Friday 29 June 2012

Press release from Kate Cairns

Further to my last post, this press release from Eilidh Cairn's sister, Kate, merits the widest possible distribution:


‘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.



  1. I've long thought it one of the tragedies of current police attitudes on both sides of the Altantic (I'm writing this from New York) that they pass up so many opportunities to identify who the dangerous drivers are. In safe transport systems, such as railways and aviation, there's a big emphasis on identifying "bad actors" - signals that are poorly placed, drivers that keep passing red signals or whatever. Action is taken to reduce the risk they pose. Police inactivity (as I argue here: ensures that doesn't happen on the roads.

    I'm desperately sorry both for the Cairns family - whose grief must have been intensified by the later tragedy - and the family of Mrs Guttman, who seems to have been a remarkable individual.


  2. In so many of these cases there is no mention of an equally liable party. I refer to the owners of the trucks involved. Just as the drivers hold vocational driving licences, the operators are licenced by the Traffic Commissioners, who have the powers to suspend, revoke, or reduce the scope of licences, or number of vehicles operated. They require operators to have post holders with Certificates of Professional Competence to manage drivers and vehicles, demonstrating due diligence and good repute in delivering this.

    Without the operator providing those trucks, to drivers like Lopes and Putz, three women would still be living. We have to ask where the operators' of the trucks involved showed due diligence, in employing Lopes, and especially Putz with over 20 convictions for driving offences, and how the Traffic Commissioners might be able to take up stronger measures.

    In the same week that Putz was convicted, on charges including drunken driving, another driver working for the same operator killed a motorist, also driving whilst drunk.

    In an earlier case, the same truck, operated in livery for a major construction company, by a small sub contractor, left 2 young female cyclists dead, and a third in a wheelchair, relportedly twice with the same driver.

    It begins to become apparent that a focus of effort on a relatively small number of both drivers, and more important, operators, could make substantial impact on the dreadful toll. If a train driver or pilot has a fatal crash, there is an automatic suspension from driving duty pending formal investigation, should this equally apply without exception for any vocational driver involved in a fatal crash?

    The owner/operator might equally be called to account, just as the owner of a gun they carry a presumed liability in placing machinery (a truck) in to the charge of a driver, with a clear duty to ensure that driver is a fit person to take charge. What is clear, is that the reports on these tragic events should clearly identfy the company that provided the truck, without which the driver could not have killed.