Many people reading this will be familiar with the trial that concerned the death of Daniel Squire, who was killed when he was hit from behind by van driven by Philip Sinden. In case you’re not, I’ll give you a brief recap.
The inexplicable explained
Sinden had been texting on his phone prior to the collision, and gave evidence at trial which not only disagreed with earlier statements to the police but which also contradicted other statements he made at the same trial. Many statements were mutually exclusive. Some were seemingly works of fantasy, such as the claim that objects falling onto his capacitive touchscreen phone from elsewhere in the van had somehow typed text messages. And basic time and space analysis of others showed them to be impossible, such as statements relating to his mobile phone use which, on consideration of the timestamps of the messages, were entirely incompatible with him having reached the collision site by the time of the collision.
I looked at this case in great depth shortly after Sinden was—to widespread astonishment—cleared of all charges. (My discussion of the details was not mere speculation: in addition to the usual media reports, I was handed a set of reasonably detailed notes taken inside the courtroom.)
Despite the court having seemingly been unflustered by this apparent train wreck of evidence from the defendant, the prosecution case must have essentially relied on two details in order to prove culpability.
The two routes to conviction
The first detail is that of ascertaining whether Sinden’s phone use had overlapped with the time of the collision. Proof that a driver had been operating a phone at the point of a collision would normally be sufficient to secure a guilty verdict for causing death by dangerous driving, and would be pretty much a shoo-in for the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving (when a defendant is charged with the former, the jury can opt to find them guilty of the latter, or indeed of either dangerous or careless driving without the aspect of causing death).
Two reliable timestamps were available: that of Sinden’s last interaction with his phone (exiting the messaging app) and that of the connection of the 999 call made by an oncoming driver who stopped at the scene. These were 21 seconds apart. My own analysis, taking into account the available statements and actions of witnesses, suggested that it was virtually impossible for the collision to have occurred after Sinden exited the messaging app, but there is no report from the trial which suggests that the prosecution attempted to show this.
Thus, arguably because of this lack of time analysis in court, it seems the jury was not convinced that the timings were compelling in showing that the defendant was using his phone at the point of collision.
The second detail is the nature of Daniel’s riding. If it could be proven that Daniel had been cycling perfectly normally along the road, and that Sinden had completely failed to see him—when he was there to be seen and there were no visibility issues—and had simply driven straight into him, then this would suggest a guilty verdict for careless if not for dangerous driving. However, the defendant introduced the suggestion that Daniel had suddenly entered the road from the pavement.
The forensic evidence did not support this: the pavement starts only yards before the collision site and the only way to ride onto it is via a patch of soft earth in which there were no tyre marks. Furthermore, marks on the road and the damage to the two vehicles showed that Daniel was riding parallel to the kerb at the time of impact. Besides, moving onto and riding on that pavement—which is very narrow with difficult access—makes no sense, let alone the alleged decision to then ride off of it into the path of a van. Daniel was a triathlete on a road bike, a sports cyclist used to travelling fast on the open road. The forensic evidence presented to the jury was wholly compatible with him doing exactly that when he was hit.
Despite the seemingly clear forensic evidence, the jury seems to have either accepted that Daniel rode off the pavement to his own death or that driving into the back of someone and killing them is not “below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver”, as is the definition of the offence.
Another fact overlooked
At the time of looking into this case, I raised a number of points highlighting what appeared to be serious shortcomings in the prosecution’s handling of the case.
And then, recently, I learned one more fact.
A fact related to what Daniel was doing at the time of the collision.
A fact which, as far as I can tell from the available information, was not brought to the attention of the court.
After the investigation, Daniel’s bicycle—a normal, modern, racing-style road bike—was returned to his family by the police. It was returned in exactly the state it was in when he was killed.
The chain was on the largest chainring and the second-smallest sprocket.
I know the implication of that. You probably know the implication of that. Daniel’s father—who himself cycles—knew the implication of that.
But, since this was never mentioned by the prosecution, it would appear that either the collision investigators or the CPS, or both, did not realise the implication that Daniel was almost certainly travelling at 20mph or more at the time of impact, which is completely incompatible with having been on the pavement.
How do we fix this?
There is much wrong here.
There is a great need for much better understanding of cycling within the CPS and the police. We must ask whether and when these organisations seek such understanding externally, and from whom; and—more importantly—we must seek for such understanding to be cultivated within these services themselves. For a case like this to go to court with, seemingly, such huge failings in analysis is alarming to say the least.
Without improving this understanding and without validating the analysis of the evidence with that understanding, we will see fewer cycling-casualty collisions resulting in action, and we will see more cases like this one wasting resources because of inadequate prosecution.
Both Roadpeace , through its Collision Investigation campaign, and Cycling UK/Cyclists’ Defence Fund, through their Road Justice campaign, have expressed a desire to do something about this. Those efforts are worth supporting.