Friday 14 December 2012

Legal Update R v Beiu; R v Aydogdu

This afternoon two juries in two separate London Crown Courts have delivered their verdicts in cases which have involved Defendants that have been (allegedly) responsible for causing death and very serious injury to two cyclists.

On 4th November 2011 Mary Bowers, a journalist with The Times, was struck down by a left turning lorry at a light controlled junction very close to her workplace in Wapping.  The lorry was being driven by Petre Beiu.  The evidence placed before the jury included that Ms Bowers was visible to be seen in front of the lorry for many seconds before he overtook her and turned left across her path; that Mr Beiu was talking on a hands free telephone at the time and that in the aftermath of the collision he jumped out of the cab leaving the handbrake off so that the lorry continued to roll over Ms Bowers.  Ms Bowers sustained devastating injuries which are seriously underestimated by describing her brain injury as 'significant'.

The jury decided that Mr Beiu was not guilty of dangerous driving.  They convicted him instead of careless driving - an offence which he had accepted, though the Judge had still left the jury with the option of acquitting on that charge as well.

Mr Beiu was fined £2,700 and banned from driving for (just!) 8 months.

On 6th August 2011 Sam Harding was riding his bicycle in a bus lane along Holloway Road.  As he passed a parked car, Mr Aydogdu, opened the door (wide according to the prosecution and a crack according to the Defendant) into the path of Mr Harding who hit the door and then was struck by a bus.  It transpires that Aydogdu had applied some reflective coating to his side windows which blocked 83% of the light.  The jury this afternoon decided that Mr Aydogdu was not guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Harding.

Following on from the case of the Townend brothers, these cases must give rise to concerns over how seriously the average jury considers the obligation not to endanger cyclists.  A jury reflects the society from which it is drawn and whilst cycling remains stuck at a modal share of 2% of journeys it is going to be an exceptional jury that contains even one regular cyclist.  That should change, if and when the proportion of cyclists on the roads increases.  However in rather a catch 22, the number of cyclists on the roads is inhibited by the apparently low value that the legal system appears sometimes to place on the value of the life of a human whilst cycling.

I commented at the time that I considered that the decision in the Townend case was perverse (the jury acquitting the Defendant of even causing death by careless driving); the verdict in the Bowers case is astonishing and to be honest the result in the Harding case was, to me, not unexpected.

In the Harding case it appears to me that tragically a combination of factors combined to result in the tragic outcome.  First, Aydogdu's daft decision to coat his windows so as to restrict his ability to see out (and that of others to see in).  Second, the pressure that cyclists often feel under to ride too close to the left.  In February (after Mr Harding's tragedy) The Times, as a part of its campaign published a 'Guide to Safe Cycling' which included advice to cyclists to look in wingmirrors and windscreens of parked cars to see if anyone in the car might be about to open a door.  NO!  The correct advice is DO NOT RIDE IN THE DOOR ZONE.  If for some extraordinary reason (narrow road, oncoming bus for example) you have to then slow to a walking pace.  At the time I advised discarding the Times guide in favour of  British Cycling's 'Effective Traffic Riding'.  Nonetheless there is definite pressure remaining on cyclists and encouraged by most cycling 'infrastructure' that deters many of us from adopting the safest riding position in the centre of our lane.  Third the opening of the car door which must have been done without careful observation even if the jury determined it was not gross negligence.  Fourth the bus driver (though exculpated by the prosecution at Aydogdu's trial) should have been holding well back behind a cyclist or ought to have been giving him a car width's space if overtaking.  I do not know the detail of the evidence but it seems to me surprising that a cyclist falling into the road would be run over by a bus if best driving practice was being followed.  Sadly my experience commuting in London is that very often buses get much much too close.  This tragedy illustrates why they (and others) must not do so.

It is important to recognize that the correct charging decisions were taken in each case.  The fact of acquittal does not in any sense indicate that the bringing of the charges was not justified.  Far too often I have had cause to complain in these pages that the appropriately serious charge was not pursued and it is only right to acknowledge that the police and CPS have been conscientiously doing the right thing in the cases I refer to above.


  1. Surely part of the problem is public attitudes to driving, there is a tolerance of bad behaviour on the roads by drivers. This has lead to the cult of the Sacred Driving Licence, which means the juries are reluctant to convict and the judiciary to pass appropriate sentences on the perpetrators. Both seem to prefer to blame the victims.

    We need to end the victim blaming and make bad driving socially unacceptable.

    1. We talk continuously of 'attitudes' and I do not demur but the Highway is itself a political system. It legitimates driving, sometimes buses, infrequently cycling. Changing changing attitudes is a complex task but legitimising cycling with physical measures will ... legitimise the act of cycling. This is the case in many nations and it is achievable in Britain. A much smaller number of people need to have attitudes changed, highway engineers. These are 'professional' people and will carry out the instructions of their client, politicians. Politicians seem to be moving to a position where cycling safety is an issue, together with active travel.

  2. The Sam Harding case is on the BBC News home page at the moment.

  3. I have said it many times (as a highway engineer) that it is the politicians who need to change. We can design good infrastructure to protect cyclists (and pedestrians) and the law is there there to give them priority. My experience of politicians ranges from the sympathetic but ineffective, through to not interested to downright hostile. Unless this changes, we are wasting our time.

