This article is a follow-up to Something’s Not Quite Right Here and includes additional analysis based on information that has become available following the conclusion of the trial of Philip Sinden, who was charged with causing the death of Daniel Squire by dangerous driving.
This post was last updated on Thursday 16 April. Significant updates are listed below.
Thursday 16 April: Doubt raised over the time of the 999 call. Sinden placed a (now deleted) post on Facebook stating that the time of the connection was 08:41:44, a minute later than was reported. This obviously has a very significant impact on the time analysis, in particular the additional discussion of the collision almost certainly having occurred prior to Sinden exiting the messaging app: this is no longer almost certain (though remains just as possible). For the time being, the analysis is left in place with reminders of the reduced confidence; if and when further information arises, these parts of the post may be heavily modified.
Wednesday 15 April: Added details relating to Sinden’s phone and, more importantly, the events immediately prior to the 999 call. Further timelines added to the “Witnesses” section, plus an explanation of the (hugely significant) implications of these timelines.
Wednesday 25 March: Added a third time-known event (a draft text message being saved on Sinden’s phone), and some cursory research pertaining to this. Added the “Witnesses” section, corrected an inaccuracy about marks in the mud deposited on the road, added some further timing data from newly supplied videos (which are yet to be uploaded), and added a reported claim from Sinden about his phone’s battery status. Timelines have been added to help visualise some facts.
Additional information continues to arrive, and this post will be updated accordingly.
A few points must be stressed in advance.
Firstly, this is not a witch hunt. The objective here is to provide a case study for understanding whether there are issues with statutory legislation, the Crown Prosecution Service, or any other aspects of the legal process following a road collision. In the context of this specific trial, the question to aim for is: Given the defence case, how and why did the prosecution fail? And, if that can be answered, what can be learned from it?
Secondly, this is all based on available information, but I was not a court attendee. I cannot stress this enough: all information within this article should be viewed with an appropriate level of caution. I have marked all information by source and listed the sources individually. Many supposed facts in here are corroborated by multiple sources, but the veracity of the information about the content of the trial in particular is not guaranteed.
Of course, the same applies to my analysis of it. I don’t claim it to be bulletproof; it is largely just me thinking out loud and looking to the sky for answers. Mistakes may exist. Lack of information may have led me to think any given point was not analysed in court when actually it was. Caveat emptor. IANAL. If anyone can dispute anything in this article then please do so via the comments.
Local cycling group Spokes East Kent sent attendees to the trial and intend to publish their compiled court notes soon on their blog, which will no doubt add to the details that they have very kindly supplied me already. I would recommend keeping a keen eye out for their publication, as I suspect they will clarify the details of what would appear to be numerous oversights and omissions from the prosecution’s case.
Information in this analysis comes from a number of sources. These are as follows.
- Source A: Kent Online. Local news outlet which covered the collision, the trial and related events. Publicly available information (links provided below).
- Source B: Cyclists’ Defence Fund. Charity which followed the case. Publicly available information (links provided below).
- Source C: A commenter named “hissingsid” on the Kent Online website. The comment appears to be that of an attendee of the trial, but there is no information about the source itself to give an assurance of provenance or accuracy. Publicly available information (links provided below).
- Source D: A member of Spokes East Kent who was an attendee of the trial. Information not publicly available (quotes included below).
- Source E: Provider of two videos (E1 and E2) following the route Sinden took. Not yet publicly available, but I will endeavour to upload at a later point. An additional video is hopefully also being supplied.
- Source F: A member of Spokes East Kent who was an attendee of the trial. Information not publicly available (quotes included below).
- Source G: A member of Spokes East Kent who was an attendee of the trial. Information not publicly available (quotes included below).
- Source H: Provider of two videos (H1 and H2) following the route Sinden took.
- Source I: BBC News. Publicly available information (links provided below).
Note, as mentioned above, that the information from Spokes East Kent members is expected to be made publicly available in the next couple of days.
Known points in time
If it was to be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the collision was directly attributable to Sinden being distracted by his use of a mobile phone (and it is important to note that this is not the only scenario which would satisfy the charges against him) then timings are critical to the case.
Note that all timings are believed to be accurate ±1sec. Synchronisation between the Orange network, Sinden’s phone and the emergency call system are assumed to be close enough to be negligible in the context of calculations here. A robust prosecution might seek to measure any synchronisation differences.
Receipt of the last message from Sinden’s partner
One of the key times in the case is that at which Sinden received the last message from his partner.
Source A reports prosecutor Dale Sullivan as having stated that “she sent [the] message at 08:39:49”. Source D reports that this time is taken from Orange’s records.
This time of 08:39:49, assuming it was recorded by an Orange server, can be no later than Sinden’s phone received it, since the message has to go via Orange’s network to reach Sinden’s phone. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that this represents the earliest possible time that Sinden could have received the text message.
