Professor Maria Bitner-Glindzicz: “She didn’t stand a chance.”
A “simply brilliant” children’s doctor killed cycling in London began travelling by bike after narrowly avoiding one of the 7/7 terror attacks on the Tube in 2005, her family revealed today.
Professor Maria Bitner-Glindzicz, 55, died from multiple injuries after a delivery driver opened his van door “sharply” into her path without looking, “side-swiping” her or forcing her to swerve into the path of a black taxi, a coroner ruled yesterday.
Her husband, cancer doctor Professor David Miles, told the Standard she believed it was only because of overcrowding that she had avoided boarding the Piccadilly line train that exploded near Russell Square station, killing 26 people.
He said: “She reckoned she was extremely close on 7/7 to being on the carriage that had the bomb on it. Since then, she was always cycling.”
Poplar coroner’s court heard that Professor Bitner-Glindzicz, a geneticist at the UCL Institute of Child Health and doctor at Great Ormond Street hospital, was left fatally injured after being dragged 18m after being run over in St John St, Clerkenwell, at about 11.30am on September 19 last year.
The mother of two, a world expert on rare diseases that cause children to go deaf and blind, died in the Royal London hospital, Whitechapel, the following day. She was one of 12 cyclists killed in London last year. She was only moments from St Bartholomew’s hospital, where she was to give a lecture, when she was hit.
Coroner Mary Hassell criticised the actions of Lyreco driver Owen Turner, who she said had parked “badly” 1m from the kerb, creating a “hazard” by having his Renault van sticking into the road.
Mr Turner had refused to answer police questions last year and only provided a written statement to officers, in which he claimed he had looked before opening his door and had not seen “anyone”. Ms Hassell said she did not accept his version of events.
Mr Turner was charged with opening his door “so as to injure or endanger” but was found dead at home in April, two days before he was due to appear in court.
Ms Hassell said: “It seems to me the reality of what happened was: He didn’t look. He didn’t look by turning behind him and looking over his shoulder, as he should have, and he didn’t look in his mirror. He didn’t look at all, and just opened his door.”
She said it would never be known whether Professor Bitner-Glindzicz, who was wearing a white helmet and fluorescent body strap and “cycling exactly as she should have been”, had fallen after swerving to avoid the door or after being hit by it.
“Either way, she came off the bike because of the opening of the door,” the coroner said, in a narrative verdict. “That caused her to be sucked under the wheels of the cab. That was the cause of the collision, the cause of death… she didn’t stand a chance.”
The coroner’s narrative determination was as follows:
“It’s available to me to make a determination simply of road traffic collision, and indeed this was a road traffic collision. There is no doubt about that at all.
“I’m going to make such a determination but I’m not going to allow that to stand alone. I think it’s important to record the facts of the scenario leading to the road traffic collision. I’m going to include all of that in the narrative.
“I want to remind everyone present this isn’t a criminal court. It isn’t a civil court. I’m prohibited from making a determination which appears to make any determination of criminal liability or civil liability.
“It seems to me that Professor Bitner-Glindzicz was cycling normally. There is no evidence she wobbled or became dizzy. She was wearing a helmet. She was wearing a fluorescent body strap. Her bike was in good condition. Her cycling was safe and steady.
“There was the possibility that she might have been ‘hugging’ either the kerb or parked cars. I regard that as very unlikely. It seems to me a person who was cycling the way she was would have taken the most obvious path, the safest path. To have ‘hugged’ the parked cars would have been inconvenient. I discount that as a possibility. She was cycling exactly as she should have been.
“But the van driver had parked his van too far from the kerb, so creating a hazard. I’m aware he said in his statement he looked and didn’t see anybody. I don’t accept his version of events.
“It seems to me the reality of what happened was: he didn’t look. Her didn’t look by turning behind him and looking over his shoulder, as he should have done. He didn’t look in his mirror. He didn’t look at all. He just opened his door.”
Ms Hassell said it would never be known whether Professor Bitner-Glindzicz had fallen after swerving to avoid the opening door, or had fallen after being hit by the door. Forensic analysis of marks on the van door indicated both were possible outcomes.
