The driver of the lorry that hit Times journalist Mary Bowers as she rode to work in November last year, leaving her in a coma with serious injuries, has this afternoon been acquitted by a jury of dangerous driving and found guilty of the less serious charge of careless driving. Petre Beiu, aged 39, has been fined £2,700 and banned from driving for eight months.
After the jury's verdict had been announced and ahead of sentencing, the judge presiding over the case said that she was unable to impose anything more than a fine on Beiu. It has been reported that he has not driven a vehicle since the incident more than a year ago.
The jury's verdict has been treated with dismay and anger on Twitter by cycle campaigners and colleagues and friends of Ms Bowers. Danny Williams of the Cyclists in the City blog tweeted: "Drive an HGV on yr mobile phone, run over a cyclist, put them in hospital over a year & only get banned 8 months. Farce."
Times journalist Kaya Burgess, not only a colleague but also a close friend and closely involved in the Cities fit for Cycling campaign the newspaper subsequently launched, said on Twitter: "If Mary Bowers had died, and it had been 'death by careless driving', it could have been 7 years in prison. But the sterling work of doctors to narrowly save Mary's life means the driver gets a fine and a ban instead. Utterly senseless."
In the trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court this week, the jury was told that Beiu had admitted being on his handsfree mobile phone at the time of the incident, which happened as Ms Bowers neared the end of her commute to work at the newspaper's headquarters in Wapping, east London, on the morning of 4 November 2011.
Driving while using a handsfree mobile is not in itself illegal, unlike using a handheld phone, but if it results in driver distraction it can be used to support a charge of dangerous or careless driving and the prosecution had maintained that Beiu was “too engrossed in a telephone conversation” to be aware of the cyclist.
The prosecution also said that he had failed to check whether the road ahead of his lorry, where Ms Bowers had positioned herself at traffic lights, was clear, and witnesses described how the truck continued to move after Beiu jumped from the cab having failed to engage the handbrake.
Ms Bowers, aged 28, suffered horrific injuries including a punctured lung as well as a broken pelvis, arm and both legs as well as a severed artery and brain damage. Writing on the anniversary of the incident last month, Burgess said: "Mary remains in hospital in a rehabilitation unit. Doctors have described her condition as 'minimally conscious,' and she has only a fleeting awareness and little ability to communicate."
The incident inspired the newspaper to launch its Cities fit for Cycling campaign in February, with editor James Harding ensuring that the issue remained high on its agenda throughout the year. Harding resigned earlier this week, and cycle campaigners will urge whoever succeeds him - John Witherow, currently editor of sister newspaper The Sunday Times is favourite - to continue the campaign's momentum.
Martin Gibbs, British Cycling Policy and Legal Affairs Director, commented: “Once again the justice system has failed us. The HGV driver was on a phone call, said he didn’t look properly and the evidence is clear that Mary was visible for a long time.
“It seems to me that there was no other sensible conclusion than that his driving was dangerous, not careless. These failures send completely the wrong message about how we expect people to behave on our roads.”
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.