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Prosecution against racecourse owners had been brought under Health & Safety legislation

A jury in a health and safety case relating to the death of York teenager Ruby Milnes five years ago has failed to reach a verdict. Ruby’s family have said they are “hugely disappointed” at the outcome of the case.

Ruby, aged 17, was killed as she rode her bike home from college in May 2008 along the Sustrans-maintained York-Selby cycle path.

Her route took her across York Racecourse and it was there that she was struck by a lorry delivering portable toilets for a forthcoming race meeting. The vehicle was being driven on a private access road that cut across the off-road cycle route.

In May 2011, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to press charges of corporate manslaughter against the racecourse’s operators, York Racecourse Knavesmire LLP, since it believed there was no realistic prospect of securing a conviction.

However, the CPS passed its files to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which last year brought a prosecution against the business for alleged breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

While those statutes are chiefly aimed at ensuring the safety of employees while engaged in their employment, they can also extend to persons not employed by a business who may be affected by its conduct – in this case, Ruby, as she rode her bike along the path running across the racecourse.

The charges were that York Racecourse had failed to ensure the safety of people not in its employment, and that it had failed to carry out a risk assessment in connection with vehicles using the road. The company denied the charges.

Following an 11-day trial that began last month at York Crown Court, however, the jury told the judge yesterday that there was no prospect of a verdict being reached, reports the Yorkshire Post.

In a statement released afterwards, Ruby’s parents David and Allison Milnes said that they were “hugely disappointed the jury couldn’t reach a verdict.”

“The case took an extraordinarily long time to reach court, which was very difficult for our family.

“Ruby’s younger brothers and sisters have grown up in the shadow of this tragedy and with this case always looming. We’d looked forward to finally being able to put it behind us.

“When the tragedy happened we couldn’t understand why our daughter was killed on a traffic-free, off-road cycle path,” they added, saying that they believed Ruby was the first rider to have been killed on such a facility.

“We hope, despite the inconclusive result, the publicity this case has engendered to date will prompt all organisations to consider the safety of cyclists passing through their areas of control,” they continued.

“Hopefully, it’ll be Ruby’s legacy to be the last cyclist killed in this way.”

Prosecutors had told the court that the driver of the lorry, Stephen Todd, did not know that there was a junction ahead since “there was nothing to clearly indicate the presence of a cycle path” and maintained that the cyclist would not have been able to see the lorry.

York Racecourse declined to comment on the outcome of the case, but a spokeswoman for York Racecourse said: “We are disappointed the jury was unable to reach a verdict."

One possibility is that the HSE will seek a retrial, and the spokeswoman added: “We will look at where we are and will be talking to our legal people over the coming weeks to see where we go from here.”

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.

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A V Lowe [603 posts] 3 years ago
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I wonder what the position might have been had this been an incident involving an employee of the racecourse or their contractors instead of a Section 3 incident, involving a non employee?

Perhaps we can reflect on how we see the potential for incidents like this widely as we walk or cycle about, both off the road - on cycle routes and in spaces open to the public and on the public road, where despite a comprehensive manual on setting up work sites on the carriageway AND the footway contractors and Council workers (usually worse than the contractors) block the passage of traffic and leave dangers of holes, machinery and scaffolding to crash into.

When working as a site agent for Sustrans with 3 major projects to install cables, or reopen railway lines I had a continual battle to get those digging and drilling to put proper barriers around holes, sufficient warning signs on the path, and escort vehicles to and from sites along the cycle route.

I am often aghast to see large trucks travelling even slowly through crowded shopping streets or reversing in or out of store loading bays without a vanguard on foot to stop any dangerous interaction with any other road users. How often do we see this daily in a busy city?

Contrast how we behave with road vehicles to how work is planned with the safety culture ingrained in the rail and air industries. Record and report when you see failed arrangements, you might prevent a life changing event for the next person to encounter the substandard conditions.