Cyclist Charlie Alliston guilty of ‘wanton and furious driving’ over pedestrian’s death
Cyclist convicted of ‘wanton and furious driving’
Undoubtedly, cycling in London and other major cities is an issue which causes great debate amongst road users and both drivers/non-drivers alike. The recent case of Charlie Alliston, who has been convicted of wanton and furious driving, has brought that debate to the fore once again.
The issue in this specific criminal case at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) was whether the actions of this particular cyclist amounted to manslaughter or not. Ultimately the jury were unable to agree that they did.
Additionally, this defendant was charged with the offence of causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving contrary to section 35 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. For from being an archaic piece of law, this Act is still used on a daily basis; it is the act that is used for prosecuting offences such as ABH, GBH and many others.
In brief, the facts were that Mr Alliston was cycling what is known as a ‘fixie’ bicycle which has no front brake attached, a legal requirement in the UK for a bike of this type. He then struck a pedestrian, Kim Briggs, as she crossed the road. The injuries resulting from the collision were catastrophic and she later died as a consequence of them.
In order to secure a conviction for manslaughter, the Prosecution needed to demonstrate that the death of Mrs Briggs was as a result of a grossly negligent act or omission on the part of the defendant. A four-stage test applies, namely that there was:
a) the existence of a duty of care to the deceased;
b) a breach of that duty of care which;
c) causes (or significantly contributes) to the death of the victim; and
d) the breach should be characterised as gross negligence, and therefore a crime.
It is well established that a duty of care exists between road users. Arguably there was a breach of that duty by making a conscious decision to take a bicycle on to the road when law requires that it be fitted with a front brake – the issue as to whether the cyclist may or may choose not to use that brake is entirely separate.
During the course of the trial, the prosecution argued that the absence of the brake was a significant factor in the collision as it materially altered the stopping distance of the bicycle. Had it been fitted with two brakes it could very well have been able to stop prior to hitting Mrs Briggs. This goes to the heart of both whether it caused or contributed to the death of Mrs Briggs and whether the breach was grossly negligent.
The jury were unable to agree, either unanimously or on a majority of 10-2, that Mr Alliston’s actions did amount to manslaughter. Although no justification is needed, or indeed provided, for their decision our opinion is that the prosecution is likely to have failed to get over the final two hurdles. Mr Alliston was portrayed by many sources as arrogant due to his attitude, both at trial and on internet forums, commenting on the accident at the time. However, he maintained throughout that Mrs Briggs had contributed to the accident by crossing when it was unsafe to do so, and had not been paying sufficient attention as she was on her phone at the time. It is likely that Mrs Briggs’ inattention may well have been a factor in acquitting Mr Alliston. It should be noted that the Jury have had the benefit of viewing CCTV as well as hearing all of the evidence and not being reliant on press reports.
Even though the manslaughter charge was not proven, there was a conviction in relation to the wanton driving charge. The burden in relation to that offence was far easier for the prosecution as it requires that a person be convicted if ‘having the charge of any…vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving…, or other wilful misconduct, …do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person’.
Choosing to ride a bicycle which does not meet the required safety standards would almost certainly fall within the ‘wilful misconduct’ aspect of the offence. Ignorance of the law is not a defence.
What next for Mr Alliston?
Sentencing was postponed until 18th September with custody being a very strong possibility. As the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 was originally enacted to prevent horse and carriage riders from causing injury on the roads, its application to bicycles in a modern city environment is relatively rare. It is not used for drivers of motor vehicles, simply because there are sufficient other offences to cover them. Of the two recent examples both Darryl Gittoes and Darren Hall received custodial sentences of 12 and 7 months custody respectively. However, both pleaded guilty to their crimes and therefore would have been afforded some credit by way of a reduction in their sentences.
Mr Alliston should expect to receive higher than 12 months. His comments at the time and clear lack of remorse may well come back to haunt him in the sentencing exercise.
Whatever the outcome for Mr Alliston may be, there has been a loss of life which sounds as though it could very well have been prevented. We hope that this tragic incident serves as a reminder that proper care an attention be taken by all road users, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
5 important legal rules you should consider while cycling
– Every bike must have two braking systems.
– If you are riding a bike at night, you must have white front and red rear lights, as well as a red rear reflector.
– You must have amber pedal reflectors when riding between sunset and sunrise.
– There is no legal requirement to have a bell.
– You can be fined for ‘cycling furiously’ or ‘riding furiously’.
If you are facing criminal proceedings and want the team at JFH Crime to represent you, please contact us on 020 7388 1658 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Duncan Roberts, Solicitor