Something’s Not Quite Right Here

21 March 2015

Today Philip Sinden was cleared of causing the death of Daniel Squire.

But something’s not quite right here.

Please note: there is a subsequent post which goes into more depth: Something’s Seriously Wrong Here. That post will be updated as I receive more information; this post will not.

Preface

I need to preface this post with two important points.

The first is that if it is any way objectionable to Daniel Squire’s family then I will take it offline temporarily or permanently. I have no desire to drag out their misery, I simply feel compelled to make sense of a legal process of which I am somewhat cynical.

The second is that I only have access to whatever information is online, and the accuracy of that information is not guaranteed. There are a number of key facts which, if misreported, will undermine large parts of this post. I have bookmarked a number of references from which I have taken information and quotes.

To tell the truth, I hope incorrect reporting to be the case. I hope everything in this post is based on a complete misrepresentation of what was presented in court. If the reporting is both accurate and representative then it is deeply concerning that things went the way they did.

Locations

A handful of locations are mentioned in the reports, but two are key.

One is the junction of Station Road with the A258, where Sinden turned right towards Ringwould. This is straightforward to determine, and is here. (Click the image to go to Street View.)

Junction of Station Road and A258 near Ringwould

The other is the collision site. As can be seen from Street View, there’s little doubt as to where this is, either.

Screenshot from 2015-03-20 22:04:22

This location tallies with two photographs of the collision scene posted on Twitter—here’s one and here’s the other—and the ghost bike location shown in this news report. (I’m having to restrain myself from commenting on the statements about mutual respect in both the video and the caption below it.)

The distance between these two locations is 1.2 miles.

Times

Time appears to be a pivotal aspect of this case. Again, there are two which are key, and fortunately accurate times are available.

One is the time at which Sinden’s phone received a text message, which was 08:39:49. Sinden is quoted as saying “I didn’t receive a reply [to my previous text] so I carried on down [Station Road] to the junction with the A258. I did receive a message when I got to the junction.” It therefore seems to be that Sinden claimed to be at the junction at this time.

The other key time is that at which the 999 call was received, which was 08:40:44.

I assume that the prosecution calibrated these two times and on that basis the time between the receipt of the text message and the connection of the 999 call was 55 seconds.

55 seconds

If the reported statements are accurate, then in that 55 second period the following occur, sequentially:

  • Sinden negotiates the junction onto the A258.
  • He drives 1.2 miles along the 50mph limit A258, claiming to have driven at 50mph for part of the way and then slowed to 40mph, reaching the point of collision.
  • A passing driver sees the incident, stops and dials 999.
  • The call connects.

To be clear: Each of these events is sequential and consumes some of that 55 second period; together they cover the whole of it.

During this linear sequence of events, the following also occur:

  • Sinden writes a garbled text message including four words and three full stops.
  • He swerves to avoid a pedestrian in the road (the location of this is unclear), after which “a piece of lighting equipment and a laptop computer fell…onto his lap”.
  • It is at this point that he slows from 50mph to 40mph.
  • He moves both of the fallen items onto the passenger seat.
  • He realises that his phone has 1% battery left and tosses it onto the passenger seat. It apparently lands underneath a black refuse bag, where it was discovered when police at the scene called it.

Since we can’t possibly know the time between the collision and the connection of the 999 call, I will assume it to be zero. Clearly, that is not the case, and a number of seconds will have passed between them, during which the driver will have spotted the collision, (presumably) stopped their car, located their phone, dialled 999, and secured a connection. Indeed, I assume this driver to have been out of sight line of the collision at the time of its occurrence, otherwise he or she would presumably have been a pivotal independent witness to the collision itself. No such witness is mentioned in the reports.

1.2 miles?

If the 1.2 miles between the two key locations are covered in 55 seconds, then the average speed (remember that Sinden is starting from a 90-degree junction) is a little under 80mph. For Sinden to claim that his Vauxhall Vivaro, with its 0-60 time of between 10 and 15 seconds, managed this journey in 55 seconds whilst travelling at 50 and then 40mph is a little far-fetched.

