A tale with one victim and many villains

On Thursday 19.11.15 the Coroner’s Inquest was held of the killing of Abdelkhalak Lahyani at Elephant and Castle on 13.05.14 by Edwin Humphries, who was driving a 26-tonne lorry.

Abdelkhalak Lahyani Image by the family

Here are the facts that emerged at the inquest:

Humphries drives a large lorry from Telford to London (approx. 250km) arriving at his destination on the Walworth Rd at 14:15. After downloading, he has to wait one hour because schoolchildren near the site are coming out. [This incidentally is another example that a rush-hour lorry ban protects some people, but transfers the risk to others, if other measures are not also applied].

At approximately 16:00 Humphries drives up the Walworth Road, which has two lanes North, one of which is a bus lane. It has no cycle-specific infrastructure. The road then turns left, and 70 meters before the Elephant & Castle junction the lanes become three: the bus lane becomes a general lane for left turning traffic and the two other lanes have right turning arrows painted:

Humphries stays in the middle lane. After a further 40 metres, between the left and the middle lane, a cycle feeder lane is painted:

View looking back

The traffic light is red and for 1 minute and 20 seconds Humphries is stationary in the middle lane, front of the queue. In the left lane, a car and a van are also waiting; in between a moped blocks the exit of the feeder lane into the ASL.

At the Inquest, Humphries testifies that
a. he thought the left lane was still a bus lane
b. he had not noticed the feeder lane
c. he had not noticed the moped.

Humphries’s SatNav tells him to go right but he decides to turn left, thinking it would be a less congested route. [Humphries had taken a 5 year break from driving HGVs and had just resumed 6 weeks earlier; this was his first trip in London in a long time]. Humphries does not remember when he made this decision.

Thirty seconds after Humphries stops at the lights, Lahyani reaches the area on his bicycle and then disappears from view of the four CCTVs. Layani works on the South Bank and he intends to go straight and right at the junction.

Although PC Smith, the investigator, has shown that the lorry’s left indicators were on when the lights turned green, he did not mention whether they were on when he arrived at the junction. The Coroner did not pick up on this crucial point.

When the lights turned, the tragedy quickly unravelled: the moped sped away and turned left; behind it  Lahyani cycle straight; Humphries turned left; Lahyani was hit by the side of the lorry, fell under its left rear wheel and suffered fatal injuries.

The villains

Transport for London – This junction had been redesigned in 2010, with no consideration for cycling safety. A feeder lane in the middle of a three-lane arterial road, with bus traffic moving left to right and substantial HGV traffic moving right to left is a recipe for disaster. It only takes a small error by a driver of a large vehicle to end the life of an innocent person. The laziness of TfL is further evidenced by the cycle lane on the left of the carriageway, visible from this aerial shot of the protest organised by Stop Killing Cyclists.

The green strip on the pavement at bottom right, is meant for left turning cyclists. It suddenly stops, with no indication of where to go and where to rejoin the road. Scandalous.
After Lahyani’s killing, SKC used chalk to show a possible solution to keep people on bikes safe: a cycle track on the wide expanse of pavement both for left turning cyclists and for those intending to go straight (with the track splitting at the top of the picture, one arm safely rejoining the carriageway, the other crossing the street, adjacent to the pedestrian crossing). A year and a half after the killing, TfL has not modified the junction. People are forced to ride in the same environment that killed Lahyani.

Boris Johnson – The Mayor infamously stated “If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable.” The killing of Lahyani can be strictly linked to this statement.  Boris Johnson did not intend to kill Lahyani, but by mandating the prioritising of “smoothing traffic flow” over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, he is most responsible for his death (and that of many others). Some may want to give credit to Johnson for delivering a few kilometres of good quality infrastructure in his last year on the job; they forget the victims of his crass policies: we should honour the five victims who had to die on his blue paint, before his belated conversion, rather than praising him.

The Metropolitan Police – Some Collision Investigator Officers are thorough and we have praised them in the past. In this case, PC Smith has shown to be woefully inadequate. At the inquest he went out of his way to blame Lahyani for riding his bicycle where TfL had asked him to. He stressed that CCTVs did not show the exact position of Lahyani during the 50 seconds when everyone was waiting for the green light. When I challenged him outside of court, asking him why didn’t he explain the most likely series of events, Smith said: “He could have been anywhere, even on the pavement”, an impossible scenario. However his most damning failing has been not to draw the attention of the court to the clear contribution that the road layout had to the killing. We are going to report him to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (Yes we know, another total ineffectual body). The testimony by PC Smith was so bad that the only conclusion that one can take is that this was a stitch-up between the Metropolitan Police and its paymaster, Transport for London, who clearly have no intention of redesigning the junction.

Coroner Ballard – In spite of clear evidence that Lahyani had done nothing wrong and that he ended up being in an extremely vulnerable  position because of inadequate and unsafe provisions, the Coroner did not contemplate issuing a Prevention of Future Death report. This is dereliction of duty:

Paragraph 7 of Schedule 5, Coroners and Justice Act 2009, provides coroners with the duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths.

The barrister representing the family at the Inquest – Shamefully unwilling to challenge the Police testimony, the barrister responded to my questions of why she hadn’t, by saying, “That is not what Inquests are for”. Another highly paid professional who doesn’t know the law and her job.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lahyani has been killed and no lessons have been learned. The people who caused his death, the driver, Boris Johnson, Transport for London have made errors of varying severity. Not only they have not been punished, but these errors have not been formally recognised and therefore are not going to be corrected. The Metropolitan Police, the Coroner and the barrister are therefore responsible for the future injuries and fatalities which sadly are inevitably going to happen at this junction.

The incompetence and impunity of these villains are the reason of the intolerable number of people killed while walking and cycling in London.

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