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In the wake of the Charlie Alliston case there's only one sensible thing to do — but you're not going to like it

In the aftermath of the Alliston case, what should you do if you are a cyclist involved in a crash with a pedestrian?

I have one word of advice for you: Leave.

That’s right. Leave the scene. Get out of Dodge. Get away from the situation as fast as you can. Say nothing to anyone. Give nobody your details. Don’t hang around long enough for anyone to get their phone out. Split. Bugger off. Go home the long way — down as many alleys and across as many parks as possible to avoid CCTV.

Say nothing about the crash to anyone. Don’t discuss it in forums. Don’t tweet or post on Facebook about it. Don’t search on Google for news of the crash or its aftermath. Don’t get your bike repaired. Carry on with your life as if nothing happened.

“But, John,” I can hear you say, “that’s awful advice. Ethically you should stop and help, and isn’t leaving the scene an offence?”

Road Traffic Act: leaving the scene

Last point first: no, it isn’t. Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act makes it an offence for the driver of a motor vehicle to leave the scene of a crash, but it specifically only applies to drivers of “mechanically propelled vehicles” as it quaintly calls them. (That means an engine or motor; your bike’s chain and gears don’t count as the propulsion comes from your legs.)

Section 168 makes it an offence to refuse to give your name and address to “any person having reasonable ground” to require it. But they have to ask for it first. Leave before anyone can ask your name, and you’re in the clear. Martin Porter QC, who drew my attention to this part of the Road Traffic Act, added: “I have never yet been supplied with name and address by [a] motorist I have reasonably suspected of careless driving. Asked a few times.”

Ethically, yes, all of this is dreadful. But the Alliston case has put cyclists in the position where we cannot be sure of being dealt with justly. In fact, we can be sure that we will not be treated justly.

There is no way that Charlie Alliston was guilty of manslaughter, and he was rightly acquitted.

But there is also no way he was riding furiously and wantonly. He was riding at 18mph. Traffic and parked vehicles around him left him with nowhere to go and when he yelled to warn Kim Briggs she stepped back into his path. If that’s furious and wanton riding, I’m a banana.

The brakeless fixie issue

You could argue that Alliston would not have ended up in court in the first place if he hadn’t been riding a bike that wasn’t street legal. Would the Met and the CPS have gone after him if he’d been riding a fixie with a front brake? I believe they would.

The tide is turning against cycling in London. The nonsensical claims that a few short stretches of protected cycleway have caused huge increases in congestion and pollution have stuck. Mayor Sadiq Khan has cancelled or postponed shovel-ready cycling schemes and TfL has mysteriously forgotten how to design new ones if its hopeless, inept Nine Elms and Fiveways schemes are anything to go by. I expect that before the end of Khan’s first term, TfL will announce that Cycle Superhighway 3, the world-class protected cycle lane along the Embankment is to be ripped up.

Meanwhile cycling and walking commissioner Will Norman doesn’t realise that his job is to enable active travel, not to run spin for Sadiq Khan’s preference for roads and buses. Khan is running a PR mayoralty, all talk and no delivery, and calling on others to fix problems like air pollution that are well within his power. But to do so would put him into conflict with the influential bus, taxi and haulage lobbies.

With public opinion increasingly hostile to cycling, the Met and the CPS would have gone after Alliston anyway. After all, a mother of two was, tragically, dead. Something Had To Be Done, and prosecuting Alliston was Something. Alliston had dug a huge hole for himself by his forum and Evening Standard postings. He really was a dream defendant — if you’re a prosecutor.

Given the general ignorance about cycling, a fixie with a front brake could still be easily represented as the equivalent to a Formula One car, and equally inappropriate for the streets. Alliston’s lawyer failed to challenge the Met’s nonsensical braking distance tests in either premise or execution; it’s vanishingly unlikely he’d have been able to mount a defence against the charge of furious and wanton cycling even if Alliston had been riding a bike with brakes.