Placement of the 999 call
Source A reports that “police were alerted at 08:40:44 about the accident after another driver dialled 999”. I assume this time to have been taken from emergency call centre records, but I have seen no information as to its exact provenance. This time is at most 55 seconds after Sinden’s phone received the last text message from his partner.
Further details related to the 999 call are given in the “Witnesses” section below.
Source C reports that “there is a time period of 80 seconds between the last use of Sinden’s phone and the time of the report to Kent Police of the collision. This does not account for time spent with the BT operator, which could not be ascertained by the police investigators.” Initially this seemed more than a little unclear; the “last use” of Sinden’s phone was not something that emerged until quite some time after I initially looked at the case, and none of the information available at that stage corroborated that statement. However, on 16 April, Sinden himself posted on Facebook saying that the 999 call “was received at 08:40:44”. (This comment was then deleted later the same evening; unsurprisingly it was met with a little hostility.) It is of course possible that this is true, and that the reported time is erroneous. If so, it clearly affects the timeline analysis later in this post and significantly reduces any confidence in inferences that would be suggested by the reported time of 08:40:44 (though does not eliminate any hypotheses). If Sinden’s comment is truthful, this would imply 81 seconds between his last use of the phone and the connection of the 999 call, which is close to the 80 cited by Source C.
All that said, Source D (who attended the trial) has since confirmed the time given by Source A.
Exiting of the messaging app
Analysis of Sinden’s phone (a Sony Xperia T, according to Sources D and F) identified a garbled text message composed as a reply to the last received text message. This was found marked as “draft” and was timestamped 08:40:23.
By checking my own Sony phone (a different Xperia model) and asking other to check theirs, it becomes clear that the only obvious way for a message to be marked “draft” is to use the “back” key to exit the messaging app. Using my own phone, over a period of minutes I initiated and edited some text messages and went in and out of the app, and then used an SMS utility to check the timestamp for the messages in each case (by exporting them to CSV files). The timestamps matched the point at which the text messages were saved as drafts.
The expert witness responsible for the phone forensics demonstrated in court, using a phone of the same model as Sinden’s, that “two deliberate actions are needed to save a text message to Draft” (Source D), which is consistent with my findings.
Thus, on the basis of this evidence, it appears certain (subject to Sinden’s fanciful Claim 5, below) that Sinden was using his phone at 08:40:23.
The following is a timeline with the three known-time events marked on it. (Bear in mind the reduced certainty over the last of these).
The time MD is 34 seconds and during this time the text “Judges Joubert R Sect” (as reported by Source A) or “Judges jbar r stt” (as reported by Source F) was entered into Sinden’s phone. M is the earliest point at which the typing of the message could have commenced (inevitably it would have been some time later), while D is the last time at which Sinden is known to have interacted with his phone. The time DT is 21 seconds. (Again, note that this may be 81 seconds.)
Known points in space
There are three key locations in the trial.
One is the junction of Station Road with the A258, where Sinden turned right towards Deal. The road has a 50mph speed limit from this point to the entry to Ringwould.
The second key location is the start of the pavement leading into Ringwould, which coincides with the 40mph limit signs at the entry to the village.
The final key location is the collision site itself, approximately 300ft past the 40mph speed limit signs approaching Ringwould.
The physical forensic evidence gathered at the scene and presented in court (including photographs) reportedly comprises the following points.
- Squire’s rear tyre was 0.67m from the kerb at the point of collision. (Source C and Source D.)
- This was measured with reference to “the scuff mark left by [the bicycle’s] now non-rotating rear wheel”. (Source D.)
- The mark left by Squire’s rear tyre on the road clearly showed no rotation of the bicycle at the initial impact, and this was at least part of the reason for the collision investigator’s view that Squire was cycling parallel with the kerb at the time of impact. (Source D.)
- There was “a line of mud knocked off the underside of the front near side wheel arch by the impact, followed immediately by the impress of the rear near side wheel as it ran over the mud.” (Source D.)
- “The line of mud was parallel to the kerb.” (Source D.)
- “The rear wheel track in the mud was angled to the right.” (Source D.)
- “There was no forensic evidence…that Squire had been on the kerb. There were no marks in the mud leading to the footpath, nor marks in the debris or muddy tyre marks on the path.” (Source C and Source D.)
- “The point of impact on the van—shown by damage to the paintwork—was on the left front surface of the van. The van’s left-hand side [was] to the left of the bike, ie closer than it to the kerb.” (Source D.)
Some immediate inferences can be made from the above information:
- Point 5 indicates that the front wheels of Sinden’s van were moving parallel to the kerb whilst the mud was being shed from the wheel arch (caused by the impact). This seems to strongly suggest that there was no swerving of the van prior to the collision.
