Bereavement due to traumatic death

Cynthia - Interview 02

Female
Age at interview: 64

Brief outline: In 2000 Cynthia's 26 year old daughter was killed when she was knocked off her bicycle and run over by a lorry. The inquest verdict was 'accidental death' and the driver was acquitted. Cynthia was devastated and now campaigns to prevent other road deaths.

Background: Cynthia was a University administrator (now retired). She is divorced and has one child, who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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In June 2000 Cynthia’s 26 year old daughter was killed when she was knocked off her bicycle and run over by a concrete mixer lorry, which was turning left across her path.

 
Cynthia was at work at the time and was shocked when two policemen arrived to tell her what had happened. Cynthia wanted to see her daughter and discovered that she was in the mortuary at the City of London Coroner’s Office. She went there with her boss, but was told that she could not see her daughter. No explanation was given at the time, which was upsetting. Cynthia received very little other information.
 
Cynthia’s life has been shattered and totally changed by the events of that day. She organised her daughter’s funeral herself. It was held at a crematorium and attended by many of her daughter’s friends. Some of her daughter’s ashes were scattered in the grounds of her college, some when a tree was planted in her memory, and the rest were scattered on the canal from a boat which she loved.
 
The inquest was held at the end of January 2001. Cynthia was not allowed to see the witness statements before the inquest, and even though she employed a barrister she felt that the inquest was a complete waste of time. The coroner decided that her daughter’s death had been due to an accident.
 
At the end of 2000 Cynthia was told that the driver of the lorry was going to be prosecuted. She attended the pre-trial hearing in January 2001. The trial took place in a magistrate’s court in April 2001. Cynthia asked the police if she should expect to see any visual evidence that she might find upsetting. Although she was told that there would not be visual evidence, she was shocked to find that there was a large video screen in court and that she was expected to look at a succession of CCTV images of her daughter cycling to her death. Cynthia believes that the conduct of the prosecution was incompetent. The driver was acquitted of the charge of careless driving, even though he admitted that he had not used two of the three mirrors on the left hand side of the vehicle. Cynthia was left feeling deeply traumatised by the whole experience.
 
After Cynthia’s daughter died she felt angry and devastated and at times she felt suicidal. She began to feel a bit better when she realised that she was not to blame for what had happened. Initially she had blamed herself for the “rubbish trial” thinking that she had been too naive, too trusting, and she blamed herself for everything that had gone wrong. Gradually she realised that her anger had been misplaced and she started campaigning to change the Coroners’ System, to change the Criminal Justice system, and to make sure that companies take road deaths seriously.
 
Three weeks after her daughter’s death Cynthia returned to work. She found it helped to have some routine in her day. She also found great support from her daughter’s friends. She found art therapy helpful and still paints and draws. Her GP suggested counselling, which she also found helpful. She says that her feelings about her daughter’s death are just as intense as ever, but that she has developed coping strategies.
 
Cynthia is still campaigning for safer roads in order to prevent other deaths. She works with various companies on training initiatives for their drivers and has campaigned tirelessly to try to make vehicles safer. If a death has occurred she wants magistrates to use the charge of “causing death by careless driving”, rather than just using the charge of “careless driving”, so that it is clearly recognised that a death has occurred.
 
Cynthia is Chair of RoadPeace, the UK charity which provides support for victims of road crashes, and which campaigns for justice, road safety and road danger reduction.
 
Cynthia was interviewed in September 2008.

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