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Men embrace after hearing; coroner records verdict of death by road traffic collision

The boyfriend of cyclist Min Joo Lee, known as Deep Lee, and the driver of the lorry involved in the collision that claimed her life at King’s Cross two years ago, have both said that the layout of the junction where she died was a factor in her death and have criticised Transport for London (TfL) for not doing enough to protect cyclists.

The pair met at the inquest into her death held on Tuesday at Poplar Coroner’s Court, where Coroner Mary Hassell recorded a verdict of death by road traffic collision, and the two men embraced afterwards, reports the Camden New Journal.

Ms Lee, aged 24, died as a result of serious head injuries sustained when she was struck by a lorry driven by Terence Gibbs at the junction of Pentonville Way and Gray’s Inn Road on 3 December 2011.

Mr Gibbs, who had been driving lorries for several decades, told the inquest that the road layout was “outdated.”

He said: “It hurts believe me. I can remember what happened like yesterday. I am so sorry this has happened. I wish only for a miracle to bring the life of that lady back.

“I’ve done that route hundreds of times and I still do it now. You’ve got to make [the Gray’s Inn Road slip road] into one lane. There’s no cycle lanes – there’s nothing down there for cyclists. It’s winding me up.”

During the inquest, Ms Lee’s boyfriend, Kenji Hirasawa, warned that similar tragedies would occur unless the safety of cyclists was made a priority.

He said: “Transport for London is encouraging people to cycle more – but the roads are not safe enough. The environment is not safe enough. The same accidents are going to happen. I don’t think TfL are doing enough to make things better.”

Addressing Mr Gibbs, he added: “I hope you can have a nice life later.”

A detailed account of proceedings at the inquest was tweeted by William Perrin of the King’s Cross Environment blog, which has campaigned for the junction to be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists and unsuccessfully lobbied for corporate manslaughter charges to be brought against TfL in connection with Ms Lee’s death.

While there was an advanced stop line at the junction, a police reconstruction established she Ms Lee could not move into it, in part because there was no feeder lane, and partly because a bus and a minicab occupied the space reserved for cyclists while the lights were red.

The inquest was told she was hemmed in by traffic, and as she moved off once the lights changed, she was hit from behind by the tipper truck that Mr Gibbs was driving, although one witness believed she had been positioned alongside the vehicle, towards its rear.

Mr Gibbs, who was not charged with any offence in connection with Ms Lee’s death, explained that he was always vigilant for cyclists, checked his mirrors regularly, and moved off slowly from the lights.

He described his horror at seeing a bicycle in his rear view camera after feeling a bump he thought at first might be a manhole cover, and said he collapsed when he realised the cyclist was dead.

The coroner asked him whether, in hindsight, he would have done anything differently. He replied that there was nothing he could have done, repeating that he moved off slowly while checking his mirrors.

He also told the court that the narrowness of the lanes at the Gray’s Inn Road end of the junction meant he had to “straddle” them – something police said he was entitled to do, although they believe that had he not done so, there would have been no collision.

A Metropolitan Police road traffic collision investigator said that the driver would have been unable to see Ms Lee since due to her proximity to the front of the vehicle as a result of a two-metre blind spot.

TfL’s head of capital development, Nigel Hardy, said that it aimed to introduce cycle lanes on the Pentonville Road and Caledonian Road sides of the junction, with work due to start in 2014. There are no plans, however, for a cycle lane at the place the fatality happened.

The coroner, who recently heard the inquests into the deaths of Brian Dorling and Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, said that Mr Gibbs could not have reasonably been expected to see Ms Lee, adding that segregated cycle lanes were needed to protect cyclists.

“It is in some ways unsurprising that the collision took place because this was such a busy junction,” she said. “Ultimately, cyclists and trucks don’t mix. The best possible way of having to avoid collision is to separate them.”

Ms Lee, originally from South Korea, was cycling to begin the first day of her final year of a menswear design course at Central St Martin’s – and the first time she commuted to its new King’s Cross campus.

Andrea Casalotti, founder of London bike shop Velorution said in his reflections on the inquest that “the University should have alerted all students about the treacherous road conditions and advised on safe routes to the campus” – an issue, he pointed out, that was not raised on Tuesday.

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.