Campaigner takes a swipe at justice system

Kate Cairns at the inquiry.
Kate Cairns at the inquiry.

The sister of a woman who was killed by an HGV has given damning evidence as part of an inquiry looking at how the justice system serves cyclists.

And their mother has paid an emotional visit to the site of her death, which has a special memorial in place as a tribute and to prompt drivers to watch out for pedal-bike riders.

The Eilidh Cairns ghost bike.

The Eilidh Cairns ghost bike.

In February 2009, Eilidh Cairns, from Ellingham, was killed as she cycled to work through Notting Hill Gate, in London. The experienced cyclist, aged 30, was hit from behind and crushed by a tipper truck on a straight, two-lane section of road.

The driver, Joao Correia-Lopes, said he didn’t see her. He was fined and given three penalty points for driving without corrected vision.

In 2012, he was jailed for four years for causing the death by dangerous driving of 97-year-old Nora Gutmann.

The tragedy compelled her sister Kate Cairns to launch the See Me Save Me campaign in 2010 to tackle the issue of blindspots in HGVs.

And earlier this month – almost eight years to the day of Eilidh’s death – Kate spoke at the House of Lords, in London, as part of the inquiry called Cycling and the Justice System.

The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group has been seeking the views and experiences of cycling organisations, Government departments and ministers, individuals and members of the public on whether the current judicial system is serving all cyclists.

And Kate – county councillor for Longhoughton – gave her frank and critical opinion, branding the current system ‘not fit for purpose’.

She said: “The justice system failed Eilidh and failed the driver, Joao Lopes, when it allowed him back on the road to run over Nora Gutmann 15 months later: so then, a third family failed and grieving.

“Many people continue to contact me with crushing experiences of the justice system.

“It is scandalous that eight years later we have no evidence of change. I am grateful for the support for road justice recently shown by the Northumberland Gazette, as part of Johnston Press’ Drive For Justice campaign.

“This inquiry is long overdue, but hopefully will go some way to bringing about change in the justice system.”

Kate attended the one-and-a-half-hour session along with six other witnesses. Her written evidence was so strong, she was allocated the final half-hour to address the committee on her own.

Meanwhile, her mother Heather Cairns visited the spot where Eilidh was killed. In her memory, a ghost bike – a tribute to a fallen cyclist and a warning to road users – is fixed to railings. It is painted white and surrounded by flowers.

Heather, who is a county councillor for Alnwick, said: “My granddaughter, Lys, and I alighted from the tube at Notting Hill Gate and made our way up to the main street. As I walk, I always wait for the white ghost bike to come into view, and my heart lifts.

“On this occasion, it sparkled from afar in the grey light, bedecked with fresh flowers; yellow roses and bright spring blooms. I gulped with gratefulness for the friends and colleagues who continue to remember Eilidh.

“The people of Notting Hill Gate whom we meet are always helpful and caring. Traditionally we sit on the pavement and have a drink in celebration of Eilidh’s sparkling life

“On the train home, we read in the Evening Standard of three more deaths. Will it never end?”