If Sinden had travelled at 50mph for 55 seconds prior to impact, he would have covered just over three quarters of a mile, and  the location at which he received the text message would be here. It’s not exactly an obvious fit for “when I got to the junction”. And don’t forget, this hasn’t accounted for Sinden allegedly slowing to 40mph, nor for the time between the collision and the connection of the 999 call.

Unless he actually was doing at least 80mph for much of the distance, Sinden would have received the text significantly closer to the collision location than he claimed. If his claimed speed is truthful, the message would have arrived at no more than a little over half the claimed distance from the collision location, and almost certainly rather less.

10-12 seconds

Sinden, who alleged that Squire was on the pavement until just before the collision, reportedly claimed that he was “was near [a] dog groomers when he saw a cyclist on the side of the road.” This would be Animal Inn, located 0.4 miles prior to the collision location.

But the pavement doesn’t exist until less than 300 feet from the collision location.

Start of pavement near collision location on A258 at Ringwould

According to the prosecution, “[Sinden] said he was possibly 10 to 12 seconds away from the point of collision when he noticed the cyclist who he claimed rode off the pavement and onto the road without looking.”

For a start, this clearly contradicts his claim that he “just did not see the cyclist”.

But, that aside, if Sinden is doing his claimed 40mph, he is 600ft from the collision site at 10 seconds before the collision, assuming he does not slow (at 12 seconds before, he is over 700ft away). At this point he appears to claim that Squire is on the pavement, and the implication is therefore that Squire is at least 300ft ahead of him.

The Highway Code lists the stopping distance at 40mph as 113ft.

So Sinden claims to have identified Squire ahead of him, with at least five full standard braking distances left until the collision. (Though also, remember, that he “just didn’t see [him]”.)

Yet he still collided with him.

Look at your watch. Wait for it to count ten seconds.

As a side point, it’s worth noting that apparently there were no witnesses able to back up Sinden’s claim that Squire was on the pavement before joining the road right in front of Sinden’s van.

It’s also questionable as to why Squire would have joined that pavement and then left it. There is no dropped kerb across which to mount the pavement: he would have had to stop in the carriageway before mounting it, which—especially in the context of his family’s citations of his cautious nature on the road—is a rather unsafe thing to do. And then, less than 300 feet later, he would have suddenly and recklessly abandoned this refuge that he had apparently made such an effort to seek out.

Why on earth would he do that? Why would anyone do that?

A rotten stench

The point that news reports are not always accurate bears repeating. However, if they are accurate—if they are even close to accurate—then many aspects of this case simply do not add up.

How does a driver who claims not have been looking at his phone ascertain that it has 1% of battery remaining?

How does a driver who claims to be doing no more than 50mph cover approximately 1.2 miles in under 55 seconds?

How does a driver who claims to have seen a cyclist also claim not to have seen the cyclist?

How does a driver who claims to have seen the cyclist approximately 600 feet before colliding with him come to be unable to avoid a collision through apparently being unable to see him?

Why does a cyclist who is nervous about the road he is on stop in the carriageway to mount the pavement, and then—with the pavement continuing onwards—return to the road less than 300ft later?

How long does it take to type four words and (most curiously) three punctuation marks on a phone, and how long does it take to halt a car, pick up a phone, dial 999, and connect the call? And why (assuming this didn’t happen because it would have been an absolutely pivotal point in the case and presumably would have been reported, given that reports include precise timing) didn’t investigators establish minimum possible times for these things and subtract them from the 55 seconds in order to determine the maximum possible time between Sinden discarding his phone and the collision occurring?

And that’s without considering myriad other questions, like how a laptop and some lighting equipment comes to fall into a driver’s lap, how a phone flung on a seat ends up under a bin bag, or why Sinden claimed at the scene not to know where his phone was. But Sinden was charged only with causing death by dangerous driving; there are no reports of charges for dangerous or careless driving. So these details are, sadly, largely impertinent.

