A senior Metropolitan Police traffic officer has confirmed that corporate manslaughter charges against Transport for London (TfL), the body responsible for managing and maintaining the capital’s road network, are among options being studied in connection with the death last October of Deep Lee at King’s Cross in London, reports The Times.
The 24-year-old student was killed after being hit by a lorry at the junction of Pentonville Road and York Way. Shortly afterwards, the Kings Cross Environment blog revealed that a report into pedestrian safety on the King’s Cross gyratory system, commissioned by TfL in 2008, had made a number of recommendations regarding road layout, none of which had been acted upon.
That report, written by independent consultants, also warned that casualties were “inevitable” at the locations surveyed, as well as highlighting the location where Ms Lee lost her life as an “absolute priority.”
In October, Will Perrin from the Kings Cross Environment blog called for corporate manslaughter charges to be brought against TfL, and later that month met with senior police officers from the Met’s Road Death Investigation Unit and local politicians, with the meeting focusing on that specific issue.
Quoted in The Times today, Detective Chief Inspector John Oldham, who is in charge of the Road Death Investigation Unit, revealed: “There is a portfolio of offences that might have occurred. Obviously corporate manslaughter is one of them.”
However, he said that there were problems associated with bringing a successful prosecution under the relevant legislation, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which he described as “a badly drafted Act; there are loopholes everywhere.”
There is no news of whether action is to be taken against the driver of the vehicle involved in the incident, but talking about fatalities of cyclists in general, DCI Oldham said: “We can’t see this as small potatoes. London has to make a decision. Does it want cyclists on the roads? How is it going to make it safe? We need a fully informed debate.”
Last year, Cotswold Geotechnical became the first organisation to be successfully prosecuted under the legislation and was fined £385,000. It lost an appeal and subsequently went into liquidation.
Even the prospect that the police are considering corporate manslaughter charges – the final decision to proceed rests with the Crown Prosecution Service – will provide a major embarrassment for TfL and its chair, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who despite his promised ‘Cycling Revloution’ has been heavily criticised by opposition politicians and cycle campaigners for his policy of prioritising motor vehicle traffic flow.
The Times, which last month launched its Cities Fit For Cycling campaign, said that its own investigations had revealed that the section of road where Ms Lee died did not appear to conform to TfL’s own published Cycling Design Standards, which say that lane widths of 4m to 4.5m “should be avoided except on narrow quiet roads;” the two lanes in question at the busy King’s Cross junction have a combined width of 6.2m, added the newspaper.
Last month, London Assembly Members quizzed Mr Johnson on whether the junction met TfL’s own safety standards. In reply, pointing out that the layout had bee put in place prior to the publication of that document, he said it was “best practice document intended to ensure that consistently high standards are applied to new schemes in order to reduce barriers to cycling.”
Since Ms Lee’s death, TfL has carried out a strategic review of the junction and plans for works there to be completed ahead of this Summer’s Olympic Games. Why it failed to implement the recommendations of the 2008 report remains, for now, a mystery.
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.