Woman cleared of killing cyclist in Britain's first crowdfunded prosecution

Tristan Kirk
Cleared: motorist Gail Purcell, 59: Central News

A hairdresser who faced trial in Britain's first crowdfunded prosecution has been cleared of killing a cyclist after a jury deliberated for just 17 minutes.

Gail Purcell, 59, was accused of causing the death of 70-year-old Michael Mason when she struck him with her Nissan on Regent Street.

Police refused to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration of a criminal case, but Purcell was taken to court thanks to a CrowdFunded appeal backed by the Cyclists' Defence Fund (CDF), an arm of charity Cycling UK, which raised more than £80,000.

More than 2000 people supported the appeal, and Mrs Purcell was sent for trial at the Old Bailey.

Brain injury: Michael Mason died 19 days after the accident

However a jury returned a not guilty verdict this afternoon on causing death by careless driving in just 17 minutes, following a four day trial.

Mr Mason, who is the father of BBC journalist Anna Tatton-Brown, was seen “flying through the air” after the crash at February 25 2014. He spent 19 days in a coma in hospital before dying from head injuries.

Mrs Purcell, who stopped at the scene in Regent Street, told police in the aftermath of the crash: “I’m the driver. It was me. Is he okay?” before adding: “I just didn’t see him”.

It was alleged she was careless by not spotting Mr Mason as he cycled in front of her as she drove home from her salon in Conduit Street, Soho.

But the jury returned a unanimous not guilty verdict.

Following the verdict, Ms Tatton-Brown said she and her family were “disappointed” but respected the decision of the jury.

“It seems that failing to be aware of what's in front of you while you're driving is an acceptable mistake, not careless, and that no explanation for that failure is necessary.

"We do, however, draw some comfort from the fact that the evidence was finally put to a jury, something that should have happened long ago.

"It should not have taken the intervention of CDF, and the support of many members of the public, to bring this case to court.

"Given that the judge accepted that there was a case which the jury had to consider, we would hope that the police will now conduct a review into their investigation, their rush to blame the victim, their refusal to seek CPS advice, and consider what lessons might be learned.

"My family would once again like to express our sincere and grateful appreciation for all of the support we have received in our search for justice for my much-loved Dad."

Following her acquittal, Mrs Purcell, of Colney Street, St Albans, is now seeking to recover some of her costs of fighting the case. She denied causing death by careless driving.

Duncan Dollimore, spokesman for CDF, said they were “concerned” about the message this case had sent out to the public.

“Careless driving is supposed to be driving which falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver.

"If failing to see an illuminated cyclist on a well-lit road is not careless driving, and no explanation for that failure is required, that reinforces the arguments Cycling UK has made through our Road Justice Campaign for many years: namely the definition and identification of bad driving offences needs urgent review.

"Notwithstanding the jury's decision, we believe it was right to bring this case to court given the Metropolitan Police's unwillingness to do so.

"We do question why the police failed to obtain witness evidence from relevant eye-witnesses which the legal team instructed by CDF were able to secure.

"If they had done so they would have recognised, as the judge did yesterday, that this was a case which rightly had to be put before a jury.

"We believe they should review their investigation practices involving vulnerable road users, and their engagement with the victims' families.

"Although we can only be disappointed at the result, we hope that this case demonstrates why we need to look closely at how the justice system serves the victims of road collisions and their families, and whether the standards applied to decide what is, or is not, careless or dangerous driving are fit for purpose."

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