But none of these things make any sense. None of them seems to be backed up by evidence. The defence, if it genuinely is as reported, appears to be full of holes, which surely the prosecution should have been able to drive a bus through:  simple measurements on Google Maps appear to completely undermine the defendant’s statements. More fundamentally, it seems that at least two key statements are wholly contradictory anyway: did Sinden see Squire with “10-12 seconds” to spare, or did he “just not see [him]”?

Something about this case stinks, and stinks badly.

I only hope that it is the reporting.

Because it it’s not that, then this is yet another damning example of the legal system failing us all.

Comments

  1. Opus the Poet 21 March 2015 5:08am #

    This just goes to show that when cyclists die you have to have at least one cyclist on the jury, otherwise even when the driver admits to using the mobile at the time of the wreck or evidence shows he was using the mobile at the time of the wreck you are going to get travesties like this.

  2. Phil Fouracre 21 March 2015 8:10am #

    So much sympathy for the family, a terrible story. Reading this, combined with my own day to day experiences, I can see why people are put off cycling. What hope is there with our ‘legal’ system working like this?

  3. Dave Holladay 21 March 2015 8:24am #

    You have clearly done what the Police investigators, whose objective we must note is NOT to objectively and impartially review the incident, but to determine the potential of securing a prosecution for a traffic offence.

    There are, in theory at least 2 other investigations being carried out, but mostly based on the evidence secured by the first responders, which in most cases will be the Police who seal the scene, and if there is remote evidence, securing this without prejudice. This is a detail which Kate Cairns and many others will cite as a failure of the Police, partly in process, and partly in that area of presumption and prejudice about the behaviour of road users (ie no drivers drive on footways or jump red lights, all cyclists do, all pedestrians jay-walk) The driver who killed Kate’s sister Eilidh, driving without wearing his prescribed glasses, was only eye tested months later, at her insistence.

    Of the 2 other investigations one will be by the insurers or victim’s solicitors. This naturally has a prejudicial bias, on determining who carries the liability, or does not and how much that is worth. We might safely expect that any such reports may be flawed by such a focus.

    The other is perhaps a piece of legislation in the Road Traffic Act that through its very drafting screams that it is fundamentally unfit for purpose. I focus on Section 39, in which s.39.3.a mandates that the roads authority (with the noted exception of the Highways Agency) MUST investigate road crashes. However it then goes on in s.39.3.b to also mandate that that same roads authority MUST then use the results of THEIR OWN investigations to inform and change the way they both design and manage new and existing roads infrastructure, and apply this information also to developing their road safety campaigns and interventions.

    An ultimate example of how flawed s.39 is comes from Glasgow where the Council is mandated to investigate and tell itself what measures are needed, and lessons learned from a crash involving a truck operated by said Council and driven by one of their employees. I’ve actually FoI requested Section 39 information from Glasgow, and frankly you’d see better compiled data and reports for a GCSE A level exam. Experience of others asking for their local council’s Section 39 reports and action taken reveals a sorry mess – please do check this for your own area.

    By contrast rail casualties have, in the past 10 years seen a transformation, arising to a large extent from Ladbroke Grove in 1999, when 31 people dies in a single incident, and the industry simply ‘accepted’ passenger deaths in double figures, annually, including a double figures element through the existence and operation of slam door trains.

    Lord Cullen called time on this and set up the Rail Accident Investigation Branch to objectively and non-judgementally examine incidents, list the full range of causal factors for the incident and its outcomes. The result is a list of learning points, coupled with recommendations for the rail regulator to mandate action on from the operators and infrastructure providers, and occasionally other parties (such as a roads authority) with the objective of either eliminating the hazard entirely (such as the elimination of unlocked slam doors on passenger trains) or managing the risks better (a central locking system for the remaining trains with slam doors).

