The family of cyclist Michael Mason, who died last year after a motorist struck him in London’s West End, plan to launch a private prosecution against the driver involved after the Metropolitan Police Service yesterday said it would not be referring the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Yesterday’s statement from the Met was a retraction of one issued on Friday in which it said it would be making a referral to the DPP, now described as “incorrect.” The about-turn, and the way in which it has been handled by police, has been condemned by Mr Mason’s family as well as cycling campaigners.
Mr Mason, 70, died on 14 March last year from injuries sustained a little over a fortnight earlier when he was hit by a car on Regent Street, north of Oxford Circus.
The initial police decision not to pass the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is in part due to the fact that he was not wearing a cycle helmet and was dressed in dark clothing. While wearing a helmet and high-visibility clothing are recommended for cyclists in the Highway Code, neither is a legal requirement.
On Friday, a statement from the Met said the matter was being referred to the DPP. It was issued hours before a vigil was held in Mr Mason’s memory on the eve of the anniversary of his death, which was addressed by his daughter Anna Tatton-Brown.
Family feels "let down" by Met and asks, "What are the Met playing at?"
Reacting to yesterday’s retraction of that statement, she told road.cc:
At every stage now we have been let down by the Met police; from an insultingly soft interview of the driver, to the original decision not to prosecute despite the convincing evidence of their own expert, to this shilly-shallying over whether or not to refer the case to the CPS.
The Met allowed us to hold a vigil on the anniversary of my father's death thinking that we had had some small victory and that justice might yet be done. That now appears to be totally wrong.
None of this has been communicated to us first but played out in the media. I have heard nothing from my so-called family liaison officer since November.
This is no way to treat anyone, let alone a family dealing with the recent traumatic death of a loved one. Now, to add insult to injury, they seem to blame my dad, with his lack of high-viz and helmet, for his own death, rather than the woman who drove into him (who the police describe rather subjectively as a 'Careful and cautious driver').
It is a travesty of justice. What are the Met playing at here?
Lawyer says Met treatment of family "incomprehensibly callous"
The cyclist’s family was represented at the inquest into his death by Martin Porter QC, who has also acted for it in pushing the Met to refer the case to the DPP. He told us:
The mishandling by the Metropolitan Police of this whole matter by dithering and repeatedly changing their minds and by communicating to Ms Tatton-Brown first via the press is quite scandalous. The treatment of a grieving family by a service which purports to serve the public has been quite incomprehensibly callous.
In addition to this the Metropolitan Police have now sought to justify their earlier decision not to refer the case to the CPS by reference to (amongst other immaterial matters), and I quote:
“• Mr MASON (Deceased) was wearing dark clothing, the collision having taken place during hours of darkness.
• Mr MASON was not wearing a cycle helmet, the cause of death being head injury.”
It seems the police do not expect a lit cyclist travelling in compliance with all legal requirements at night to remain alive if he is not wearing a helmet and high viz.
The importance of seeking justice for Michael Mason by by-passing the Metropolitan Police Service is now very clear.
Cyclists' Defence Fund renews Justice for Michael appeal
The planned private prosecution will be brought with the help of the Cyclists’ Defence Fund (CDF), which has supported the family throughout and has now renewed its appeal for funds to fight the case, with the Justice for Michael campaign having raised nearly £10,000 to date.
In an email to road.cc, CDF co-ordinator Rhia Weston said:
The Cyclists' Defence Fund will now support Michael Mason's family in instructing lawyers to build the case for a private prosecution as soon as possible. We are therefore renewing our call for donations to the 'Justice for Michael' appeal.
We believe the police are clearly wrong not to refer the matter to the CPS so that they can consider whether or not to bring charges. Furthermore their suggestion that the chances of a guilty verdict are somehow lessened because Michael Mason wasn't wearing hi-viz clothing or a helmet is legally irrelevant and should have no bearing on the charging decision.
As for the Met's erratic briefings to the media - without informing the bereaved family or their lawyer - this shows unbelievable incompetence and insensitivity.
Campaigners condemn police handling of case
The way the police have handled the case and their lack of communication with Mr Mason’s family have been condemned by cycling campaigners.
In a statement, Nicola Branch from Stop Killing Cyclists, which organised Friday’s vigil, said:
Stop Killing Cyclists are horrified to learn of the awful treatment of the family of Mick Mason by the Met Police and we would recommend referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
To have been informed by a Press Release that that police would refer the case to the DPP, which although a bizarre and unconventional way of finding out, was a massive lift to the family, and now to have that hope whipped away from them equally through a Press Release, is an absolute disgrace.
The Met need to look very carefully how they deal with the family of a victim. They must be accountable for their actions.
Those views were echoed by Rosie Downes of the London Cycling Campaign (LCC), who said:
We are shocked and disappointed to hear that the Met Police are not, as was claimed last week, asking prosecutors to consider bringing criminal charges against the driver who killed Michael Mason.
It is against the law to cause death or injury from driving or riding in a careless way and a full prosecution is the only way to test the evidence.
To use the fact that Michael was not wearing a helmet or hi-viz clothing as rationale for this decision is unacceptable. Michael was well lit, on a brightly lit street, and hit from behind by a driver who claimed not to have noticed him.
This is a serious failing of the justice system and highlights the lack of clear process for dealing with road deaths, which more often than not leads to families feeling let down by the justice system.
Our thoughts are with Michael’s family who must be very distressed by the misleading report and the lack of action.
Green London Assembly Member Jenny Jones says she will again be writing to the Metropolitan Polce commissioner:
I shall be writing to the Met Police to say that victim blaming is completely unacceptable and that statements like this reinforce the view held by many cyclists that the Met Police will do little to protect them.
Focusing on the cyclists lack of high viz when over a dozen witnesses clearly saw Mr Mason on this well lit stretch of Regents Street, is clearly a nonsense.
As for drivers being cautious and careful, I believe that most drivers are. That doesn't stop people switching off for a moment behind the wheel, or being distracted, while being in charge of a deadly machine.
The point of the law is to protect innocent people who are going about their lawful business from the malicious acts and negligence of others.
The police's job is to put their evidence before the prosecutors and let the lawyers decide if there is a case.
Met apologises for "miscommunication"
Yesterday, Chief Inspector Tracy Stephenson, Professional Standards Champion of the Met’s Roads & Transport Policing Command, wrote to Mr Porter to outline the force’s response to a complaint made on the family’s behalf in January into the handling of the case by police and senior investigating officer Nick Mason.
She said: “I am satisfied the report does not need to be referred to the CPS,” adding, “I have determined there has not been a breach of the professional standards by the officer.”
Chief Inspector Stephenson also addressed yesterday’s retraction of Friday’s statement that the case would be referred to the DPP. She said:
I would like to apologise that the above statement was in the press prior to you receiving the Investigation Report and being informed before it reaching the public domain. This was a miscommunication and I am truly sorry for any upset it has caused the family. The intention was to correct the original information regarding the referral to the DPP whilst sending you the letter regarding our findings. Unfortunately this mistakenly went into the press release.
The full investigator's report explaining why the Met did not refer the ase to the CPS, and the letter dismissing the family's complaint over the police's handling of the case are attached below.
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.