The sister of a cyclist killed by a lorry in London is fighting a legal battle for a fresh inquest into the incident, saying that the “huge problem facing cyclists” in the city must be addressed.
Eilidh Cairns was run over by a tipper truck as she rode through Notting Hill Gate in morning rush hour traffic on 5 February 2009. The seriously injured 30-year-old, who’d just landed her dream job as a television producer and had been cycling to work from her home in Hampstead Heath, lay under the wheels of the 32-tonne vehicle still conscious and able to talk to witnesses. She was airlifted to hospital but died hours later.
At the original inquest held on January 22, 2010 at Westminster Coroner’s Court, a verdict of accidental death was recorded. Today Eilidh’s sister Kate, 38, asked a High Court judge to quash the verdict and order a fresh inquest, accusing the “reluctant” coroner of failing in her duty to carry out an adequate investigation, and to consider making recommendations that could prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Anna Morris, appearing for the family, told Mr Justice Silber that the family’s perception was that the inquest was “perfunctory” and the coroner appeared “unwilling” to explore any issues that related to how the truck driven by Portuguese lorry driver Joao Lopes came into collision with Eilidh’s bike. She said Dr Shirley Radcliffe, Deputy Coroner for Inner West London, had failed to comply with her statutory duties to “fully, fairly and fearlessly” investigate the facts.
The lawyer said Dr Radcliffe had drawn a line under the questioning as to whether Mr Lopes had made adequate visual checks just before the collision – despite the fact he later pleaded guilty at Kingston Magistrates’ Court to a charge of driving with defective vision, for which he received three points on his licence and a £200 fine.
Ms Morris said the coroner had also failed to consider whether she could make recommendations under Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules aimed at preventing further accidents. “There was a failure to consider the wider impact of Eilidh’s death and the huge problem facing cyclists in London,” she said. Eilidh was one of nine cyclists killed by heavy goods vehicles on London’s roads in 2009 – eight of them women.
Jonathan Hough, appearing for the coroner, urged the judge to reject the legal challenge. He argued Dr Radcliffe had been faced with a type of road traffic accident which was “tragically common”. There was no special feature, he said, which had given the coroner reason to think “that it illustrated a systemic problem or that it might call for some specific response”.
Mr Hough contended there was nothing in the argument that the coroner had improperly restricted the questioning of Mr Lopes. The truck driver had been questioned in detail by the coroner herself and examined at length by the Cairns family. The questions covered his driving up to the moment of collision and what he saw, including what could be seen in various mirrors. The coroner’s approach could not be faulted, argued Mr Hough.
Outside court, Kate Cairns, a mother-of-three from Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, said a proper inquest into her sister’s death was vital to help stop the growing number of cyclist deaths involving lorries. She said: “It’s a national issue, not just London.”
The family have launched a See Me Save Me campaign for the mandatory installation of cameras and sensors in lorries to eliminate blind spots. They’re calling for action in the European Parliament, with the support of Fiona Hall MEP.
“Clearly it’s an issue that needs addressing,” said Ms Cairns. “Since Eilidh’s death there have been 19 other cyclists killed by lorries in the capital – almost half the cyclists killed in London. “What we want is for the professionals to do their job and carry out a thorough investigation into how Eilidh died. For my own peace of mind, I want to know why I’ve got to live every day without my little sister and why my parents have had to bury their daughter.”