    We have a piecemeal regulation of commercial use of the roads – vans, increasing in number, are not regulated at all, and the resources of the Traffic Commissioners to ‘prevent harm from commercial operation of large goods vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles’ are woefully limited, by comparison with the scale of the task. Taxis are regulated by highly variable parochial systems, whilst uber and other new kids on the block escape any scrutiny to ensure the drivers and operators are ‘of good repute’ in the diligent observance of the law and other liabilities.

    We are about to get a partial regulation for roads infrastructure, necessary to cater for the move from the Highways Agency to Highways England as a contracted provider to the UK DfT of trunk roads, but to save costs and I suspect satisfy the dogmatic ‘no more quangos’ policy this is being delivered as an added department to the office of rail regulation, but unlike rail the task will exclude regulation on safety issues.

    The need is clear – we have to get a structure of investigation and regulation for roads to match that for rail, air and marine transport modes. Since the forming of RAIB and the supporting regulatory regimes we have moved to having had the last passenger death on a train in 2007, now compare this with the continuing toll on the UK’s roads.

  4. Ron Reid 21 March 2015 8:27am #

    The perversity of the verdict in this case, bolstered by verdicts in other cycling cases, raises a serious question of jury objectivity. Can juries be objective in cycling cases?

    Road users are overwhelmingly drivers, only about 2% on average are made up of cyclists. Jurors are either more likely to be drivers or passengers and will be unable to relate to the cycling experience. After-all, cyclists don’t carry passengers unless you count the insignificant percentage in child carriers, who can’t be jurors anyway.

    We are all on the other hand drivers or back seat drivers. Therein lies the problem. I’ll paraphrase Edmund King, president of the AA, who in a R4 debate said “all road users are blind to their own misdemeanors”. A point adequately illustrated on this website in “Laws, who’s breaking what” : 83% of drivers admit to being regular speeders and yet 92% say they are law abiding.

    Drivers are breaking the law, and don’t see anything wrong with their behaviour. How can they possibly be called upon to judge another driver who is behaving just like them? There’s more than an element of Tom Robinson verdicts (To Kill A Mockingbird) in cycling cases. Prejudice abounds.

  5. Robert Mathews 21 March 2015 8:30am #

    Well done for such a well researched article. I find it staggering that the driver was found not guilty, what message does this send out? That its ok to text and drive and if you do hit someone then don’t worry about it. Makes me angry.

  6. Mark ardern 21 March 2015 8:39am #

    Having been in a jury and been involved in many RTC’s I am seriously wondering if this jury had all the facts you have used.
    Did you get them all from the case it did you use outside sources.
    In a case I was in pivotal evidence wasn’t heard by the jury as some legal weasling barred it from them.
    Also the reasonable doubt thing was so wildly pushed at the jury members it left rational people doubting likelihoods of an occurance, educated people were fixated on the point they couldn’t be 100%sure!
    Your time line sounds reasonable but I bet there was guidance to the jury along the lines of “you must be sure that the accused couldn’t have seen the victim, not probably not and not maybe not but definitely not”.
    The case I was in left no doubt an event happened but the small gap in the timeline left a gap of doubt, I didn’t think it was reasonable but 9 others did.
    I’ve just been in a hit and run and still can’t ride my bike yet but the impact this has had on my family can only be a slight reflection of what the family of Daniel has been through.
    Now to have this result in court must be devastating and I hope they have the stomach for a private prosecution if that’s possible.

    • adrian hawkins 21 March 2015 11:18am #

      I find it absolutely staggering that with the amount of evidence present that he got away with it!! can a civil case be bought against this remorseless driver who blatantly lied through his teeth. I only hope he can live with his conscious and he is kept awake every night with that image in his head knowing what he done. my sympathies go to the family.

