The Independent London Newspaper
1st October 2014

Letters

Coroner: Camden Council 'too slow' to improve junction where cyclist was killed

Francis Holding died after coilliding with a coach in November. Pic: Christophe

Francis Holding died after coilliding with a coach in November. Pic: Christophe Egret.

Published: 15 April, 2014
By ALICE HUTTON

A CORONER has criticised Camden Council’s “lack of urgency” in addressing rising safety concerns about a Holborn junction five months after a cyclist became the third to die there in 10 years.

Francis Golding, 69, collided with a left-indicating tourist coach as it turned from Vernon Place into Southampton Row on a dark, wet November evening last year.

The well-known architectural consultant, who was wearing a high-visibility jacket and flashing lights, but no helmet, was seen by witnesses to “ping” off the side of the 49-seater coach and fall “like a rag doll” and hit his head on the pavement.

The experienced cyclist, who was consulted on many high-profile projects, such as the British Museum’s World Conservation Centre, the “Walkie Talkie” building, Norman Foster’s “Gherkin” and Richard Rogers’ controversial Chelsea Barracks, died of severe head injuries three days later on November 8 at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington.

At an inquest into his death at St Pancras Coroner’s Court on Monday, coroner Mary Hassell recorded that the Angel, Islington resident died as a result of a road traffic collision caused by “a moment’s inattention” in which “the cycle hit the coach rather than the coach hitting the cycle”.

But she added that she was “disappointed” by the council’s lack of action and would be sending a “prevention of future deaths” report to them demanding they address the junction after hearing that there had been 77 collisions which caused injuries in 10 years, 29 of which involved cyclists, and three of which were fatal. 

Ms Hassell said: “I’m disappointed that Camden Council, and whoever else needs to consider this, whether it’s Transport for London or whoever else, have not made great progress since Mr Golding’s death. I appreciate this is not a quick fix but it seems to me that progress so far has been slow.”

The coroner added that the junction had a “history which certainly suggests that cyclists are particularly vulnerable at this junction. I’m wondering why you as an organisation didn’t give greater consideration looking at the junction. What has taken five months?”

Simi Shah, design team manager at the council, confirmed that “we haven’t looked at this site since November” and said that she didn’t know when it would be looked at but that it had been “identified to be looked at”, possibly in the next few months. 

Ms Hassell replied: “It does not seem from the way you describe it that there has been any urgency in this and I’m very concerned about that. You think perhaps in a couple of months? You don’t seem to have got very far since November. What you have said to me is that ‘we haven't really got to first base’.”

Mr Golding’s death came during an intense period in November last year in which five cyclists were killed in nine days in accidents in London, and months after another cyclist, 54-year-old Alan Neve, was killed just one street away in High Holborn in July, leading to a traffic-halting protest involving 2,500 cyclists.

Cyclist Simon Shergold, who had been riding “bumper to bumper” behind Mr Golding and witnessed the crash, said that “cyclists in London, generally they take chances and they break the rules a bit” but he had been “in shock” that the other cyclist hadn’t spotted the coach.  

“I wanted to shout,” he said. “Words didn’t come out. Mr Golding wasn’t aware of the coach at all.

“I don’t want to say something like this because it is my point of view, [but] I don’t think he was paying enough attention on that two seconds of his journey and that was just a sad consequence.”

Ms Hassell added: “I think we all suffer a moment’s inattention when on the roads and mostly we are lucky that that inattention does not have devastating consequences. He just didn’t see it. And, really, who is to say that couldn’t happen to any person sitting in the court?”

The court heard that coach driver of 10 years Joel Hobson, who had been taking Lincolnshire pensioners on a two-day theatre trip to the capital, would only have had a two-second window in which to spot the cyclist. He was questioned on three separate occasions during the five-hour inquest about why he is seen on CCTV cameras indicating right, before indicating left and switching lanes. 

Footage screened to the court showed a flash of the high-visibility jacket worn by Mr Golding before the coach, which had been indicating for at least 20 seconds, moved off slowly. It comes to an abrupt halt seconds later, following the impact. 

Pathologist Dr Liina Kiho told St Pancras Coroner’s Court that the Islington resident “would have had a chance” if he had been wearing a helmet. 

The architectural, planning and conservation expert’s long-term civil partner, Dr Satish Padiyar, 49, a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art in the Strand, attended the inquest but did not comment. 

Cllr Phil Jones, Cabinet Member for Sustainability, Transport, and Planning, said the council had an “ambitious programme of schemes” that includes redesigning the Holborn network.

He said: “Following this tragic incident we reviewed the junction in question with representatives from the Metropolitan Police who advised that the road layout at the junction was not a contributing factor. We, however, note the comments made by the coroner and will now look closely at what steps are needed. Works are ongoing to review this and other road layouts in the Holborn area. The development of schemes such as this necessarily take longer as consideration needs to be given to the impact on all road users and due to its complex and constrained central London location."

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