daughter-may-prosecute-driver-9925170.html?origin=internalSearch). I would certainly be prepared to contribute to funding such a case.

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    1. Bruce

      This is certainly one of the options that the Cyclists' Defence Fund is considering supporting.

      However we have flagged up via Martin Porter that there are other possible ways of securing justice for the family, that they may also wish to consider.

      One option in particular may be a more effective way to challenge the apparent police failing in this case, while potentially paving the way for a stronger private prosecution case.

      We will update once we have greater clarity on the legal position and the views and wishes of the family.

      Roger Geffen, CTC and Cyclists' Defence Fund

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  26. Is there any mileage in getting an AM to ask Boris, who is supposed to be supervising the Met, if he has investigated this incomprehensible decision ?

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  27. Has anyone raised or investigated the possibility that the driver may have a medical condition that causes momentary lapses of consciousness (MLC)? That would explain the odd statement about the cyclist seeming to come out of nowhere. IMO the driver should be immediately banned from driving in case MLC was the reason, and until it can be proved it wasn't.

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  28. Far be it from me to question a QC's reporting ability but I can't help but think there is something missing. As a police officer who served for 22 years this case should have been a walk through for a Due Care charge, and if, as I assume, the death was caused by the effects of the collision, then a charge of causing death by careless driving would have equally been a walk through. But the case was not taken through CPS and why not? CPS guidelines state that a decision on such a case must be taken by a senior representative but they weren't even asked. As it is reported here, something stinks about this case. Still, as with all actions by the Met, the motto is "Never attribute to malice anything adequately explained by stupidity." I do hope that someone commences a private prosecution, then at least the CPS might actually look at it. I don't particularly want the driver punished, but she should be brought to account.

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  29. I would like the driver to be brought to account, too. I am happy for her to be punished if she deserves it, as an example to her and to others who may hear of her case. I can't understand why she doesn't deserve it, being a simple cyclist, depending every day on drivers knowing I am there on the roads beside them. I am happy to contribute to a private prosecution or any other funding to get this case reconsidered, so please let me know how I can help. it is appalling and has given me sleepless nights. His poor family!

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  30. When I was 16 driving a moped went into the back of a stationary vehicle and went right through the back window. Only person injured was me & I ended up in hospital unconscious with head injuries. The Police successfully prosecuted me for careless driving and fined a weeks wages. This person kills someone and the Police does not prosecute the driver even for careless driving or driving without due care & attention. This sends out the wrong message, shame on them. I will also contribute to a private prosecution.

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  31. Agree, and with K8, I would be happy to contribute ...

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  32. Perhaps I am missing something but this driver's conduct after the collision is puzzling. Why on earth did she not stop immediately? It is difficult to resist the conclusion that her attention was elsewhere, distracted or perhaps affected by some sort of medical condition.

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  33. Why has nobody looked at the coroners report where a witness states the impact was with the wing mirror. This throws some doubt on the linear impact and tyre mark on the front of the car evidence and gives credence to the car drivers statement that she did not see the cyclist.

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    1. Please read the article: "The collision investigator also gave evidence that the physical evidence on the car and the bicycle made it clear that this was a 'linear' collision with the bicycle and the car pointing in the same direction at the moment of impact. This ruled out any swerving immediately before the collision.Further the rear tyre left a mark and dent mid way between the centre line of the car and its offside. That is to say right in front of the position where the driver was seated."
      Witness statements are often unreliable. Forensic evidence is much more trustworthy.

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    2. First, as Andrea points out, the physical evidence contradicts this witness. Second, even if the impact was with the wing mirror, surely a competent driver should still be expected to notice?

      I do wonder whether the driver has an undiagnosed vision problem. Central blind spots are not that rare, and woukd not be found by the nearly useless 'read a number plate' test.

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    3. "Blind spots" arise when one is texting, fiddling with the radio, opening the glove compartment, and many other actions that drivers feel are safe to do, since they are all "above average"

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    4. I agree the driver's vision should be thoroughly checked "Central blind spots" are often known as 'macular degeneration'.