    • vladimirlevachyov 21 March 2015 12:15pm #

      agreed – the reasonable doubt thing WAS pushed down our throats very hard when I was a juror in a criminal case. And it DID leave us wondering whether he’d done it, when we actually all knew that he had (the victim didn’t smash themselves in the face 5 times!!) Thankfully in our case someone did pipe up and say “do you all think he didn’t do it?! the victim smashed their own face in?!” and justice did prevail.

  7. marco misticoni 21 March 2015 8:57am #

    A great piece as always. Thanks for putting the time in. Will update you with any progress down here.

  8. David Brock 21 March 2015 10:59am #

    I am sorry for the loss of there son and my deepest sympathy goes out to the family but the jury made a decision be it right or wrong in others eyes but He will never be cleared this will haunt him for the rest of his life and that’s worse than any prison sentence

    • Jay Stafford 21 March 2015 6:26pm #

      @David Brock, really!! Are you sure it’s worse than a prison sentience?
      This scumbag lied through his teeth numerous times and regardless of whether or not he managed to perversely walk away from the consequences of his actions after destroying an entire families lives, (which doesn’t strike me as the actions of somebody in the least bit remorseful at all) at the very least he should be haunted by the knowledge/memory of what he’s done and let’s not for one moment believe he’s somehow suffering more than if he were serving a custodial sentence.

    • Ron Reid 22 March 2015 11:22am #

      Philip Sinden and Daniel Squire’s parents live in the same community. There are accounts emerging from the community that Sinden was seen celebrating the verdict.

      Haunt him for the rest of his life? I think not.

  9. robert (@sturmeyarcher3) 21 March 2015 11:31am #

    @David Brock, no, the law must be seen to change the behaviour of others, otherwise why have it? This man’s conscience alone will not save lives in the future.

  10. Paul Holdsworth 21 March 2015 11:48am #

    Great work as always. The casual disregard for justice beggars belief – even in the wider context of our victim-blaming culture in respect of road deaths.

    Just one point – you ask why would Daniel leave and then rejoin the carriageway, as claimed by Sinden.

    A couple of possibilities spring to mind. Most credible would be to mend a puncture. Another possibility is to answer a call of nature, although that’s pretty unlikely – you’d have to be desperate to make such a hazardous manoeuvre there, rather than waiting for a safer place to stop.

    I’m not suggesting Sinden is not culpable – your piece demolishes the apparent untruths of his alleged statements more than sufficiently to show that.

    But isn’t it just possible (albeit highly unlikely) that Daniel did indeed leave and rejoin the carriageway?

    • wansbeckbikecam 21 March 2015 8:45pm #

      I think if he had stopped for the reasons you say then what an experienced cyclist would do would be to stand with your bike and wait for a suitable gap in the traffic to start riding on the road and not attempt to ride on that very narrow “path”. And then just jump onto the road.

  11. Paul M 21 March 2015 12:16pm #

    First it should be said that the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof falling on the prosecution who must prove their case “beyond reasonable doubt” goes through the whole of our criminal justice system (Oh, alright, not quite all – if you are an Irishman playing cards on the train on the way to a funeral the rules are apparently different, as apparently are the rules for people who divulge confidential state information).

    And that is how it should be (apart from the Irish card players etc). I would not want Sinden to be convicted, and quite likely jailed, on a “probably” – that would set a terrible precedent.

    But two things strike me about this case, and indeed most other dangerous driving prosecutions. The first is that the evidentiary test is “beyond reasonable doubt”. The word “reasonable” is inevitably subjective despite its popularity in legal agreements (“such consent not to be unreasonably refused” etc) but it does not mean “beyond all possible doubt”. I am sure that a judge directing a jury on those lines must be misdirecting them as to the law.

