Last week, Charlie Alliston was sentenced to 18-months in a young offenders institution for his part in the tragic accident that took the life of Kim Briggs. Following the trial, her widower stated there is a “gap in the law” and many have decried the actions of the cyclist for the lack of a front brake on his bike. Throughout the course of the trial, there has been immense controversy and heated discussion.
In some sense, Mrs Briggs’ widower is right: there is a gap in the law but, it is borne out of double-standards. There are two double-standards that I have noticed, the first is the difference in treatment of cyclists versus the treatment of motorists. The second is the differences in the Charlie Alliston prosecution and the prosecution of Jessica Wells.
These double-standards, gaps and contradictions certainly hindered the case. For a start, death by dangerous driving could not be applied because he was on a bicycle – these modes of transport tend not to have motors on them. An attempt at a manslaughter charge was tried but, this too, failed. Ultimately, Mr Alliston was charged with causing bodily harm by “wanton and furious driving” contrary to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. Many, including Mrs Briggs widower, have been shocked that such an archaic piece of legislation was used yet, in the majority of cases where an offence of unlawful wounding has been caused, the Offences Against the Person Act is cited (particularly Section 20). It is daily practice, just because the law is Victorian does not necessarily invalidate it – throughout its 156-year life the Act has received an aggiornamento or two.
However, I must be blunt: had Kim Briggs been hit by a car and died, instead of being hit by Charlie Alliston’s bike and died, we would never have heard anything about her. She would have become one of the 400 pedestrians a year killed on our roads and would never have reached page 39 in the national press. Yet, because it was a bicycle that hit her and not a motor vehicle, she took headline status.
Consider this: Safer Roads says if you hit a child when driving at:
- 40mph – you will probably kill the child
- 30mph – the child has an 80% chance of survival
- 20mph – the child is likely to survive with minor injuries
When Charlie Alliston approached that fateful junction, he was travelling at around 18 – 20mph, when he struck Kim Briggs, he was travelling at around 10 – 14mph. Thus, her chances of survival were actually very high – it’s because of how she hit her head when she fell why she died. Also, when Mrs Briggs stepped out into the road (whether she was looking at her phone or not), Mr Alliston was 6.53 metres away. The Highway Code states a stopping distance of 12 metres when travelling at 20mph yet the official distances have been decried as woefully short by a new study – the study recommended the distance for 20mph to be 19 metres. Had he been in a car, he would never have been able to stop in time. In fact, travelling at 18mph with only 6.53 metres of road in front, he had less than a second to react. These reasons cited and a host more are why a motorist would not have landed a ‘wanton and furious driving’ charge.
The second double-standard and, in my humble opinion, the worst, is that of the differences in the prosecutions for Charlie Alliston and Jessica Wells. In March of last year, Jessica Wells struck and killed 80-year old Ian Rose as he was alighting off a bus. She was travelling at 44mph (in a 30mph zone) and had just overtaken a lorry and undertaken a learner driver. In short, Jessica Wells did travel 14mph over the speed limit and attempt to undertake a parked bus as passengers were alighting, only to collide with one, killing him.
Such a horrendous incident, especially when juxtaposed with the Charlie Alliston & Kim Briggs incident and, noting that the hearing for Jessica Wells occurred only a month before Alliston’s, would imply that the sentence handed would be either equal to or greater than that which Alliston received. Alas, that is not the case. She was given a sentence of four months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months.
When sentencing her, Judge Philip Katz QC said “You are also very conscious of the fact you have taken somebody’s life, a fact you will have to live with for the rest of your life … I accept wholly that you are thoroughly remorseful about what you have done … It seems to me I will cause more damage than justice requires if I sentence you to prison.” Because of her remorse, she was given a lenient sentence.
Let’s contrast that to what Judge Wendy Joseph QC had to say to Alliston “You have throughout sought to put your blame on her. Perhaps one of the most shocking things about this case is that you could not and apparently cannot still see any fault in your cycling or judgement.” She said this despite the fact that Mark Wyeth QC said in mitigation, following the death of Briggs, Alliston spent nine days in in the Maudsley psychiatric hospital, south London, having been taken there by police who had found him out alone with a rope, in preparation for a suicide attempt.
It would appear that shedding a few tears in court counts as ‘showing remorse’ for having killed someone when speeding then undertaking a parked bus yet, attempting to take one’s own life and requiring medical support to prevent another attempt when dealing with the emotional ramifications of a tragic accident does not seem to count.
The Law is broken.