Driver who killed Oxford cyclist found not guilty of dangerous driving, guilty of careless

Eating a sandwich while driving "not a distraction" ...

Paul Brown, the driver who hit and killed father-of-two Joe Wilkins on May 24 2012, has been found guilty of causing death by careless driving but not guilty of the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

According to reports from the Oxford Mail, Mr Wilkins, 39, was riding his bike in Appleton, Oxfordshire when he was hit from behind by Mr Brown, who admitted careless driving but denied he had been driving dangerously.

After a four-day trial and four hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of the careless driving charge.

Mr Brown, who had been eating a sandwich at the time of the crash, said his eyes had been firmly on the road, but he simply had not seen Mr Wilkins.

He said he had the sandwich in his left hand because he was doing 55-60mph in fifth gear and did not expect to need to change gear.

“I don’t consider it a distraction or anything like that,” Mr Brown said in a statement. “I’m not there with a three-course meal. I don’t go stupid with it.”

Mr Brown sobbed while giving evidence and said: “I know I have ruined other people’s lives because of it and I’m truly sorry for that, but I just did not see him.

“I wasn’t out to murder a cyclist.”

The 30-year-old lock worker said he had his car lights on at the time of the crash (variously reported as 8:59pm to 9:15pm) but said that Mr Wilkins did not have lights on his bike.

Forensic collision investigator PC James Henderson told the court visibility was “good” and tests showed the bike would have been first seen from 174 metres, giving 6.5 seconds reaction time. The pedals were not fitted with amber reflectors as legally required after sunset.

According to www.timeanddate.com, sunset on that day was at 9:05pm.

But police vehicle examiner Phil Balderstone said the bike’s light had probably been on at the time of the crash but was faulty because it had been damaged. He could not be sure if the damage was caused before or after the crash.

Mr Brown will be sentenced next month.

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After the verdict, Mr Wilkins’s partner, Nicci Saunders, said: “It’s devastating. There’s nothing else we can say right now.”

Senior investigating officer Sgt Jack Hawkins said his thoughts were with the cyclist’s family and friends, but that Mr Wilkins’ death had been avoidable.

He said: “The jury of 12 members of the public decided that the circumstances of this case amounted to careless driving that caused the death of Joe Wilkins.

“I have got absolutely no doubt that Mr Brown did not set out that evening to kill anyone, but his actions have devastated a family.

“I would urge all drivers to think seriously about their driving habits and actions behind the wheel.

“Fatal road collisions are often avoidable and this case was no exception to that.”

Cycling campaign charity CTC said that the weather at the time of the crash and the gathering of evidence by the police had been crucial to this case.

In commentary on its RoadJustice site, CTC says: “CTC has found no mention in news reports of the weather and road conditions at the time of the crash, which could have impacted on the verdict.

“For instance, if the weather on the day of the crash had been good, there may have been enough light at the time that the sun was setting on May 24th 2012 (20:59) for the cyclist not to need to put on his bike lights (in law lights and reflectors are required on a pedal cycle after sunset).

“Visibility would also have been good if there was no, or little, tree cover over the road. If these factors had been present, the jury may have reached a guilty verdict.

“If the weather had been overcast, poor lighting would have required the cyclist to have his lights on. Likewise, if there was tree cover over the road visibility would be even worse. If these factors were at play then a not-guilty verdict would be correct.

“This case shows how important it is for the police to gather robust evidence and for prosecutors to ensure this evidence is presented in court, to guarantee there is absolutely no doubt about the level of danger presented by a driver’s driving.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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