    1. A late reply but: "We can design good infrastructure to protect cyclists" is nonsense. Around where I live, the average road width is about 5 metres, with narrow pavements. The majority of Britain's towns simply lack the road space to re-engineer the roads, so solutions talking about infrastructure are abandoning the majority of Britain's cyclists.

      There needs to be political will to confront the supposedly put-upon motorist so that they understand that a small delay passing a cyclist is trivial in the grand scheme of things, and more simply, that they need to accept that cyclists are allowed on the road and have equal status with a motor vehicle.

  4. An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually ordered me breakfast simply because I found it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to discuss this subject here on your site.
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  5. I really wonder what to make of this. I agree that the jury system appears to be incapable of reaching a justifiable decision. So you either remove the jury (unthinkable in this country) or change the law.

    Beiu was 'fortunate' in that he didn’t kill his victim. He would then have faced a charge of causing death by careless driving.

    I make two points. First, we have result-crimes such as these because it's human nature to place great weight on outcomes (and less on near-misses). Second, because the result (rather than the conduct) is a less subjective finding, a jury must surely feel less able to be generous.

    So, a jury might well have been happier to convict on this outcome. Beiu could then have received a longer sentence.

    Presumably Aydogdu could not have been charged with causing death by careless driving because he was not actually driving at the time of the alleged offence. So the jury were again given a subjective question to decide, namely 'was the defendant grossly negligent?'

    From this, I think you would have to (i) allow the judge greater discretion to give longer sentences for lesser offences that cause grave harm; and/or (ii) create intermediate result-crimes (e.g. causing serious injury by careless driving or extending the causing death offences). The present dichotomies do not serve us well.

    1. It is worth noting that the law in this area does change on a fairly regular basis. Were the Mary Bower's incident to happen today the driver would no doubt be charged with the new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving (and would presumably with this jury have been acquitted).
      I do not know whether an offence of causing serious injury by careless driving was considered - perhaps it was avoided because of the 'undercharging' phenomena seen when causing death by careless driving was introduced in 2008 (death by dangerous driving prosecutions dropped dramatically).
      One solution would be to increase considerably the upper limit for sentences in traffic related 'minor' offences including careless driving and dangerous opening of car doors in recognition of the fact that the consequences can be very serious.
      The current maximum penalty for opening a car door so as to injure or endanger is a £1,000 fine. The maximum for careless driving is £5,000 (itself recently increased from £2,500) and 9 penalty points or a disqualification (length at the Court's discretion). In practice it would be very unusual for the disqualification to exceed a year and the Judge had to give Beiu some credit for admitting his careless driving.
      In Aydogdu's case, he was clearly guilty of the door opening offence but with a £2,000 fine as the maximum penalty the CPS were looking for a more serious charge that reflected the gravity of the harm caused. There are technical difficulties in the way of classing opening a door as driving a motor vehicle because driving a vehicle requires licencing, insurance etc. It would be rather bizarre to confine the opening of a vehicle door to licensed/insured drivers.

  6. This is getting a bit technical, but in the careless door opening case I would have thought a charge of careless driving could have been made: it was driver acting when in charge of his vehicle, and a case could even be made that he would have had some responsibility for a passenger carelessly opening the door.

    The answer - at el

    least as far as law enforcement and sentencing is concerned - is surely to bring lots of charges for the ACT, as opoosed to the act only when there are severe CONSEQUENCES. maybe lots of cases where there are unpleasant results for the driver - mainly fines and penalty points - could have a deterrent effect.

    Dr. Robert Davis

  7. I thought that if a driver is sitting in a stationary car, engine switched off but in possession of the keys, and has more that the legal limit of alcohol, s/he is still liable for prosecution?

  8. Yes but for being drunk in charge of the vehicle not drunk driving.

  9. I can't understand why the bus driver was not prosecuted. When I drive a car and see a cyclist riding in the door zone of parked cars in front of me, I believe that I am obliged to be prepared that the cyclist may have to move quickly out of his position, or even crash. In my country (Norway) all drivers are obliged to adapt their speed in such a way that one can stop for any "expectable" (or "foreseeable") obstacle. I would suppose that you have the same rule in UK? That said, I am not at all sure that the the door-opener (or the bus driver) would have been found guilty in Norway either.

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  11. Martin,

    another excellent post - you seem to be the only person providing consistent commentary on cases like these.

    Mary's condition has been described in the Times as 'minimally conscious' and unlikely to recover further. So although her survival is something to be thankful for, the impact on her family is perhaps as serious as if she had been killed. It seems absurd that had she died Beiu would be facing a custodial sentence, but as things stand he is able to escape with such negligible punishment. As Derek says above there's surely an argument for introducing an offense of causing serious injury by careless driving.

    I have a couple of questions for you if you have time:

    -Is careless driving the same offense as driving without due care and attention?

    -Are there guidelines for the length of a disqualification in careless/dangerous driving convictions? Or do judges just look at previous cases?

    -And may I ask where you get your information about the CPS activity and court proceedings from?

    Cheers, Nathan.