    Having served twice on a jury (no motoring cases) I have seen that some jurors misinterpret the term, and express certainties, or doubts, which most of us, and indeed most of their fellow jurors, would regard as unreasonable. Faced with your information about the timings of the text and the 999 call, for example, they might say “ah, yes, but how can we be absolutely sure that the mobile company and the 999 service had their clocks set to exactly the same time? How can we be sure that the events really did occur that close together? Witnesses could attest til they are blue in the face on the accuracy or synchronisation of those clocks, and some people would challenge them. This must especially be true when they are motivated to excuse the defendant, on the grounds of “there but for the grace of God, go I”. And from my own experience of juries I can say that the entire spectrum of humanity can be found in a jury. There is no guarantee that jurors will be sensible or intelligent people, in fact almost the reverse as people holding full time jobs will likely do their best to get out of their jury service – when I served, I was struck by how few people of working age served with me. Most were students, unemployed or retired.

    We don’t know anything much about the jury, least of all what they discussed and how they reached their conclusions. We do however know how long they spent on their deliberations – over seven hours – so we can assume that the verdict was by no means a consensus at the start. My two juries each took under an hour to acquit – the cases were both so lamentably weak that it was as much as we could do to drag out our deliberations long enough for them not to look dismissive. We don’t know whether the initial majority tended towards conviction or towards acquittal, but clearly there was a large enough minority to draw out the deliberations. I’m not sure we know whether the option of a majority verdict was asked for or offered, but I can tell you that when you have a dissenting minority, it is far easier for the majority to go with acquittal than conviction – however [un]sympathetic you feel about the defendant, you have a human life in your hands and it is the face in the dock you see, not, unfortunately, the victim, about whom generally far too little beyond bare fact is ever revealed.

    Do we know that these facts were adduced as evidence before the jury? The defence counsel might have challenged their admissibility, on similar grounds, but this would be unlikely to have been reported. If ruled inadmissible but in the public domain, the judge would rightly have told the jury to disregard them – it is hard to separate public information from evidence in court sometimes, but those are the rules, you can only decide on the basis of what you hear in court.

    More to the point though, what was the calibre of the prosecution team put to work on the case? I’ll bet the smartest and most ambitious CPS staff and barristers do their best to avoid motoring cases in favour of more “glamorous” cases such as robberies and frauds. I wonder how hard they really try – did they produce all this evidence in court? Did they request the judge to take the jury to see the scene so they could judge for themselves how plausible the defendant’s claims were? Were they just going through the motions, a box-ticking exercise?

    That is certainly how I feels, when you look at Met Police decisions on cycling cases, most notoriously that of Michael Mason recently. In another case it took the fact that the victim was a Queen’s Counsel to compel the Mett Police to deal with the case properly, leading as I recall to a conviction for the perpetrator. That is something which has to change.

  12. Mark B 21 March 2015 4:31pm #

    Originally the prosecution was asking for the jurors to be driven to the site of the collision. The reason given for this not going ahead was the difficulty in closing the road. But it’s not a motorway and short-term diversions could have been arranged. Also it would have taken only 4 days to organize from when it was suggested on Day 2 of the Trial.

  13. Vic Kerry 21 March 2015 5:38pm #

    How come a person can get 22 years for just threatening to kill a Soldier yet this chap can kill a Cyclist on the road whilst on his Mobile Phone and get off Scott free.?

  14. LyndaB 21 March 2015 9:37pm #

    Why has he not been convicted for using a mobile whilst driving? It all looks pretty obvious to me. Even if the lad did come off the pavement there is no excuse – the driver should have been travelling at a reasonable speed. I cannot imagine the pain of the family, knowing that this unpleasant man has actually admitted to texting whilst driving, but then denying that he might have caused the ‘accident’. What is the matter with our legal system? Even if the cyclist was at fault (and NOBODY has suggested that he was) the driver who admits to texting whilst driving should have no defence. OUTRAGEOUS

  15. Tim kingston 23 March 2015 11:38am #

    If you look on the kentonline website in the comments on the story someone has filled in some more details from the court case.

    • Bez 23 March 2015 11:40am #

      Thanks. Picked that up yesterday. New post waiting in the wings…

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