And I don’t believe the bike made any substantial difference. The instinctive reaction when a pedestrian steps into your path is to try and avoid hitting them. Yes, you’ll slow down too and Alliston did, but Kim Briggs stepped back into his path, they butted heads and she fell to the ground. Had he been going slower (as he would not have had time to stop, despite the Met’s staged video), she might still have fallen, she might still have hit her head on the ground. We just don’t know, and we cannot therefore know that Alliston’s inability to stop faster was the primary cause of Kim Briggs’s death.

The not guilty verdict shows that the jury did not think it was. If Alliston was guilty of an illegal act in not having a front brake, and that illegal act led to Kim Briggs’s death, then he was guilty of manslaughter. If he was not guilty, then his illegal act did not cause Kim Briggs’s death.

That also makes the conviction for wanton and furious driving unsafe too, unless the jury took the view that the injuries that Kim Briggs sustained as a result of Alliston riding into her did not cause her death. That would be a somewhat bizarre conclusion, but that’s juries for you. However, I’m not a lawyer and there may be some twist to the legal reasoning here that I’ve missed. Happy to be corrected in the comments or via Twitter.

The justice system is stacked against cyclists

More broadly, the Alliston case is only the latest example of the justice system failing a cyclist, but it’s unusual in that the rider was accused of perpetrating a fatal crash, instead of being its victim.

London’s police have largely been on the back foot when it comes to cycling since the debacle of Operation Safeway, in which the police targeted minor cycling infringements after several cyclists were killed in London in November, rather than going after the motor vehicle behaviour that kills cyclists. They were pilloried for it by cycling groups, and rightly so.

Presented with an unsympathetic defendant in a cocky, pierced teenager riding a hipster bike, the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service must have thought all their Christmases had come at once.

They therefore charged Alliston with offences that had to be heard in Crown Court, rather than any of the more appropriate lesser offences that would have been heard by magistrates, as Martin Porter QC has pointed out.

There’s a legal maxim that if you want to get off a charge, you go for a jury trial if you can. Juries are composed of people who can’t convince the court they’re too important to be excused jury duty. They tend to be sympathetic to mundane criminality, which is why there are so many breathtaking not guilty verdicts in cases of causing death by careless or dangerous driving.

Charlie Alliston, Daily Mail stereotype

Unfortunately for him, with his tattoos and piercings, Charlie Alliston was as close as it gets to the Daily Mail stereotype of an arrogant, reckless, young tearaway, scofflaw cyclist. There was no way he was going to get a sympathetic hearing from a jury of Londoners who are encouraged to hate cyclists by every story about cycling on the local news, in the London papers, in the national papers, on the BBC and on LBC.

And so it went. Anyone who rides bike knows Alliston’s account of the crash was entirely plausible. Between a parked lorry and moving cars he had nowhere to go. Kim Briggs stepped back into his path (presumably seeing the cars, but not registering Alliston) and he was unable to avoid her.

But by bringing the absurd charge of manslaughter, the CPS could be confident they’d get Alliston for something. I can imagine the jury room discussions. “All right, it’s not manslaughter, but the arrogant git’s guilty of something. What’s this wanton and furious thing? Up to two years bird? Yeah, that’ll do.”

Lynch mob

The resulting atmosphere is that of a lynch mob. I’ve seen posts hoping that Alliston gets anally raped if he goes to prison, and wanting to know his usual riding route so they can string wire in his path. Have you ever seen that for a killer driver?

I fear for the safety of the cyclist next time one of us is involved in a crash with a pedestrian who doesn’t immediately get up and walk away. By bringing this spurious prosecution, the CPS has failed in its duty to act in the public interest. It has made the roads more dangerous, not less.

Cyclists have long known that we will not get justice if we are victims of road violence. Now we can be sure we will not get justice if we are accused of being its perpetrators.

And that means our only recourse is to get away from a crash immediately.

