Simon Burns, appointed Minister of State for Transport in the wake of this week’s Cabinet reshuffle, was convicted in 2009 of careless driving following an incident that left a cyclist with his neck broken in two places, it has emerged.
The Conservative MP for Chelmsford West, who was serving as Opposition Whip at the time, initially intended to plead not guilty to the charge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in February 2009, according to a report at the time in the Daily Mail.
On the eve of the hearing, however, which Burns did not attend, his lawyer entered a guilty plea on his client’s behalf, and the politician was fined £400, ordered to pay £200 in costs and had his driving licence endorsed with four penalty points.
Immediately following the incident in April 2008, he had told police that the road was clear – a claim that was disproved through CCTV evidence.
Burns subsequently claimed that a lamp post and tourists had obscured his vision, meaning he did not see the victim, Army Major Stuart Lane who was riding home from the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, as he drove his Range Rover out of the House of Commons car park into Parliament Square.
Prosecutor Kristel Pous told the court: “A collision was inevitable. Major Lane went over his handlebars, hit his head on the top of the front wing of the car and broke his neck in two places."
She added that the injuries sustained by Major Lane and the fact he needed to wear a neck brace following the incident “may affect his operational duties in the future.”
The court was also told that CCTV footage demonstrated that Burns’ assertion that the road was clear was “clearly mistaken,” with the cyclist shown heading towards him.
Speaking on behalf of Burns, Melanie Cumberland, said that he was “extremely sorry” and that the collision had been caused by a “momentary lapse of concentration.”
She added that a lamp post that he claimed obstructed his view had subsequently been removed on safety grounds and that the road had been “strewn with tourists.”
District Judge Timothy Workman agreed that the manoeuvre Burns was attempting was a difficult one, but added that it therefore needed “extra vigilance.”
Meanwhile, new Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin – the third holder of that post in less than a year – got off to a bad start in his new job when he turned up 17 minutes late due to his car being held up in traffic, according to a tweet from Adam Boulton of Sky News.
Hopefully his departmental colleague Norman Baker, whose responsibilities as Minister for Transport include cycling, will be passing on tips about how switching to two wheels can help beat the London traffic.
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.