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Taxi driver who killed cyclist avoids jail after lawyer's hi-vis and lights defence

Recently-retired Robert Mallinson had front and rear lights on his bike when he was hit and killed by Daniel O’Donnell — however, the taxi driver's lawyer said the cyclist's lack of reflective clothing and flashing lights made him hard to see...

A defence lawyer successfully kept his client, a taxi driver who hit and killed a cyclist in a midnight crash, out of jail after asking the judge to consider the cyclist's lack of reflective clothing and flashing lights.

At a sentencing hearing at Oxford Crown Court, Michael Goold argued Robert Mallinson had been "very difficult to see" when his client, Daniel O'Donnell, knocked him down at a Didcot crossroads in the early hours of 8 August 2020.

Go Green Taxis driver O'Donnell was driving from Didcot station to pick up a fare when he hit Mr Mallinson, whose bike had front and rear lights and reflectors.

At an earlier hearing, O'Donnell pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving, and was sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years.

The Oxford Mail reports the court heard how O'Donnell's Toyota Prius slowed to 14mph as it approached the junction of Lydalls Road from Haydon Road, but appeared to speed up as he hit the cyclist riding the correct way down one-way Lydalls Road.

The professional driver stayed at the scene, with witnesses saying he was "shaking like a leaf".

Mr Mallinson, a "loving, caring man" was cycling home from seeing friends when he was struck, and was taken to hospital where, despite the efforts of intensive care doctors, he died two weeks later on August 23.

28-year-old O'Donnell said he had not seen the cyclist, something Judge Pringle said he should have done, especially considering his profession.

"As a taxi driver and someone familiar with that road you should have been concentrating hard to your right, looking out not just for headlights but for any other road users," the judge said.

However Judge Pringle opted to suspend the sentence, noting that O'Donnell had no prior convictions, would "seriously struggle" in prison, had strong mitigation and could likely be rehabilitated.

Defence lawyer Goold said his client was "deeply, deeply remorseful", and argued the cyclist's lack of reflective clothing had made him difficult to spot. O'Donnell was also banned from driving for two years and will have to pass an extended retest if he wishes to drive once the ban passes.

In a victim personal statement read to the court, Mr Mallinson’s wife Janet said: "He was a wonderful, loving, caring man. [O’Donnell] has taken away the love of my life, my soulmate, the man I wanted to grow old with."

Mr Mallinson's brother, John, said the death was "needless", and the defendant had showed a "complete disregard" for his sibling’s "physical vulnerability on a bicycle".

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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66 comments

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Jenova20 | 1 year ago
0 likes

It's not clear from this article if the cyclist's lights were actually on. If they were then I see the lack of reflective clothing excuse as a terrible miscarriage of justice.

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mdavidford replied to Jenova20 | 1 year ago
1 like
Jenova20 wrote:

It's not clear from this article if the cyclist's lights were actually on. If they were then I see the lack of reflective clothing excuse as a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Except that it had no bearing on the eventual outcome - the judge rejected the argument.

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hawkinspeter replied to Jenova20 | 1 year ago
1 like
Jenova20 wrote:

It's not clear from this article if the cyclist's lights were actually on. If they were then I see the lack of reflective clothing excuse as a terrible miscarriage of justice.

I think it's a poor decision either way.

Surely it's the driver's responsibility to use their own headlights and eyes to look for other road users and not so much down to the cyclist forcing a driver to see them. It's all arse-about-tit.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
2 likes

Amen.  Most other activities we do in public spaces it's on the person carrying out the activity to ensure they don't harm anyone else doing it.  Darkness at night is not unforeseeable (sorry).

It's just another instance of "although we've these rules and laws we just accept that people won't drive to the conditions".

In fact normally it's on you to warn everyone else if you're doing something potentially hazardous - bring back the red flag act?

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

I don't agree. All vehicles on the road should have lights on at night. Pretty standard law across the board. The lights are their to light the way but also to show other vehicle operators and pedestrians you are around. 

In this case unfortunately, they would have made no difference as the driver fixated on not looking, however if the cyclist didn't have any lights at all, i doubt it would have even made court. 

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chrisonabike replied to AlsoSomniloquism | 1 year ago
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To yourself and Rendel - I'm not quite sure what you're disagreeing with?  I'm not aware that I suggested cyclists shouldn't have lights.  Nor was this an investigation of the cyclist because they'd threatened the motorist's (or anyone else's) well-being by not giving them sufficient warning.

You're probably right about exactly what this was.  The "slowed then sped up" sounds like "inadequate observation" rather than none.  I'd agree it's not as open and shut as if e.g. they'd been run down from behind.  I'm not arguing that it wasn't more difficult to see them than if they'd been right in front in the headlights.  And exactly how difficult might vary depending on their speed, the sight lines, the strength of the lights.  Reflectives also would be less effective from the side.  I'm also assuming the cyclist's lights were on.

