The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that no charges are to be brought in connection with the death of a teenage cyclist three years ago when she was struck by a lorry crossing a cycle path built and maintained by Sustrans.
Ruby Milnes, aged 17, had been riding from York College to her home in Bishophill on 8 May 2008 when she was hit by a lorry being driven along an access road to nearby York Racecourse.
Following the fatal accident, a variety of safety measures were put in place close to the junction concerned including cutting hedges to provide improved visibility, the installation of 5mph speed limit signs on the road and warning signs both there and on the cycle path, and changes were made to a barrier across the road – all of which came too late to save Ruby.
CPS reviewing lawyer Rosemary Ainslie from the CPS’s Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division has decided that no charges should be brought because there was no realistic prospect of a conviction, reports the York Press.
The newspaper adds that the lawyer has notified the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of the decision so it can consider whether to bring its own action under health and safety legislation. It is reported that the HSE is currently considering what action, if any, to take.
Ms Ainslie said that the location where the fatal accident took place was the responsibility of City of York Council and York Racecourse, who were investigated in respect of potential charges of corporate manslaughter, while the role of Sustrans, as the builder of the cycle path, had also been examined.
While finding that the council, as owner of the path, possessed a duty of care, application of a test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors showed that there was insufficient evidence to show that it was in breach of that duty, required for a prosecution to be brought.
The investigation found that the path was in a good state of maintenance, had been constructed following the appropriate standards and that it had no defect that might have been a factor in the accident.
Ms Ainslie said that there was no evidence that Sustrans, through designing the path, not its rangers who maintained it, had any part in the collision or that they had breached their duty of care.
She did say that sufficient evidence existed to give rise to a realistic prospect of demonstrating that York Racecourse had been in breach of its duty, “because it should have foreseen that allowing the gate to the access road to be left open would have put cyclists at risk who were using the intersecting cycle path.”
She added that cyclists were used to the gate being closed meaning that the path would be clear of traffic, and there was therefore enough evidence to show that the resulting beach of duty was a “substantial cause in Ruby’s death.”
For a successful prosecution to be brought in such circumstances, however, it needed to be shown that the manner in which the racecourse’s activities had been managed or organised by its senior management represented a substantial element in its breach of the duty of care.
The junction between the cycle path and the road had been in place for 19 years and there had been no recorded instances of accidents at the site in the past. It had not been identified as a hazard needing attention following health and safety advice taken by the racecourse’s management.
That, Ms Ainslie said, meant “There was not, therefore, a realistic prospect of showing that the actions of the racecourse’s senior management contributed substantially to any potential breach.”
She confirmed that the CPS had outlined the reasons behind the decision to the teenager’s parents, and that it had a duty to be accountable to the public for the action it took and to provide an explanation where necessary regarding the decisions it took.
Ruby’s parents Al and Dave Milnes said that they were disappointed that no prosecution would be brought in connection with their daughter’s death.
“The files have now been passed to the Health and Safety Executive who may prosecute under the Health and Safety at Work Act. We are also waiting to hear when the inquest will take place,” they commented.
“We would like to thank the CPS and the police for their painstaking investigation which has taken three long years. We are disappointed that it does not appear to be a crime to kill a child on a cycle path.
“Ruby was cycling home from college on a traffic-free, supposedly safe route to school across York Racecourse. She would not have expected a lorry to cross the cycle path and there were no warnings.
“We look forward to hearing the views of the Health and Safety Executive,” they added.
Sustrans maintained that the CPS decision reflected the fact that it was free from blame in the teenager’s death, with National Cycle Network director Huw Davies adding that the charity was “surprised and disappointed” by the position taken by the racecourse, but it would be inappropriate to comment further due to the “clear conclusions” the CPS had arrived at.
Bill Woolley, director of City Strategy, City of York Council, told the newspaper: “The council fully co-operated with the police investigation and will co-operate fully with any further investigations.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.