A Twitter user’s response 18 months ago to saturation coverage in the mainstream media of the jailing of cyclist Charlie Alliston for causing the death of pedestrian Kim Briggs in London has resulted in his putting together a thread underlining how cases involving drivers are treated by both the media and the courts, and which at the same time is simply heartbreaking.
Starting the thread on 20 October 2017 – two days after Alliston, then aged 20, was sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders’ institution for causing death through wanton and furious driving – Twitter user @Ormondroyd said: "A thread for all the pundits lining up to wring their hands about dangerous cycling and light sentencing in the wake of the Alliston case."
"When Ichhapal Bhamra carried Tom Ridgway for 90 yds on his bonnet before crushing him into a tree, and was fined £35, where was your voice?
"When Lee Sewell, speeding after a 14hr taxi stint fatally smashed Gary Glymond 120yrds off a crossing, and was fined £500, what did you say?
"What about the killer of Eilidh Cairns, fined £150 for driving without glasses? He did it again 2yrs later, killing again. Did you speak?
"Where was your anger for four year old Esme Weir, killed while scooting along the pavement by a kerb-mounting van driver who was acquitted?
"How about Clinton Pringle, killed by an inattentive driver who had been texting moments before impact. He was 3. Eight months, suspended.
"If you really cared about safety, and this wasn't just a pop at cycling, you'd find plenty to speak about. Every day. Instead: tumbleweed."
He added: “Media/politician posturing over Alliston is fake: Your life is cheap to them if a motorist ends it. Because drivers vote, buy & click.”
He also contrasted the case with one in which a five-year-old child, who was on a pavement, was killed by a motorist who was driving into an illegal car park but was never charged over the youngster’s death.
“This story never made it to the UK national papers. No mention in Hansard. Wall to wall Alliston coverage, no voices for Lennon,” @ormondroyd said. “Says it all.”
Since then, he has added dozens of reports, mostly from national newspapers, of cases in which drivers who have killed or seriously injured vulnerable road users such as pedestrians or cyclists have been cleared or, if convicted, had what many would see as extraordinarily lenient sentences handed down to them – if, indeed, they were charged in the first place.
The reason that cases such as the one involving Alliston make national headlines is because they are so rare, as are serious injuries to pedestrians in such incidents – and all too often, mainstream media reaction disproportionate.
Three weeks after Alliston was sentenced, for example, with the perceived threat cyclists pose to pedestrians still a hot topic for the national newspapers, the Daily Express reported that Department for Transport statistics revealed that during the previous seven years, a total of 25 pedestrians had lost their lives and 700 seriously injured as a result of a collision in which a cyclist was involved.
While the article notes that the data “does not state who is at fault in the accidents,” the headline certainly points the finger at whom the newspaper believes to be the guilty party.
Now put those figures – which average four deaths a year, and 100 serious injuries – into the context of overall road casualties and the frustration of cycling campaigners when faced with such sensationalist coverage is easy to understand.
In 2017 alone, 1,792 people were killed and 24,831 seriously injured on Britain’s roads. Among those killed were 470 pedestrians and 101 cyclists, with thousands more seriously injured.
Not all of those casualties will be the fault of a motorist. Genuine “accidents” – in the strict sense of the word, that is an event brought about purely by chance, rather than the sense still employed too much by some elements of the media and even official sources as a catch-all term for road traffic collisions – can and do happen.
But all too often, clearly a driver is at fault, which brings us back to @ormondroyd’s thread.
We've shown below a selection of cases below that he has highlighted on Twitter (one addressing transport minister Jesse Norman) and it's difficult not to draw the conclusion that the fact so many of these shocking cases go unreported at national level, and the feeling that the criminal justice system fails vulnerable road users, is what society has deemed an acceptable price to pay for mass motor vehicle ownership.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Lennon Toland was 5. Killed on the pavement by a driver entering an illegal car park. "No evidence of careless driving". No charges brought. pic.twitter.com/SWSTZEPOt0
— Jon (@ormondroyd) October 20, 2017
Apparently the going rate for ploughing through two horses, on a straight road, killing them and seriously injuring one of the riders, is five penalty points and a fine. https://t.co/lVESmTAtnX
— Jon (@ormondroyd) October 16, 2018
Lauren Johnson, a mother of two very young kids, was killed on the pavement by a driver who mounted it, doing at least 53mph in a 20mph zone. The CPS elected not to prosecute, stating it is not in the public interest to do so. Jesse?https://t.co/lZn5OkTb1r pic.twitter.com/ULu2zl9VGo
— Jon (@ormondroyd) October 21, 2018
Daniel Squire, 18, was fatally hit from behind by a van driven by Philip Sinden. The court heard that a draft message was saved on Sinden’s phone at 08:40:23, less than 30 seconds after he last received one. Someone dialled 999 to report the crash 21s later.
Sinden was acquitted. pic.twitter.com/JjBThcWd28
— Jon (@ormondroyd) April 18, 2019
69 year old John Durey was killed while cycling in Kent, by a driver who hit him head on while overtaking two vehicles. Prosecutors argued he'd have been been visible to the driver for 45 seconds, but she was cleared of dangerous driving, receiving a community order & 18mth ban. pic.twitter.com/yWzJ1xKN0K
— Jon (@ormondroyd) April 28, 2019
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.