      Given a flashing rear light, a test for photosensitive epilepsy could also be worthwhile !
      http://takethelanes.blogspot.co.uk/p/serp.html?q=flashing%20bicycle%20light%20epilepsy

      It reminds me of an incident in Brisbane
      http://youtu.be/bLAuktN2N10?t=58s
      How ?

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    5. ... and with respect to the 'wrong glasses' theory, there is a precedent that might defeat it: Mohammed Rashid killed Laurence Gunn, walking on a crossing
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-25726401
      "Rashid was short sighted, could only read a car registration plate from 7ft"
      The judge, Aiden Marron QC, said: "I suggest we will never know why you did not see the victim.
      It would have been desirable and prudent to wear the specs, but there is nothing unlawful about that.
      The only possible aggravating factor is the specs and in evidence we heard they were not a legal requirement."
      Charged with Death by Dangerous Driving.
      Plead Guilty to Death by Careless Driving.
      Sentence - 140 hours’ unpaid work; 12-month driving ban; eight points; £500 costs
      ???

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    6. Aiden Marron QC, said: "It would have been desirable and prudent to wear the specs, but there is nothing unlawful about that."
      Contravenes Road Traffic Act 1988 Section 96 Driving with uncorrected defective eyesight.
      http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/52/section/96

      I don't understand !

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  34. I too would be happy to contribute. It really is incomprehensible that the authorities did not prosecute.

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  35. First let me say that I do not doubt in the slightest, that Michael Mason was perfectly conspicuous to any following driver who was keeping a proper look-out. I am only trying to find an explanation for the reluctance of the Police to forward this case to the CPS for prosecution.

    You say: "The evidence was quite clear that he had the required lights" but mention only a "brightly flashing rear light fixed above a red reflector". I do not doubt that these devices performed perfectly well, but assuming the flashing light also had a steady mode (as virtually all flashing lights do) this light, as well as the reflector, is required to be made to an approved standard and marked accordingly.

    Very few of the rear lamps now on the market have a valid approval mark. The situation is better with reflectors, but not when those reflectors form part of a non-approved lamp. Pedal reflectors are also relevant for rear conspicuity and also required by law (unless the bike is more than 30 years old), but generally absent, especially from the pedals of 'serious' cyclists. So it seems to me quite possible that Michael Mason, in common with many other responsible and well-lit cyclists, whilst complying pretty well with the spirit of the law, was nevertheless riding illegally at night.

    Should that be the case, could the technical illegality of the rider's lighting equipment so weaken the case against the driver as to explain the reluctance of the Police to prosecute?

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  36. The CPS cannot prosecute unless a case is referred to it. Once the CPS has a case, any decision not to prosecute is subject to the Victim's Right of Review regime, under which the cases are re-reviewed by experienced, competent and dedicated lawyers - notwithstanding the attitude of some commentators above. (The regime post-dates' the blogger's own sorry tale involving the CPS.)

    Article 11.1 of the EU directive in the rights of the victim (2012/29/EU) provides, "Member States shall ensure that victims, in accordance with their role in the relevant criminal justice system, have the right to a review of a decision not to prosecute. The procedural rules for such a review shall be determined by national law." Presumably therefore a VRR regime exists for the MPS also.

    I trust that that route will be followed before a difficult and stressful private prosecution is commenced.

    Basso SLX


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  37. Just wanted to add an update on the Met's double U-turn ('W-turn', perhaps ?)
    http://www.ctc.org.uk/news/20150319-met-adds-insult-injury-mason-case
    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/family-of-cyclist-killed-in-road-crash-hits-out-at-met-after-it-gives-false-hope-of-prosecution-10119413.html

    I appreciate your modesty and/or professionalism - hope you don't mind me linking to the fund
    https://www.justgiving.com/justiceformichael
    which has gratifyingly leapt from 25% to 50% in a couple of days.

    Is this the future of justice - crowdfunding ?

    I wonder if the Met's Professional Standards Dept, or the IPCC would like to look into this ?
    Purely to allay any fears arising from unfounded speculation over what conspiracies might possibly be going on behind-the-scenes at the Met ...

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  38. Yeah even I agree that British authorities should look into this case with special interest as so many incidents keep occurring. My brother who works for a Los Angeles DUI attorney was telling me that if this would have happened there back in California, legislation would have passed some laws by now.

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