Footnote: If you do choose to stay at the scene of a crash, and there’s even the slightest possibility you might be blamed (in other words, any crash at all in the current climate) say nothing to the police without a lawyer present. Don’t try and be helpful, don’t give a statement. Ask for a lawyer and shut up till he or she arrives.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

190 comments

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peted76 [769 posts] 2 months ago
6 likes

Jeeze John..  There's a lot going on in your article, but do you really think telling the wider cycling community to act immorrally helps our cause brother? 

Personally I think this article could sway any of the establishment/lobbyists/busybody's to 'help them' get road based cycling regulated. It wasn't that long ago that road races were banned in Britain in response to some proposed legislation, road racing was banned to 'protect cycling in Britain'. 

The Alliston case 'legally is beyond me' however my opinion is that a pedestrian died and the heirachy of life in this country is pedestrian, human powered vehicle, motor powered vehicle - and I'm okay with that. 

What I don't want is for jaywalking to be a crime. 

I don't want to have 'riding outside of a bike lane where a bike lane is provided' to be a crime.

What I don't want is for London based cycling to represent me, I see far too many stupid, selfish cyclists (and pedestrians and other road users) in London. 

I disagree with your summary of the situation, if he'd have braked he may not have hit her with the same force which may have led to injury not death, we will never know, BUT not having the facility to be able to stop within a reasonable distance and taking into account situation in a busy area is totally on him. The kid that killed that lady did kill her wantonly in my eyes, 1) by riding a bike unsuitable for the situation 2) by being unable to exert enough control over the human powered vehicle to change the outcome.

What I do want is for the right to drive of motorists to be redefined from a right to a privilege and for the law to represent that with lifetime bans and more strict sentances.

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davel [1889 posts] 2 months ago
12 likes

You're going to get a boatload of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells responses, and I think I've already said everything I want to say on this case BTL on various articles, so I'll just say 'hear, hear'.

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darrenleroy [251 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

18mph on a very busy road with pedestrians all around is too fast. If you cannot stop on a sixpence you are cycling too fast. Whenever I'm in a built up area I slow down to a pace where I know I can stop immediately if an unexpected situation requires it. 

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Dr_Lex [459 posts] 2 months ago
12 likes

"Ask for a lawyer and shut up till he or she arrives."

Best* advice ever.

 

 

 

*possibly tied with "Don't stick it in the crazy"

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MikeFromLFE [18 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

"Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act makes it an offence for the driver of a motor vehicle to leave the scene of a crash, but it specifically only applies to drivers of “mechanically propelled vehicles” as it quaintly calls them. (That means an engine or motor; your bike’s chain and gears don’t count as the propulsion comes from your legs.)"

eBikes might reasonably be considered to fall into that category.

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MikeFromLFE [18 posts] 2 months ago
9 likes
darrenleroy wrote:

18mph on a very busy road with pedestrians all around is too fast. If you cannot stop on a sixpence you are cycling too fast. Whenever I'm in a built up area I slow down to a pace where I know I can stop immediately if an unexpected situation requires it. 

My (very limited) experience of London cycling is that if you try to cycle slowly (ie what might otherwise be considered to be too fast around pedestrians) you get grief from both drivers and from other cyclists. You are pressurised into 'going with the flow'.

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BehindTheBikesheds [879 posts] 2 months ago
13 likes

Anniston was stitched up like a kipper, even the MET/CPS coming up with the trumped manslaughter charge was so that it would go to a higher court ensuring he was going to get a higher starting tariff and be judged by people they knew would be having no logic when applied to the case was a clear indication as to their real intentions. That wasn't justice, it was payback/agenda.

Add into which a piss poor defence lawyer, at least the jury saw some sense but it should have being a mis-trail as soon as the false evidence was put into the minds of the juriors regarding the stopping distance.

At worst he should have got done on the Con and Use regs in a magistrates, but frankly it should never have gone to court at all.

