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Cyclist's family 'devastated' as lorry driver cleared over death

Published 31/03/2016

Janina Gehlau with her husband Marcel, as an Old Bailey jury has cleared lorry driver Vincent Doyle of causing her death by careless driving (Slater Gordon/PA)
Janina Gehlau with her husband Marcel, as an Old Bailey jury has cleared lorry driver Vincent Doyle of causing her death by careless driving (Slater Gordon/PA)

The widower of a young cyclist knocked down and killed by a lorry at a notorious junction collapsed in tears as the driver walked free from court.

Vincent Doyle, 45, failed to spot German postgraduate student Janina Gehlau, 26, in the cycle lane as he manoeuvred his massive Foden truck to turn left at busy Ludgate Circus in central London.

Jurors at the Old Bailey were told that he should have been aware she was catching up as he waited for 23 seconds at the red light, having overtaken her just 200 metres before the junction.

And if his mirrors were correctly positioned, he would have had her in his sights for three to five seconds before his wheels clipped hers, sending her underneath the vehicle, the court heard.

But Doyle denied the charge of causing Mrs Gehlau's death by careless driving on the morning of October 17 2014, a nd the jury deliberated for less than an hour before clearing him.

After the verdict was returned, Mrs Gehlau's family, who sat in court with a German translator, appeared downcast and her husband, Marcel, shook uncontrollably and wept before being led from court.

Judge Gerald Gordon said: "I would like it to be made absolutely clear to the family that the verdict of the jury does not imply any form of criticism of Mrs Gehlau."

He added that it may be that the differing rules of the road from Germany were "a factor".

In a statement released by lawyers Slater and Gordon, Mrs Gehlau's mother, Andrea Tasic, said: "We are devastated by the verdict and do not feel that we have got justice for Janina.

"We would like to thank the emergency services who tried so hard to save her and everyone who has supported us since her death.

"I miss her so much. She had a great future ahead of her and it was erased in a moment.

"I told her I thought the roads were too dangerous when I visited her, but she was an experienced cyclist and told me not to worry, she said it would be fine.

"My only hope is that this makes people think twice before cycling in London.

"Too many families are losing loved ones in these circumstances and action needs to be taken to improve safety before there are any more tragedies."

During the three-day trial, Doyle insisted he always made safety checks and had looked in his mirrors "five or six times" before the green light.

He told jurors that he never saw Mrs Gehlau frantically waving her arms or heard her shouting before she fell under the lorry, which was described by his lawyer, Alan Wheetman, as "the size of half a house".

The first he knew of Mrs Gehlau's position was after he felt a "bump" and looked in his mirror to see her head sticking out, he said.

The burly grey-haired driver described how he held her hand and pleaded with her to "hold on" before the ambulance arrived to take her to hospital.

He said: "At first I was angry, thinking 'What is this person doing?' but once I got closer I saw how injured she was.

"I was taking her pulse, chatting to her all the time. I was holding her hand telling her 'Please hang on'. We were chatting away. And then she died. She died just as the ambulance got there."

On how the accident had affected him, he said: "I had a nervous breakdown last year. I was in psychiatric hospital for eight months."

Mrs Gehlau had been in England for just a few weeks of a three-month trip as she studied for a masters degree and had been visiting the Barbican on the morning of the accident.

Her death was one of a number of cycling fatalities in the capital which raised questions about road safety, and the dangers of lorries turning left on roads in the city centre.

The family's lawyer, Matthew Claxson, of Slater and Gordon, said afterwards: "Sadly Janina's death is not an isolated case and cycling fatalities are becoming an all too frequent occurrence on London's roads.

"The whole legal process has been very difficult and distressing for the family as they struggle to come to terms with their loss.

"They are understandably devastated by the verdict, but hope that if anything positive can come from this tragedy, it is that everyone - cyclists, motorists and pedestrians - pay more attention on the roads."

British Cycling campaigns manager Martin Key added: "This case shows that we need urgent action to clarify priority at junctions, as is common in many other countries.

"With more people cycling than ever before and new cycle lanes being created, both drivers and cyclists need to know what to do at junctions to prevent tragedies like this occurring.

"British Cycling will be calling for more clarification on this issue to be added to the Highway Code."

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