The coroner continued: “Either way, she came off her bike because of the opening of the door. That caused her to be sucked under the wheels of the cab. That was the cause of the collision, the cause of death. It was the opening of the door.
“Maria Bitner-Glindzicz died in a road traffic collision that occurred at approximately 1130am on September 19, 2018, in St John Street, 70m south of the junction with Clerkenwell Road. She was cycling in a safe and steady manner, wearing a helmet and fluorescent body strap.
“A van driver had parked his vehicle, up ahead of her, badly, too far from the kerb, thus creating a hazard. This meant there was less space in the road. The van driver then didn’t look before opening his door – sharply. The result was either that Professor Bitner-Glindzicz had to swerve suddenly, or that she was side-swpied. In either event, the opening of the door caused her to fall underneath the wheels of the black cab overtaking her.”
Turing to Professor Bitner-Glindzicz’s family in court, Ms Hassell said: “I’m so very sorry for your loss. She didn’t stand a chance.”
Taxi driver Alan Nicholas, a cabbie for 33 years, broke down as he told how onlookers screamed for him to stop. He and his two Swedish passengers thought he had hit a pothole.
He had been driving since 3.50am that day and was looking in his wing mirror as he overtook Professor Bitner-Glindzicz, the court was told. CCTV footage from a nearby Sainsbury’s enabled police to calculate that he had been travelling about 21mph to 23mph – in a 20mph zone – shortly before the collision.
Professor Miles said in a statement read out by the coroner:
“Maria was my wife and the mother of our two children.
“Maria was Professor of Human and Molecular Genetics at Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Institute of Child Health. Originally, her work focused on the genetic causes of deafness. More recently, she focused increasingly on children destined to develop, not only profound deafness but who would also subsequently become blind. Syndromes such as Norrie and Usher. One can only begin to imagine the devastating effect of such sensory loss for these poor children and indeed their families.
“Maria was an internationally-recognised scientist and acknowledged expert in the field. She was developing therapies based on her unique understanding of the genetics and consequent molecular mechanisms behind these debilitating conditions.
“Within days of her death, she was due to travel to Boston to negotiate transfer of materials for potential gene therapy. Her lab was also simultaneously investigating medicines established in other fields, so-called ‘drug-repurposing’ to make available affordable treatments for these generally under-represented conditions. Both these strategies were so very close to clinical application.
“Maria was also a clinician. Not only did she care for these children and their families in clinic, she also reached out into the community, helping to establish support groups for the families of these children, who, with such rare conditions, otherwise feel very isolated.
“It is so very difficult to convey what has been lost. She was quite simply brilliant. You would probably expect me to say that and to describe her as irreplaceable. But as one of her colleagues told me recently, ‘nobody else has her knowledge base’. Her death has left a terrible gap in the field in general and for these children and their families in particular.
“Perhaps after this inquest, we will be able to understand the circumstances that led to her death and we sincerely hope that it generates the urgent improvements in road safety vital to ending such devastating and preventable loss in the future.”
Professor Miles revealed that soon after her death he had sent a “fairly brusque letter” to Mayor Sadiq Khan to lambast him for underspending his cycle safety budget by £142 million.
Asked what he had written, Professor Miles said: “It was something like, ‘Let me get this straight: my wife died and you are £142m underspent on the safety budget?’”
He did receive a reply from the Mayor expressing his condolences. Mr Khan has been blocked by Tory councils such as Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea from introducing more segregated cycle lanes.
St John Street is in Islington. Its cabinet member for transport, Claudia Webbe, tweeted that money had been set aside to part-pedestrianise St John Street but there was a £1.5m funding gap and agreement was needed from TfL and the City of London Corporation.
Professor Miles said: “I think this case highlights what is so utterly wrong with the attention to safety for cyclists shown by TfL and the Mayor of London… who are encouraging people to go onto roads, some of which are intrinsically very dangerous. You are enticing people onto an environment which is unsafe.”
He said his wife’s death was “avoidable”. Professor Miles said: “If the correct safety measures had been in place, then she would not have died.”
The family’s lawyer, Dushal Mehta, of Fieldfisher, said: “What we need is a radical rethink of our attitudes towards road safety and that must be a priority.”