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bendertherobot [1472 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Anniston was stitched up like a kipper, even the MET/CPS coming up with the trumped manslaughter charge was so that it would go to a higher court ensuring he was going to get a higher starting tariff and be judged by people they knew would be having no logic when applied to the case was a clear indication as to their real intentions. That wasn't justice, it was payback/agenda.

Add into which a piss poor defence lawyer, at least the jury saw some sense but it should have being a mis-trail as soon as the false evidence was put into the minds of the juriors regarding the stopping distance.

At worst he should have got done on the Con and Use regs in a magistrates, but frankly it should never have gone to court at all.

Section 35 OAP 1861 is indictable only.

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simplesimon99 [4 posts] 2 months ago
7 likes

Can the author update the piece to correct the victim's name: Kim Briggs not Blake?

I'm hoping that Alliston appeals so that the 'science' used in the trial is properly tested...maybe that was the defence's plan and why it wasn't challenged...

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beezus fufoon [945 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
simplesimon99 wrote:

Can the author update the piece to correct the victim's name: Kim Briggs not Blake?

I'm hoping that Alliston appeals so that the 'science' used in the trial is properly tested...maybe that was the defence's plan and why it wasn't challenged...

good spot - blake is dangerously close to brake!

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FluffyKittenofT... [1855 posts] 2 months ago
22 likes
darrenleroy wrote:

18mph on a very busy road with pedestrians all around is too fast. If you cannot stop on a sixpence you are cycling too fast. Whenever I'm in a built up area I slow down to a pace where I know I can stop immediately if an unexpected situation requires it. 

I don't really get this. Firstly, I'm almost always 'in a built up area', there's no other kind of area within 20 miles. Secondly if you slow down that much, how do you cope with cars doing a minimum of 40 mph around you? How do you cope with the horn-tooting aggression you will get for being too slow?

If 18mph is 'too fast', why on earth are motorised vehicles allowed to do 2 or 3 times that speed in such areas?

I feel very reluctant to defend Aliston, both because he comes across as a bit of a knob, and becuase I am always inclined to side with the pedestrian, who in this case paid a terrible price. One way or another he screwed up, even if the police's attitude seems kind of biased.

But I don't get all those insisting that 18mph is 'too fast', when its rare for drivers to go that _slow_ on most London roads. The police won't even enforce 20mph limits.

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kieren_lon [45 posts] 2 months ago
6 likes

Of course a manslaughter charge is justified - someone died as a result of an unplanned action by another person. The circumstances are unfortunate but that is why we have trial by your peers.

I would strongly advise to stop and help if you hit anyone. Time after a head injury is crucial. Someone can appear normal but have an internal bleed that might cause a totally avoidable death if medical help is not provided.

I'm not sure if this article is intended to be bad satire but it's in poor taste at the moment.

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alansmurphy [1066 posts] 2 months ago
9 likes

Kieren, stop like this driver:

http://road.cc/content/news/228438-manchester-hit-and-run-driver-charged...

It's clearly not satire, it's controversial but reasonable given the current climate.

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davel [1889 posts] 2 months ago
9 likes
kieren_lon wrote:

Of course a manslaughter charge is justified - someone died as a result of an unplanned action by another person.

1. He was found not guilty of that charge, so were the CPS right to charge him, and perhaps the jury wrong in their return?

2. Are you of the opinion that there should be several drivers charged with manslaughter, daily?

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hawkinspeter [1049 posts] 2 months ago
6 likes

I personally think that he was riding carelessly (whether or not that is wanton and furious is another question) as he didn't have sufficient brakes for going at 18mph.

However, I agree with the rest of the article though you should ensure that anyone injured has someone to help them before disappearing.

@davel - I'd vote for drivers being charged with manslaughter if it resulted in more convictions or harsher penalties than careless/dangerous driving.

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lambylamby [49 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes
davel wrote:

You're going to get a boatload of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells responses, and I think I've already said everything I want to say on this case BTL on various articles, so I'll just say 'hear, hear'.