- Point 6 indicates that the van was moving to the right following the collision, but that the rear wheels were still roughly in line with the path already tracked by the front wheels. (I have not seen a photograph of the mud and tracks on the road to confirm the positions.) This seems to strongly suggest that the van was steered to the right a short time after the collision.
- Point 8 is consistent with inference 1 (the absence of swerving prior to collision), in that the front of the van was some distance less than 0.67m from the kerb. On Street View, a Ford Transit Mk3 can be seen at the collision location. This has a body width of 1974mm. Taking relative measurements from this image it is possible to estimate the width of the lane in which the collision occurred: it is around 3.1m (naturally, forensic investigators would have had the opportunity to measure this accurately). A Vauxhall Vivaro has a body width of 1904mm, and thus a Vivaro driven centrally in the lane would have its nearside approximately 0.55m from the kerb. This is not inconsistent with the point of impact noted in point 7.
- There is no physical evidence that Squire was anywhere other than the carriageway prior to being hit.
- There is no evidence that Squire was swerving at the point of impact.
The forensic evidence, as far as I have been able to ascertain, appears to be wholly consistent with a collision in which both vehicles are travelling straight along the course of the road, and the faster has simply hit the back of the slower.
The following claims were reportedly made by Sinden. Some were made before the trial and some during, and indeed it is possible that some were never made and have been misreported. However, each is assessed in turn.
Note that I have only addressed the claims relating to the period following Sinden arriving at the junction; this means I have omitted some claims, such as his claim to have waited in a layby to receive a message, which was not part of his story until the trial. (Source C notes that “The time he says he spent in the layby conveniently accounts mathematically for time that he could not previously account for. The judge drew the attention of the jury to this fact during her summing up.”)
Claim 1: That he received a text message from his partner “when [he] got to the junction” of Station Road and the A258. (Source A.)
This appears, from the timings associated with the receipt of Sinden’s partner’s last message and the connection of the 999 call, to be false.
As previously noted, if the message was received at the junction, then Sinden would have need to have covered 1.2 miles before the collision, and hence before the 999 call. If the two timings are separated by 55 seconds, Sinden would have had to average at least 78mph; if by 80 seconds, 54mph. Both of these are above the speed limit on this section of road, and both are very significant underestimates because they assume the time for Sinden to clear the junction, the time for the third party to locate their phone and dial 999, and the time for the call to connect, are all zero. Moreover, since they are average speeds and an unladen Vauxhall Vivaro has a 0-60mph time of between 11 and 17 seconds, peak speeds would need to be significantly higher still. (Note that Sinden’s van may be an earlier model than those 0-60 figures relate to, but the performance would be broadly similar.)
It should be noted that the videos I have been sent of vehicles making the journey from Station Road to the collision location, travelling at or near the speed limit, show this journey to be covered in approximately 1m50s. For Sinden to cover it in half the time would clearly require double the speed, ie around 100mph on the straight sections, very close to the maximum speed of a Vivaro, for a journey much of which is uphill. And still this does not account for the time taken for the 999 caller to discover the scene, pick up their phone, make the call and obtain a connection.
As previously noted, if the reported timing information is accurate, there appears to be no reasonable doubt that the text message was received much closer to the collision location than Sinden claims.
Claim 2: That he did not “[use] his mobile phone past the junction” of Station Road and the A258. (Source C.)
The analysis of Claim 1 shows that in light of the timing evidence it is extremely unlikely for Sinden’s partner’s last text message to have been received at or before the junction. It seems near-certain that it was received well after the junction.
Multiple reports very strongly infer that a text message was partly written on Sinden’s phone after the receipt of his partner’s text, which means that either this claim is false or the message was composed without Sinden touching the phone (see Claim 5).
Claim 3: That he “began typing a reply” after pulling onto the A258 (Source A) and that “he had been attempting to text as he turned onto the A258”. (Source I.)
These are a direct contradiction of Claim 2.
Claim 4: That, when typing this message, he “was texting just using [his] left hand…without looking at the phone”. (Source A.)
This is, again, inconsistent with Claim 2. However, it is consistent with the garbled nature of the message, which Source A gives as “Judges. Joubert. R. Sect” (though Source C notes that there were no punctuation marks in the text and Source F cites slightly different, but nonetheless garbled, text as mentioned earlier).
It should be noted, despite Sinden’s additional claim that he “was trying to keep [his] attention on the road” that cognitive distraction and manual distraction both remain, the former in particular being repeatedly found to be a major danger factor.
Claim 5: That “objects within his van fell onto the phone, and…that those items caused the activations on his phone” that resulted in the garbled message. (Source C.)
This is contradictory to Claim 3 and Claim 4. Source C notes that “an expert demonstrated that the phone activations suggested by Sinden were highly unlikely”, and this is corroborated by sources D, F and G.
