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MX News Update 2024

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Why a disabled pedestrian had her cyclist manslaughter conviction overturned

A woman who shouted and waved at a cyclist, causing her to fall in front of a car, has had her manslaughter conviction overturned. Auriol Grey, who has cerebral palsy and is partially blind, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2023 after the incident in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. But yesterday the Court of Appeal quashed the 50-year-old’s conviction; her lawyers said she was a vulnerable pedestrian who “should never have been charged.” Grey’s family responded by saying, “we hope lessons will be learned.”

This is a tragic case where there are no winners

This is a tragic case where there are no winners. In October 2020, Gray was walking along a sidewalk when a 77-year-old cyclist, Celia Ward, tried to pass her. CCTV footage showed that, instead of trying to get out of the way, Gray gestured to Ward and shouted, “Get off the sidewalk.” Ward then fell from her bicycle onto the road and into the path of a car. The driver had no chance to stop or take evasive action. Ward suffered catastrophic injuries. Unfortunately, she died on the spot.

A prosecution for what is known as wrongful homicide was brought against Gray, and after a retrial she was convicted and sent to prison. During the course of the trial and sentencing, the judge indicated that her actions could not be explained by her disability.

The prosecution case was that Gray’s “hostile response” to Ward cycling on the sidewalk was unlawful. As a result, Ward fell from her bicycle and landed on the roadway, resulting in her death. The words “get off the damn sidewalk” are said to have characterized Gray’s mentality of “hostility toward cyclists riding on sidewalks.”

Although the evidence showed that Gray had gestured or waved at Ward, there was no evidence that she had actually pushed her or touched her in any way.

Pedestrians and cyclists may have had shared access to the sidewalk in question, although the Court noted that this fact “was never clearly established one way or another at trial.”

Gray appealed her conviction. The central question at the appeal hearing was whether there was a tort (sometimes called a ‘predicate crime’) that caused Ward’s death. The appellant’s team argued that neither the judge nor the parties had established such an act at trial and that such a predicate offense had not been proven. Accordingly, the defense team said that “the factual elements left to the jury were legally insufficient to result in a manslaughter conviction.”

Gray spent a year in prison

In response, Crown counsel argued that the jury had been directed by the judge in such a way that they would naturally have concluded that Gray had committed a common assault (the relevant ‘predicate offence’) leading to death. . He therefore argued that the conviction was not unsafe.

The Court of Appeal recognized that Ward’s death “was a tragedy and the circumstances of it were appalling.” It also recognized the enormous suffering caused to her family and the fact that the death deserved a proper investigation into any criminal responsibility. Nevertheless, the judgment, which was delivered by Dame Victoria Sharpe (the President of the King’s Bench Division), emphasized the fact that if Ward had not died it was ‘unthinkable that the appellant would ever have been charged with assault in circumstances where that was possible ‘. it has not been established that she had any physical contact with the cyclist.’

The judgment also noted that the judge’s legal instructions to the jury “contained fundamental and material errors in law.” Dame Victoria concluded that the prosecution case had been insufficient to even be left to the jury and that:

“In all the circumstances, we have no hesitation in concluding that appellant’s conviction for manslaughter is unsafe.”

After the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction, it refused an application to allow the Crown to rehear the case. While the case does not set any significant new legal precedent, people will no doubt try to learn lessons from the outcome. Gray has spent a year in prison and her family has argued that vulnerable people need better support from the justice system.

At the time of the incident, the police argued that road users should ‘take care of each other and take each other into account’. The case sparked a furious online debate between cyclists and pedestrians. After the verdict, Grey’s legal team said the accident would never have happened if a cycle lane had been built that separated vulnerable pedestrians from cyclists.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that not every tragedy deserves criminal charges. Criminal law cannot always attribute guilt, even in circumstances where a person’s actions contribute to a calamity. As much as people look for the culprit, sometimes an accident is just an accident. Prosecutors should not forget that fact, even when pressured to do something in the face of a catastrophic event.