 

im from Tunbridge Wells originally, and I must say I'm disgusted.

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AndyJS [4 posts] 2 months ago
4 likes

I think that when cycling, and travelling with a bike at any speed, we have to expect pedestrians, especially if they are children, to do unexpected things like jump out into the road. It is the law to have a front brake for this reason. He disobeyed the law, and being  slower "may" have changed the outcome. As a result, he has to accept at least some of the responsibility in my opinion. 

I also disagree with your suggestion that people should leave the scene immediately. Should we not try to help the injured person and make sure they are ok? I would do so and hope that others would do for me. 

 Until now I have respected this website greatly but this article encouraging others to act like this has certainly changed that. I honestly believe you should think again. 

 

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alansmurphy [1066 posts] 2 months ago
14 likes

His opinion is as valid as yours, there's nothing offensive here. Before the recent incident I would definitely have stopped but the police clearly made up evidence to fit an agenda against an out group...

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don simon [1449 posts] 2 months ago
3 likes
Quote:

I also disagree with your suggestion that people should leave the scene immediately. Should we not try to help the injured person and make sure they are ok? I would do so and hope that others would do for me.

The suggestion of leaving the scene came from a legal point of view and not a moral one. The majority of suggestions are purely legal and had Alliston done this it would have taken plod a little longer to have got hold of him, and I'm sure they would have got hold of him eventually.

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embattle [96 posts] 2 months ago
5 likes

As long as the smaller minority of idiot cyclists keeps growing in size and people keep trying to defend the indefensible (article above included) you'll only get a larger backlash against all cyclists especially since they think they are the exception to the assorted laws that do apply to them like most who break them whether in a car, lorry, bus, etc.

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kieren_lon [45 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
davel wrote:
kieren_lon wrote:

Of course a manslaughter charge is justified - someone died as a result of an unplanned action by another person.

1. He was found not guilty of that charge, so were the CPS right to charge him, and perhaps the jury wrong in their return?

I don't know. I'm staying the law as it it. CPS, Jury and guilty/not guilty are covered by my statement. The letter of he law and the intent don't always align. That's why you have the right to be tried by your peers.

2. Are you of the opinion that there should be several drivers charged with manslaughter, daily?

That has nothing to do with what I said. Our opinion counts for nothing here. As already noted, CPS, judge & jury.

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Argos74 [451 posts] 2 months ago
18 likes
kieren_lon wrote:

I'm not sure if this article is intended to be bad satire but it's in poor taste at the moment.

Perhaps, but from a cyclist's perspective, the entire road justice system is in an existential state of damned poor taste at the moment. Aliston - albeit a first class knob - gets nailed to the wall and gets a small law library thrown at him for circumstances that would earn the average driver little more than a friendly chat over a cup of tea with the local plod, and if he's really unlucky, a few points on his licence and a few weekends of community service. And this happens not just once, but hundreds of times a year.

From the legislative arm of government, to the courts, the CPS, local government, the press and the police force, it can seem very much like the whole system is almost universally lined up against us. So sod it, if the system won't play nice, if the system won't play fair, then neither should we.

I don't agree with this point of view, more because it wouldn't do my psychological health favours at all, but I can understand it. It's symptomatic of where we are right now. I'm fifteen minutes ride away from where Vicky Myres was killed on Sunday morning, five minutes walk from where Clare Haslam and Deborah Clifton where crushed against a wall and killed in a hospital car park in March, five minutes ride from where Harry Sievey was killed in Fallowfield in February. All by car drivers, in the past six months, within spitting distance from my front door. All charged, certainly, but they'll all be driving again in a few years time. To quote Richard K Morgan, "There are some arenas so corrupt that the only clean acts possible are nihilistic".

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ConcordeCX [475 posts] 2 months ago
7 likes
AndyJS wrote:

I think that when cycling, and travelling with a bike at any speed, we have to expect pedestrians, especially if they are children, to do unexpected things like jump out into the road. It is the law to have a front brake for this reason. He disobeyed the law, and being  slower "may" have changed the outcome. As a result, he has to accept at least some of the responsibility in my opinion. 