Even if that weren't the case though I'm not 100% that some responsibility doesn't rest with the motorist.  What if it was a pedestrian jogging across the road?  Is that unforeseeable?  To quote:

Quote:

...whose bike had front and rear lights and reflectors ... appeared to speed up as he hit the cyclist riding the correct way down one-way Lydalls Road...

I'm sure if this were on a massive hill or the cyclist was a pro and capable of going above 30mph we'd hear about it.  Or rather wouldn't as the CPS would pull the plug before court.

So maybe not as clear cut as some but this is still on the spectrum of not driving to the conditions (darkness here).  They were a) negligent (not actually looking where they were going) and / or b) not driving to the conditions by going at a speed where they couldn't observe sufficiently or react in time to something.

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Rendel Harris replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like
chrisonatrike wrote:

Amen.  Most other activities we do in public spaces it's on the person carrying out the activity to ensure they don't harm anyone else doing it.  Darkness at night is not unforeseeable (sorry).

But if I'm cycling on the road at night I'm undertaking an activity that could potentially be hazardous to others if they don't see me, so the principle of ensuring I don't harm anyone else applies to ensuring I'm visible by having lights.

Not that it applies to this poor gentleman, to answer Jenova's question I think we can infer that yes his lights were on from the defence's pathetic attempt to claim mitigation through the fact that they weren't flashing; had they not been on at all I'm sure they would have made much of that and it might well have got the accused off.

Brought to mind a case when I was a kid, I wonder if anyone else remembers it? Must be thirty or more years ago now, a driver knocked a cyclist off at night, stopped and then before going to his/her aid went and turned off the lights on their bike and claimed they hadn't been on. Fortunately they were spotted by a witness and got done for that as well as the original offence.

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Robert Hardy | 1 year ago
6 likes

I dont see that imprisonment is a useful or appropriate response in cases like this but the removal of a licence to drive should be for much longer periods and driving bans should come with a parallel suspended prison sentence for the duration of the ban, such that if a banned driver is caught driving they immediately lose their freedom.

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Car Delenda Est | 1 year ago
4 likes

Not too remorseful to blame the victim..

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jaymack | 1 year ago
1 like

I have to say that it is wrong to equate the hi vis/lights comments with a 'defence' it was mitigation; the two are very different. Also the fact that the sentencing judge stated that the defendant had "substantial mitigation" does not mean that all mitigation was accepted. The sentencing is not, sadly, unusual. It is rare for a judge to stop a defence advocate and say that thier mitigation is pants

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to jaymack | 1 year ago
2 likes

The actual wording in the paper article was "strong personal mitigation". So not the defences piss-poor victim blaming but something specific to the drivers or his circumstances which seem to be based on the below. 

Quote:

• the offender’s past (e.g. good character, productive life, deprived background) the offender’s circumstances at the time of the offence (e.g. financial pressures, psychiatric problems, intellectual limitations, immaturity)

• the response to the offence and prosecution (e.g. remorse, acts of reparation, addressing the problems that led to the crime, cooperation with the police)

• the offender’s present and future prospects (e.g. family responsibilities, supportive partner, capacity to address problems underlying the criminal behaviour

As the judge already covered some specific ones, and indicated the "struggle in prison", I do wonder of there are intellectual limitations involved.

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jaymack replied to AlsoSomniloquism | 1 year ago
2 likes

The only time I've seen a Judge take an advocate to task over mitigation has been in respect of sexual offences. This sort of gas lighting should be slapped down as throughly as assertions that a victim was drunk and wearing provocative clothing thankfully now are.

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wtjs | 1 year ago
7 likes

It's quite simple: the prevailing view of the police and legal system is that you're 'bound to kill the odd one', and it's really the cyclist's fault that 'I didn't see him and I didn't mean to do it'

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brooksby replied to wtjs | 1 year ago
6 likes
wtjs wrote:

It's quite simple: the prevailing view of the police and legal system is that you're 'bound to kill the odd one', and it's really the cyclist's fault that 'I didn't see him and I didn't mean to do it'

Worringly, you may have a point there... 

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chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like

I know that the law in the UK (thankfully) is not divorced from the culture / attitudes and judgements (eventually a fancy word for "opinions") of everyone and indeed the law makes a principle of "in the judgement of reasonable people" ... BUT I think that no small part of this issue is in the law itself.  "Below the standard of a careful driver" / "Far below the standard of a careful driver" (I know that's not the exact working just lazy) - consider that the majority of the population aren't drivers.  (Not even sure the majority of the jury pool would be).  How "good" do you think the judgement is going to be?  Unlikely we have people who understand cycling on the team.  I'm dubious about the quality of the driving judgement.  After all we don't bring in e.g. a driving examining examiner (even as an "expert witness").  Given that even if judge / jury are drivers, that they're "good drivers" (because everyone knows they are, right?) they have only ever been examined once and likely haven't checked the rules since them.

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andystow replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

...consider that the majority of the population aren't drivers.  (Not even sure the majority of the jury pool would be). 

Around 75% of UK adults have full driving licences. Are you using some other criteria?

