A King’s Cross-based blogger is urging the Crown Prosecution Service to bring corporate manslaughter charges against Transport for London (TfL) in connection with the death earlier this month of cyclist Min Joo Lee. Ms Lee died on Monday 3 October after being crushed beneath a lorry at the junction of York Way and Pentonville Road. Meanwhile, TfL and Mayor of London Boris Johnson have issued conflicting statements about proposed works at the junction.
William Perrin, editor of the Kings Cross Environment blog, says that TfL was specifically made aware of a number of dangers at the junction concerned, which cycling campaigners consider to be among the most dangerous in the capital.
Mr Perrin had been one of a number of local residents taken on a tour of the area in February 2008 by researchers from consultancy TRL Limited (formerly the Transport Research Laboratory) and the charity, Living Streets, commissioned by TfL to draw up a report examining the pedestrian environment in the area.
Subsequently, he learnt that TfL did not plan to make the report, published in March 2008, public. After making a Freedom of Information Act request in October of that year, however, he was able to obtain a copy of the report.
On the Kings Cross Environment blog, Mr Perrin notes a number of comments from the report specifically relating to the junction in question, including:
- “road markings are faded and the crossing space is no longer clear”
- “it is notable just how aggressive vehicles are at this point
- “auditors felt that casualties were inevitable...auditors felt that vehicle speeds should be reduced.. the carriageway surface was uneven”
- “the key crossing location at the southern end of York Way should be redesigned”
- The report also calls for “proper traffic calming measures” and “enforcing/revising speed limits.”
Mr Perrin believes that TfL has a case to answer for corporate manslaughter and said he planned to write to the Head of the Crown Prosecution Service, whose authorisation is required, and will also write to the coroner who will be presiding over the inquest into the cyclist’s death to ensure that they are aware of the 2008 report.
Convictions for corporate manslaughter are, however, very rare. The first successful prosecution brought under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 took place in February this year, following the death of a 27-year-old soil engineer who died when a trench he was working in alone collapsed.
Under previous legislation, prosecutions often failed because of the need to establish a single individual in the corporation as a “controlling mind” who was also personally guilty of manslaughter.
That is no longer a requirement, with the law now stating that the offence is committed if the way the organisation’s activities are managed or organised cause a person’s death and there has been a gross breach in the relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased, and the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.
While in a case concerning a worker and their employer, the duty of care and any breach of it might be relatively straightforward to establish, the situation with TfL and Ms Lee is much less straightforward, not least because of the involvement of an outside agency - the lorry – in the incident.
TfL certainly needs to be held accountable for the issues at Kings Cross, and its actions, or lack of them, in making the area safer for all users plus the fact they had a report telling them the junction was unsafe and did nothing could be used as supporting evidence that they had breached their duty of care to users of that junction.
One potential hurdle in this specific case, however, is that it might be tricky to use the 2008 report to support a corporate manslaughter charge because it is concerned with the safety of pedestrians, not cyclists; at no point is the safety of those riding bicycles specifically addressed. In fact, one of the report’s recommendations could be viewed as increasing the risk.
When cycling is mentioned in the report, it is typically in a negative context. Issues highlighted include parked bicycles obstructing the footpath, the absence of ASLs causing cyclists to encroach on pedestrian crossings while waiting for the lights to change, and cyclists riding on the pavement.
Specifically in connection with the junction of York Way and Pentonville Road, the CSA Audit conducted for the report actually recommends removing a cycle lane and widening the pavement instead – in other words, potentially reducing the space available to cyclists.
“A quirk in the kerb line at York Way means that approximately 1 metre+ of nearside carriageway is very underutilised by cyclists. Auditors noted that many cyclists appear to cycle in the main carriageway, partly due to positioning and to the quality of the surface of the cycle lane.”
Instead of recommending that the surface of the cycle lane be improved, however, the CSA audit continued: “There would therefore appear to be an opportunity to increase pavement width, which is much needed along the length of this link. It is important to assess the apparent under utilisation of the cycle lane and consider widening the pavement. If the cycle lane is necessary reallocate road space to pavement,” it added.
Meanwhile, there appears to be confusion between Mayor of London Boris Johnson and TfL about what is happening at the junction.
Tom Edwards, transport correspondent for BBC London, reported that he received a statement from TfL last night which read: "We are working to design a scheme which will benefit all road users including cyclists and pedestrians.
"Earlier this year, key stakeholders and the local community were consulted about these plans aiming to increase pedestrian capacity and implement safety improvements in time for the London 2012 Games.
"Detailed design work is now being finalised and work will begin later this year to be completed in spring 2012. This junction is just one of a number across London where TfL is investing millions to improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists."
However, in a response to a question from the leader of the Liberal Democrat party in the Greater London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, Mr Johnson claimed: "There have been few speed related collisions along Pentonville Road, Penton Rise and King's Cross Road and therefore TfL currently has no additional proposals at this location.
“However, a scheme to provide southbound cycle facilities has recently been implemented on Penton Rise which has narrowed the carriageway and is expected to reduce speeds on this section of the gyratory. TfL will monitor the impact of this scheme,” he added.
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.