Inquest into death of drowned Bristol cyclist hears council didn't act on safety warnings

Concerns first raised a decade before Sean Phillips' death; 2011 report said "a matter of time before an incident occurs"

by Simon_MacMichael   March 15, 2014  

Bristol Harbour from M Shed (CC 2.0 BY SA licensed on Flicke by shrinkin'violet)

A coroner’s inquest has been told that Bristol City Council identified a location in the city’s harbour as being dangerous for cyclists nearly a decade before a man lost control of his bike and drowned there – and that a more recent report had warned that “it is a matter of time before an incident occurs."

Avon Coroner’s Court also heard that 40-year-old Sean Phillips may have been thrown into the harbour after the wheels of his mountain bike got stuck in rails close to the M Shed museum on Prince's Wharf in March last year, reports BBC News.

Although two passers-by jumped into the water to try and rescue the father-of-two, who was in training for a 200-mile charity ride from Kent to Amsterdam, they were unable save his life.

Safety concerns due to railway and crane tracks were first expressed in a risk assessment carried out by the council in May 2003, which highlighted that incidents involving cyclists, some of them “quite serious,” were happening in the area.

The next risk assessment was carried out in May 2011 with a further one following in November of that year, and the report making a recommendation for safety barriers to be installed.

A separate, independent report was released in April 2012 and again said that safety barriers should be erected, but the council rejected the recommendation.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Avon Coroner Maria Voisin said: “It appears Mr Phillips was unconscious from the time he came off his bike. Despite the heroic efforts of members of the public in their attempts to resuscitate him, he sadly died."

She said that following his death, steps had been taken to make the harbourside safer for cyclists.

Following the inquest, Mr Phillips partner, Hayley Liddle, said: "Although nothing can bring Sean back we want to ensure that his death was not in vain and others do not suffer in future."

9 user comments

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I know a few other people who've come a cropper on these rails, although thankfully none of them have ended up in the harbour. The official cycle route goes behind M-Shed and has the rails filled in. Unfortunately the route along the waterfront is way more obvious, and it's also fed into by the traffic-free side of Prince Street Bridge.

In an ideal world, we'd have obvious, unmistakeable infrastructure that takes cyclists where they want to go without having to embark on a treasure hunt for tiny blue road signs. Of course, this can't be done in the UK, there's no money, we have headwinds, etc etc.

posted by Mr Agreeable [145 posts]
15th March 2014 - 22:53


Unfortunately the new route at the back of the Mshed wasn't though out well enough. In theory when you come off the dedicated cycle lane on the bridge you should then cross the two lanes of traffic to get onto the left hand side of the road to cycle about 40 metres before having to turn right across the traffic again to enter the new cycle lane. The alternative of course is to ride on the pavement, which is illegal and being a good citizen I never do this. The council could make the pavement a shared space.

Mixte Rider

posted by adriank999 [72 posts]
16th March 2014 - 8:50


Firstly my sympathies go to those left behind, but why is it that councils, firms etc etc won't actually do something until there's a tragedy?


posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [603 posts]
16th March 2014 - 9:12


Agreed with Adrian - the route to the back of MShed is a mess.

Some thought is needed to sort out how pedestrian and cycle traffic comes off Princes St Bridge heading South generally. The whole performance of cutting back into the traffic there is unsafe and there are a lot of riders simply travelling the wrong way up the road as a result.

Personally, I tend to go in front of MShed. If you travel dead slow and cross the tracks at an oblique angle they're fine.

posted by BigDummy [298 posts]
17th March 2014 - 10:11


Are these rails still in use?

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1370 posts]
17th March 2014 - 11:11


Kinda. Some of them are railway tracks used by a historic steam locomotive that makes intermittent trips to nowhere much along the harbourside. The rest are for the old dock cranes that are still outside the MShed. Getting rid of them probably isn't on the cards.

posted by BigDummy [298 posts]
17th March 2014 - 13:11


I have a similar issue with the head height spiked top railing alongside a cycleway in Plymouth. It's prompted me to contact the local council and have then capped off.
Lets see what happens.

We're all entitled to a reasonable opinion!

posted by Guyz2010 [290 posts]
17th March 2014 - 13:31


So avoidable. And the pic looks like Bordeaux's great waterfront cycle facility, where no doubt the tracks were moved ages ago. Hopefully they run this past a lawyer, help to re-jig the council's priorities..

posted by vbvb [288 posts]
17th March 2014 - 16:37


If there have been 'serious incidents' involving cyclists and rails in the harbour side, then the site owner (the Council?) should have made a RIDDOR report within 10 days (H&S legal requirement).

Presumably we have a trail of RIDDOR reports, which can be audited, against civil claims for injury, and A&E records to provide a level of confidence.

On the active main rail lines there is a trigger action where repeated incidents, and injury reports are ranked as the potential for a more serious event eg.10 serious injuries doing a particular task indicates the potential for a fatality but for the fate of individual circumstances at those times.

So when there are numerous incidents it makes a lot of sense to get them recorded, and analysed. Prevention is always the better action.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [499 posts]
29th March 2014 - 14:19