Magistrates in Solihull have fined a taxi driver £35 and given him three penally points for an incident last year which he collided with a cyclist and then carried him for a further 90 metres on the bonnet of his car colliding with traffic signs and eventually hitting a tree. 20 year old animation student Tom Ridgway died of his injuries shortly afterwards.
At the conclusion of the case Mr Ridgway's family called for tougher punishments for drivers who kill. The incident will be seen as further evidence of the need for change by those calling on the Government to undertake a review of the lenient sentences given to drivers who kill or injure cyclists and other vulnerable road users.
In this case 54-year-old taxi driver Ichhapal Bhamra was charged with the much lesser offence of driving without due care and attention rather than facing the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving - which usually carries a custodial sentence, or causing death by careless driving which results in a long ban, heavy fine and community service.
The Crown Prosecution Service opted for the lesser charge because it could not determine the cause of the initial collision nor whether Mr Ridgeway had been killed as a result of that impact or from being carried on the bonnet of the car until it collided with the tree.
In mitigation the court was told that Mr Bhamra has since voluntarily given up his taxi licence and that he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and no longer felt able to drive.
Given that the CPS determined that Bhamra's was driving without due care and attention some will undoubtedly question why they then did not pursue a charge of causing death by careless driving given that the CPS guidelines say it is merited for:
"A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, is guilty of an offence".
While the level of charge brought was a disappointment to Mr Ridgway's family it is also worth noting that Solihull magistrates did not impose the maximum sentence available to them for the offence. According to the sentencing guidelines those found guilty of careless drive can be given 9 penalty points on their licence and a fine usually amounting to 150 per cent of the defendant's weekly income.
The magistrates based their sentence on all the evidence presented to them - while our impressions of the case come from the report in The Solihull News, but even so both the charge and the sentence handed down will be seen as troubling by cycle safety campaigners and many in the wider cycling community..
Commenting on the charge, the sentence and the effect Tom's death had had on his family his mother, Liz Ridgway told the Solihull New that:
“Neither the charge not the sentence reflect the enormous tragedy of a young man’s death when he was simply cycling along next to the pavement,” she said.
“It’s devastated our lives and there will be no going back.”
Mrs Ridgway went on to pay tribute to her son saying:
“Tom was a generous and exceptionally warm-hearted young man, making friends wherever he went and sharing his sunny, optimistic love of life with everyone he met.
“Everyone who knew him, misses his beautiful smile and genuine warmth. It is impossible to express how much Tom is loved by his family and friends and how special he was.”
Solihull MP Lorely Burt said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the sentence and pledged to look into the case. Last month representatives of CTC, British Cycling, and RoadPeace met with Justice Minister, Helen Grant to call for a review of sentencing guidelines, in cases where drivers kill or injure more vulnerable road users. At the meeting Department for Transport official agreed to back "a cross-stakeholder meeting with the different agencies involved to discuss a review of the system and how it might be improved."
As yet no date has been announced for a follow up meeting,
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.