A motorist who was charged with dangerous driving following an incident in which a cyclist almost lost his life has escaped prosecution due to an error by a lawyer. The victim says he feels “let down” by the legal system, while a cycle campaigner says that a judge’s decision not to reinstate proceedings because it would be unfair on the driver is “a farce.”
Mark Schofield, aged 55, was seriously injured in August 2012 while cycling with his son Rhys, 24, at Aston Cross near Tewkesbury when he was dragged under a twin-axle caravan towed by a Range Rover being driven by 62-year-old Phillip Davies from Evesham, reports the Gloucestershire Echo.
Mr Schofield, from Cheltenham, sustained injuries including two punctured lungs and needed treatment at the scene to save his life before being taken to hospital, where he spent two weeks in intensive care.
The motorist was charged with dangerous driving, but when his trial began at Gloucester Crown Court, prosecuting counsel Mark Worsley informed Judge William Hart that he had decided not to pursue the dangerous driving charge.
Instead, he asked that the case be sent to Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court on the less serious charge of careless driving, and while the judge agreed to his request, he added that he was doubtful he had the legal grounds to do so.
But once the case reached the lower court, Distrct Judge Joti Boparai determined there had been a legal error and there had been no authority for the case to be sent to her for trial, meaning it could not be heard in either court since proceedings had been stayed at the Crown Court on the dangerous driving charge.
The Crown Prosecution Service returned to Gloucester Crown Court with a different barrister and asked Judge Hart to remove the stay and reinstate the dangerous driving charge for trial by jury, but he rejected their application, saying it would not be fair on Mr Davies given the time that had elapsed since the incident.
Describing the case as a “misconducted prosecution,” he said: “The Crown simply cannot blow hot and cold as to the appropriate charge and they cannot be seen to be using resurrected proceedings as a device to obtain what, through error, they were unable to obtain.
“Looking at overall fairness and the way in which the process has been applied – or mis-applied by the Crown – I do not intend to lift the stay.”
In a joint statement, Mr Schofield and his wife said: “Over the past two years we have felt continually let down by the judicial system and today is no different.”
Separate civil proceedings are ongoing, and Mr Davies said: “I don’t want to comment except to say that everything the judge said was fair enough and there is still a civil case, which will be contested.”
Last year, national cyclists’ organisation CTC launched its Road Justice campaign, which is calling for more thorough investigation, prosecution and sentencing in cases where a cyclist is the victim of a road traffic incident.
Rhia Weston, CTC's Road Justice campaign coordinator, told road.cc: “I’m not surprised that Mark feels let down by the justice system as there has been nothing just about the way this case was handled.
“For the judge to say the decision not to proceed was made out of fairness is a farce. It is not fair on the victim and it’s not fair on the wider public whose safety is put in danger by this relaxed approach to bad drivers.
“If the prosecution had proceeded with the trial for dangerous driving from the word go, none of this would have happened,” she continued.
“We are seriously concerned that downgrading of charges from dangerous to careless is becoming more common as prosecutors try to secure guilty pleas to lesser offences in order to rush cases through the courts and save costs.
“Saving costs in the courts is counterproductive because it means piling costs on the services that deal with the aftermath of irresponsible driving – the police, the fire service and the NHS.
“Without taking irresponsible driving seriously we can’t hope to reduce the danger on our roads and the burden of road crime on our already stretched services.
“That is why we want the Government to use its promised review of driving offences and penalties to tackle undercharging and downgrading,” she added.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.