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First crowdfunded private prosecution could have significant implications for cycle safety

Josh Cunningham
4 Apr 2017

Case concerns the death of cyclist Michael Mason, who was killed after being hit by a car in London in 2014

Britain's first ever crowdfunded private prosecution has opened at the Old Bailey. The case concerns the death of 70-year-old Michael Mason, who was hit by a car while cycling on Regent Street in Central London in 2014.

The driver and defendant, 58-year-old Gail Purcell, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of causing death by careless driving which has been brought against her.

London's Metropolitan Police decided not to bring the case forward at the time, however a crowdfunding page was set up by the Cyclists' Defence Fund, a subsidiary of Cycling UK (formerly CTC) on the website justgiving.com.

It raised £64,000 in order to bring a private prosecution. 

Private prosecutions are relatively rare due to their cost and the fact that legal aid is unavailable to the prosecutor.

It is thought that the Mason case is the first example in Britain of a crowdfunded source paying for such fees. 

As Simon Spence QC told jurors yesterday though, the fact that the case against Purcell is being made privately, as opposed to through the Crown Prosecution Service, does not in any way affect their approach to the case. 

The incident

Mr Mason was cycling along Regent Street from the Apple Store to his home in Kentish Town when he was hit by Purcell at 6.20pm on 25th February 2014.

According to the Guardian, the jury was told that witnesses said that Mason was cycling in the middle of the road ahead of Purcell, who was driving home from her work at a hair salon.

Purcell's car hit the cyclist, with witnesses saying he flew into the air and landed head first in the road. He was taken to St Mary’s hospital and died 19 days later without regaining consciousness. 

According to a witness cited in a Daily Mail article, Purcell said at the scene: 'I'm the driver. It was me. Is he okay? I just didn't see him.'

The significance

As well as being the first crowdfunded private prosecution in the UK, the outcome of the case could have a significant impact on the future of cycling's - and cyclists' - relationship with the justice system. 

In an enquiry titled 'Cycling and the justice system', made by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, the very issues relating to the Mason case are under investigation.

'Should there be a revision of careless and dangerous driving charging standards? Should the "presumed liability" civil compensation system be introduced?' asks the APPCG website

Currently in the UK, in the event of an incident or injury a cyclist must prove that a motorist is at fault in order to make a claim.

As such, it is one of just five countries in Europe, along with Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland, where the presumed liability is with with cyclist, not the driver. 

As Mr Mason's daughter, Anna Tatton-Brown, said: 'This isn't about a persecution of Gail Purcell. This is about prosecutors taking Mick's death - and cycling deaths - seriously.

'It's sad we've had to rely on charity and public support to do what the police and criminal justice system should have done anyway.'

The case continues. 

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