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chrisonabike replied to andystow | 1 year ago
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But are UK adults all of the population though?  Anyway I was wrong and you have a good point.  It was a lot more than I thought - according the RAC the proportion of driving licenthe holders is about "80 per cent of all adults aged 17 and over in England".  They're taking that from the National Travel survey mostly. So it does sound like "driving licence holders" are the majority of the population.  Are they all regular drivers though?  Are the regular drivers actually any good?  What percentage would have an accurate recollection of what the highway code actually says?  Would they then apply that to a judgement in court which just talks about "the standard expected of a competent driver" (or whatever)?

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Rendel Harris replied to andystow | 1 year ago
2 likes
andystow wrote:
chrisonatrike wrote:

...consider that the majority of the population aren't drivers.  (Not even sure the majority of the jury pool would be). 

Around 75% of UK adults have full driving licences. Are you using some other criteria?

I don't know the national statistics but certainly here in London 52% of people don't own nor have access to a car...it's a very difficult one to quantify, without even thinking about it I could name a dozen friends who have full licences but never drive apart from maybe a rental car when on holiday, does that make them "drivers" or not?

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brooksby replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
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I think it gets interpreted nowadays as "below the standard of a typical (not a careful) driver", and any fule kno that the typical driver nowadays appears to not be a very good driver at all...

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HoarseMann | 1 year ago
1 like

I've just noticed that at some point in time, the priority of this junction appears to have changed. You can see in the streetview image from 2008, a give way marking in the direction the cyclist was travelling has been removed.

Perhaps the decision to change priority of this junction should be re-evaluated and possibly speed humps or a raised table junction installed to reduce the approach speed.

https://goo.gl/maps/HbfWPqHhxHBYeuh68

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OnYerBike replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago
2 likes

I don't see an obvious reason that the change in priority would have made the junction more dangerous - this incident is simply the result of a failure to look properly.

If anything was going to be changed about the junction, I would suggest a good place to start would be to reduce the corner radius and remove the wide splay that encourages drivers to take the junction at speed. 

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HoarseMann replied to OnYerBike | 1 year ago
1 like

Whilst this incident is definitely due to careless/dangerous driving, the priority of the junction could have a bearing on overall risk in general.

If the road with the highest traffic flow has priority, then the frequency of vehicles having to give way is reduced. If a road has to give way to a road that is usually less busy, this can instil an expectation that the road will be clear among frequent users of that route.

It just seems odd that priority has been changed. There must be a reason for it. Maybe there have been other incidents at this junction. Or perhaps it was done as a traffic calming measure, to slow down vehicles on Haydon Rd.

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mdavidford replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago
2 likes

I would guess that the western expansion towards the A34 resulted in a lot more traffic from that direction using Lydalls Road as a through route, and that's why the priority was changed.

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HoarseMann replied to mdavidford | 1 year ago
1 like

yes, that could well be the case.

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Christopher TR1 | 1 year ago
9 likes

The victims family must have been through absolute hell during two weeks of his life hanging in the balance, and then a whole new hell afterwards. And the killer (that's what he is) gets basically a warning. It's not okay. 
I wonder, do all these motorists complaining about the close pass conviction in the press this week think it's okay? 
How on earth does a judge think it's okay?

Very depressing!

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NOtotheEU | 1 year ago
4 likes

'would "seriously struggle" in prison'

Isn't that the whole point?

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AidanR | 1 year ago
3 likes

I wouldn't dare cross a junction at 14mph on my bike. If I hit something I get killed, rather than the other way around...

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fenix | 1 year ago
11 likes

Jesus this is grim.

How would hi viz and reflectives have helped one single bit ? 

Reflectives only work when the headlights are pointed at them.  He was only pointed at the cyclist when he actually impacted him.

Hi Viz in the dark ? 

Were there no expert witnesses here ? 

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wycombewheeler replied to fenix | 1 year ago
1 like
fenix wrote:

Jesus this is grim.

How would hi viz and reflectives have helped one single bit ? 

Reflectives only work when the headlights are pointed at them.  He was only pointed at the cyclist when he actually impacted him.

Hi Viz in the dark ? 

Were there no expert witnesses here ? 

Indeed, because the cyclist was travelling on a one way road, the taxi would have been pointing away from him as either turning right, or crossing the staggered crossroads which wold also be to his right. The cyclist was on the left, and was using lights.

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HoarseMann replied to wycombewheeler | 1 year ago
3 likes
wycombewheeler wrote:

The cyclist was on the left

It's quoted the taxi was travelling away from the station and this tallies with the judge stating the driver should have seen the cyclist to their right. So, this must have been the view of the driver crossing the junction:

https://goo.gl/maps/55oitCwfzAp8RWAe8

The road only becomes one-way to the left of the junction, but this meant the driver only really needed to look to the right for traffic. There is a hedge that would obscure that view until close to the junction. An approach speed of 14mph would give very little time for observations, the prosecution should have done a reconstruction with expert witnesses such as a driving examiner.

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