Inquest challenge

Eilidh Cairns
Eilidh Cairns

THE family of a north Northumberland woman who was killed when her bike was hit by a lorry has launched a High Court challenge over the coroner’s handling of the inquest into her death.

Thirty-year-old Eilidh Cairns, who grew up in Ellingham, was struck from behind by a tipper truck while cycling to work in London in February 2009, which then trapped her under its wheels.

The Portuguese driver, Joao Lopes, claimed he did not see her, but later pleaded guilty at Kingston Magistrates Court to the charge of driving with defective vision. He was given three penalty points on his licence and a £200 fine.

In the wake of the Eilidh’s death, her family began to question the police investigation, even mounting their own appeal which resulted in locating two of the three witnesses who gave evidence at the inquest.

But on Tuesday, they asked a High Court judge to quash the verdict and order a new inquest, possibly with a jury, claiming that coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe would not allow questions on whether Mr Lopes had looked around adequately before running over Ms Cairns.

They further alleged that Dr Radcliffe had failed to comply with her duties to ‘fully, fairly and fearlessly’ investigate the facts of the death, did not allow an adjournment when the police accident investigator failed to appear and failed to consider making recommendations, under Section 43 of the Coroner’s Rules, to try to prevent further deaths in similar circumstances.

The Cairns family are also highly critical of the police investigation, particularly the crash report which they say is ‘filled with omissions, assumptions and erroneous conclusions’.

Anna Morris, representing the family, said: “There was a failure to consider the wider impact of Eilidh’s death and the huge problem facing cyclists in London.”

But Jonathan Hough, acting for the coroner, said the type of accident was ‘tragically common’, arguing that there was no element of the accident which gave the coroner reason to think it ‘illustrated a systemic problem or that it might call for some specific response’.

He also insisted the driver had been questioned in detail by both the coroner and the family, saying Dr Racliffe’s approach could not be faulted.

Eilidh’s older sister, Kate, who still lives in north Northumberland, said: “Eilidh who was a strong and experienced cyclist had commuted the same 20-mile round trip for three years. The coroner concluded that Eilidh was probably in front of the lorry and that its front offside wheel clipped her rear bicycle wheel.

“Neither the police investigators nor the coroner considered it material to the collision that the collision report showed a 0.8 by 1.4-metre blind area to the front off-side of the lorry, an area in which a bicycle was effectively invisible to the driver, and an area that the new EU law on lorry mirrors was supposed to cover.

“Nor did they consider it germane that the mirror positions were checked to be in the correct position – for a six-foot-tall police officer – when the driver was only five feet and two inches tall.

“We are challenging Shirley Radcliffe in her failure to adjourn the inquest so that we could instruct our own expert witness; the thoroughness of inquiry into determining the events that lead to Eilidh’s death; and the lack of consideration of any Section 43 recommendations the coroner could make to prevent further similar deaths.”

On Tuesday, the judge reserved his decision, which is expected in a matter of weeks.