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High Court battle to force police force to take responsibility for permananent brain damage sustained by Guardian journalist

A cyclist who was left with permanent disabilities from severe head injuries he sustained when hit by a police car answering a 999 call in London is suing the Metropolitan Police for more than £1m.

The former Guardian journalist, Donald MacLeod, spent six weeks in a coma after being hit in Islington by a police car on its way to investigate a shooting in May 2010. He is still unable to communicate with those around him.

Now his wife Barbara is flighting a High Court legal battle to make the Met take responsibility for his injuries.

The police force argues that Mr MacLeod himself cycled into the path of the police car.

His barrister, Angus Withington told the High Court that Mr MacLeod had been working at The Guardian’s offices in Farringdon Road and went for a drink at a wine bar before setting off to cycle back to his then-home in Scholars Place, Stoke Newington, North London.

The police car, responding to reports of a shooting on the Wilton Estate in Hackney, was also travelling along Southgate Road with its lights flashing and sirens blaring, he said.

“It is Mr MacLeod’s case that he was proceeding in a northerly direction on Southgate Road, in advance of the police car, and he was struck from the rear and the right,” he said, according to Chronicle Live.

“It is said on his behalf that the driver of the police car simply failed to identify his presence in the road and that that was the cause of the collision.”

David Waters, representing the Met, argued that the collision had happened differently, saying that Mr MacLeod cycled out of Northgate Road or straight from the pavement into the police car’s path at the junction with Southgate Road.

Barbara MacLeod told the court: “He was absolutely safety-conscious and I clearly remember him one night taking the bus because he had forgotten his lights.”

Mr MacLeod’s sister Janet told the paper his survival had been miraculous.

She said: “They thought he would be completely brain damaged but he’s re-learning how to do things despite the fact he’s still incredibly disabled.

“His understanding of things has improved and, although he can’t communicate with us, he understands conversation and he laughs at us. He’s made amazing strides over just a few years.

“I think that’s largely because of the amazing love and care of my sister-in-law and the support of his family and friends.”

The case is expected to conclude in the coming week.

In the year of Mr MacLeod’s collision, we reported how an average of 12 road traffic collisioner per day took place involving vehicles belonging to the Metropolitan Police.

Metropolitan Police drivers responded to 2 million 999 calls in 2009/10 and covered 73 million miles in their vehicles during the year.

Scaled up, that would equate to a fatality rate of 137 per 1 billion miles driven, compared to a national killed & seriously injured rate, according to Department for Transport Statistics, of 85 in 2009.

In all, there were 3,015 people injured as a result of accidents involving a police car during the three-year period covered by the figures, which were released in response to a Freedom of Information request. Of those, 247 were pedestrians and 135 cyclists.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.