A LORRY driver who knocked down and killed a north Northumberland women has pleaded guilty to causing the death of a pensioner.
Portuguese national Joao Lopes was fined just £200 for driving with defective vision, after his truck ran over Eilidh Cairns on February 5, 2009, as she was cycling to work in London. The 30-year-old, originally from Ellingham, died shortly afterwards from her injuries.
Her family launched an immediate campaign calling for safety measures to be fitted to all lorries, taking their fight to Parliament and the European Commission.
But just days after what would had been Eilidh’s 32nd birthday, in June 2011, Lopes – who had been allowed to continue driving an HGV – struck and killed 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Nora Gutmann at a pedestrian crossing.
At Isleworth Crown Court this week, Lopes, 56, pleaded guilty to causing the death by dangerous driving and also to falsifying data on his tachograph.
He was remanded in custody to be sentenced in August.
The Cairns family say that following Eilidh’s death the police failed to check Lopes’ eyesight, and did so only at the family’s request and then three months after the crash. His eyesight was found to be so bad that it did not meet the standard to drive a car, let alone an HGV. They remain deeply critical of the police investigation, saying potential witnesses were also missed.
Following a public appeal, the family traced two eyewitnesses who gave key evidence at Eilidh’s inquest, clarifying that she had been in front of lorry and not coming up alongside, as assumed by the police.
However, coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe did not use her powers to make recommendations to prevent further similar deaths, concluding that Eilidh’s death was simply a ‘tragic accident’.
Despite a judicial review instigated by her older sister, Kate, Judge Silber accepted the coroner’s argument that there were ‘no practicable preventative measures’ which could be applied to prevent further similar deaths.
The police only recently acknowledged that the initial investigation was inadequate, but the Crown Prosecution Service declined to consider fresh charges against Lopes.
Kate said: “For three years I have battled the whole way through an inadequate system which assumes the guilt of the cyclist, and which is rife with incompetence and complacency and which has failed us all on so many levels.
“There was no interest in carrying out a proper investigation nor in finding witnesses. The police report was riddled with assumptions, omissions and conclusions contrary to evidence, obvious even to a layperson, but there was no interest from the Crown Prosecution Service in questioning it.
“Only after the death of someone else, three years later, have the police acknowledged the report was inadequate and reviewed the case of Eilidh’s death. Then there is an absolute failure of the coronial process to be meaningful in anyway when the coroner refuses to put her mind to ways to avoid similar deaths.
“Nora Gutmann did not have to die, Lopes did not have to lose his freedom, if the professionals had done their jobs.”
She added: “All I wanted was the truth so that other deaths could be avoided and other families did not have to suffer. We have not had justice today, clearly there are many more drivers like Lopes on our streets.
“Their employers need to take responsibility and train them and incentive them, and comply with legislation and provide the tools and equipment to protect everyone from their business activities. These trucks are lethal killers, not designed for our urban streets.
“Those presenting the most risk must manage that risk. While they profit, innocent people die.”