I also disagree with your suggestion that people should leave the scene immediately. Should we not try to help the injured person and make sure they are ok? I would do so and hope that others would do for me. 

 Until now I have respected this website greatly but this article encouraging others to act like this has certainly changed that. I honestly believe you should think again. 

 

whenever somebody writes 'a modest proposal' you are expected to think of Swift's original, which is satirical in the extreme.

http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item126684.html

In this particular example I don't really think the author has pulled it off. Should have gone much further.

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John Stevenson [304 posts] 2 months ago
4 likes

simplesimon99 wrote:

Can the author update the piece to correct the victim's name: Kim Briggs not Blake?

Oh $Massive_swearing that's really embarrassing — I thought I'd already fixed that late-night brain-o. Thanks for spotting

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davel [1889 posts] 2 months ago
3 likes
kieren_lon wrote:
davel wrote:
kieren_lon wrote:

Of course a manslaughter charge is justified - someone died as a result of an unplanned action by another person.

1. He was found not guilty of that charge, so were the CPS right to charge him, and perhaps the jury wrong in their return?

I don't know. I'm staying the law as it it. CPS, Jury and guilty/not guilty are covered by my statement. The letter of he law and the intent don't always align. That's why you have the right to be tried by your peers.

2. Are you of the opinion that there should be several drivers charged with manslaughter, daily?

That has nothing to do with what I said. Our opinion counts for nothing here. As already noted, CPS, judge & jury.

You seem to have an unreasonable amount of faith in the system.

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fenix [812 posts] 2 months ago
5 likes
kieren_lon wrote:

Of course a manslaughter charge is justified - someone died as a result of an unplanned action by another person. The circumstances are unfortunate but that is why we have trial by your peers.

I would strongly advise to stop and help if you hit anyone. Time after a head injury is crucial. Someone can appear normal but have an internal bleed that might cause a totally avoidable death if medical help is not provided.

I'm not sure if this article is intended to be bad satire but it's in poor taste at the moment.

Didn't the woman step out into the road without looking ? If he was in a car he'd have got away Scot free.

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Bentrider [36 posts] 2 months ago
14 likes

Alliston was a pillock for riding an unroadworthy bike and for not even knowing the rules about brakes.

He should be treated as harshly as the man who, driving at speed on an icy road with three defective tyres, lost control of his vehicle and collided with a group of cyclists, killing 4 of them.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1525561/Driver-fined-180-for-defective-t...

 

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nbrus [550 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes
Bentrider wrote:

Alliston was a pillock for riding an unroadworthy bike and for not even knowing the rules about brakes.

He should be treated as harshly as the man who, driving at speed on an icy road with three defective tyres, lost control of his vehicle and collided with a group of cyclists, killing 4 of them.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1525561/Driver-fined-180-for-defective-t...

Tragic outcome, but fair sentencing...

Quote:

Robert Harris, 47, was fined for having three defective tyres when he lost control on "black ice" and ploughed into 12 members of Rhyl Cycling Club, killing four and injuring the other eight.

Llandudno magistrates were told that the defective tyres did not contribute to the collision, which was believed to have been caused by the weather.

...police investigation found that Mr Harris's defective tyres - the front pair and rear nearside - were not the cause of the crash.

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kieren_lon [45 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
fenix wrote:

Didn't the woman step out into the road without looking ? If he was in a car he'd have got away Scot free.

That's what the papers say. It's a public dock, I wasn't there. He wasn't in a car so that's irrelevant.

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kieren_lon [45 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
davel wrote:

You seem to have an unreasonable amount of faith in the system.

Yes & no. It's one of the best in the world with the privy council is still the highest court of appeal for many countries. However, it's not perfect and that is recognised with the right to appeal a verdict.

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