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Driver involved in Eilidh Cairns case told he faces jail over second road death

Joao Lopes pleads guilty to causing death of 97-year-old pedestrian; Kate Cairns criticises system that fails victims and their families

Joao Lopes, the driver of the lorry that killed cyclist Eilidh Cairns in 2009, has been told he faces jail after he pleaded guilty to causing the death by dangerous driving of 97-year old pedestrian Nora Gutmann in Central London last year. In reaction, Eilidh’s sister Kate, on behalf of her family, attacked a justice system that she says “assumes the guilt of the cyclist” and fails the families of victims.

Ms Gutmann, who had settled in London after fleeing Nazi Germany prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, was killed as she crossed London’s Marylebone Road in June 2011.

Appearing at Isleworth Crown Court on Wednesday, 56-year-old Lopes, a Portuguese national who lives in Stratford, East London, also entered a guilty plea to a separate charge of knowingly causing the recording of false data relating to digital driving work records, reports the Camden New Journal.

His Honour Judge Matthews, refusing Lopes bail, said: “The fact that I order a pre-sentence report is no indication that the court will pass anything other than an immediate custodial sentence.”

In a statement Eilidh’s sister Kate, who set up the See Me Save Me campaign, said that the justice system had both failed her own family and led to Lopes being free to drive his lorry with fatal consequences for Ms Gutmann.

The only charges Lopes ever faced in connection with Eilidh’s death related to driving with uncorrected defective vision, for which he received three points on his licence and a £200 fine, with the police only checking his eyesight at the Cairns’ family’s insistence three months after the fatal incident.

Other criticisms levelled at the police include their failure to identify witnesses due to turning vehicles away at the scene, and an assumption – disproved by evidence from witnesses found by Eilidh’s family – that she had been riding alongside the lorry, rather than being positioned in front of it, which was in fact the case.

The police have now concluded a review of the investigation report and have acknowledged that it was inadequate, but the Crown Prosecution Service has stated that it will be taking no further action in relation to the case.

The family also secured a judicial review of Dr Shirley Radcliffe’s ruling at the coroner’s inquest that Eilidh’s death was a “tragic accident,” a finding that was upheld at the High Court. 

“For three years I have battled the whole way through an inadequate system which assumes the guilt of the cyclist, and which is rife with incompetence and complacency and which has failed us all on so many levels,” said Kate Cairns in the family’s statement released in reaction to Lopes pleading guilty in the Nora Gutmann case.

“There was no interest in carrying out a proper investigation nor in finding witnesses. The police report was riddled with assumptions, omissions and conclusions contrary to evidence, obvious even to a layperson but there was no interest from the CPS in questioning it.

"Only after the death of someone else, three years later, have the police acknowledge the report was inadequate and reviewed the case of Eilidh’s death.

“Then there is an absolute failure of the coronial process to be meaningful in anyway when the coroner refuses to put her mind to ways to avoid similar deaths.

“Nora Gutmann did not have to die, Lopes did not have to lose his freedom, if the professionals had done their jobs,” she continued.

“All I wanted was the truth so that other deaths could be avoided and other families did not have to suffer. We have not had justice today, clearly there are many more drivers like Lopes on our streets.

“Their employers need to take responsibility and train them and incentive them, and comply with legislation and provide the tools and equipment to protect everyone from their business activities.

“These trucks are lethal killers, not designed for our urban streets. Those presenting the most risk must manage that risk. Whilst they profit, innocent people die,” she concluded.

Earlier this month, a number of leading cycling and road safety organisations including CTC, Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) gave their support to calls from British Cycling urging the government to act urgently to review sentencing in cases involving the death or serious injury of cyclists – although that would not include Eilidh’s case, where the authorities decided not to bring charges in the first place.

Simon joined 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.

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