According to Source D, Sinden’s phone was a Sony Xperia T. The phone would have needed to be “unlocked” before any interaction could have occurred, and the screen timeout—which, according to Source F, was found to have been set at 30 seconds—must not have cut in and locked the phone.
I have also seen no information to suggest whether any autocorrect feature on the phone was checked, either in terms of whether it was activated or—if it was—what inputs might reasonably generate such an output (I note that “r sect” is close to “r sexy”, which may fit with the alleged nature of the text messages, or could be completely irrelevant). Nor have I seen any information to explain where these alleged objects might have fallen from.
Unless there is a barely conceivable fact which I have not seen and have as yet been unable to imagine, the likelihood of this claim being true seems vanishingly small.
Claim 6: That he realised “his phone had only 1% of its battery left [and] he threw it onto the passenger seat”. (Source A.)
This is inconsistent with Claim 4. It is not possible to determine this information without looking at the phone. Indeed, on most phones it is not possible to determine it without additional and specific interactions.
It also raises the following question: Even if Claim 4 is false and this claim is true, why discard the phone? If the battery level was visible then Sinden, having sent and received numerous texts that morning, would surely have already realised he was texting with minimal battery life remaining; so why would he suddenly stop as a result of minimal battery life remaining? What was he expecting to do with that 1% that outranked these messages?
When police at the scene asked Sinden the whereabouts of his phone, he said he did not know. The police then called it, and found it under a black refuse bag on the passenger seat (Source A); it was at this point that its battery level was noted to be 1% (Source F).
Claim 7: That “the battery on his phone had run out before the crash happened”. (Source I.)
This is clearly incompatible with Claim 6. Moreover, it is incompatible with the fact that “the forensic expert found 1% [of battery] left” (Source D).
Claim 8: That “an oncoming driver then flashed his lights to alert him to a pedestrian in the road”. (Source A.)
Source B notes that neither the driver nor the pedestrian were ever found. Multiple online comments appear to suggest that nor were there any other witnesses to either of these people’s existence. (Additional comments from local residents also say that they have never seen anyone walk this road—which, from viewing in on the submitted videos and Street View, is unsurprising—but this of course does not make it impossible.)
There appears to be no evidence to disprove this claim, but neither does there appear to be any to support it. Sinden appears to be the sole source of the information.
Claim 9: That he “swerved around the man” and that the swerve was “quite violent”. (Source A.)
Again, there appears to be no evidence of any type to either disprove or support this claim.
Claim 10: That during the swerve, his “laptop [computer] and some lights fell into [his] lap”. (Source A.)
Searching Google Images for “Vauxhall Vivaro cab” fails to offer an answer to the obvious question: From where did these items supposedly fall? Was there some makeshift overhead storage which failed? Were they loose on the dashboard? And if they were loose on the dashboard, how did they come to fall into Sinden’s lap rather than slide across the apparently low-profile steering binnacle to the front quarterlight and then onto the floor at the far offside of the cab? (One would expect that during such a manoeuvre, and given Claim 10, the van would more likely have been under braking rather than acceleration, thus the objects would have tended to slide forwards relative to the dashboard.)
This is all conjecture, but it is unclear whether the prosecution examined the likely source and trajectory of any such items. It can’t be hard to hire a Vivaro for an afternoon.
Claim 11: That at this point he “slowed from 50mph to 40mph”. (Source A.)
Again, there appears to be no evidence to disprove or support this claim. It should be remembered, however, that it is inconsistent with Claim 1.
In the submitted videos, the journey between the junction and the collision location, travelling at 40-50mph, took between 1m42s and 1m55s.
Claim 12: That he “removed the two items which had fallen onto his lap and put them onto the passenger seat”. (Source A.)
I have so far seen no further information regarding this claim. It is unclear whether it was rigorously tested in court.
Reports contain disappointingly little detail as to the relative arrangement of the phone, black bag, laptop, lighting equipment and multiple items from Claim 5, all of which by Sinden’s account should have ended up in the passenger seat at the time of the collision and would presumably been recorded by forensic investigators at the scene.
Claim 13: That he was “near a dog grooming parlour [Animal Inn] when he saw something ahead of him [and] realised it was a cyclist on the pavement on [his] left hand side”. (Source A.)
It is difficult to be certain as to how reliable this claim is.
Animal Inn is 0.4 miles from the collision location and 0.3 miles from the start of the pavement, and Street View suggests that anyone on the pavement would not be visible from Animal Inn (see also Claim 14). Video E1 corroborates this, with a spoken indication of the clear line-of-sight point at approximately one third of the distance from Animal Inn to the collision location.
However, “near a dog grooming parlour” is rather vague, and indeed the collision location itself could be argued to meet that description (albeit perhaps not in this context).
In video E1, a voiceover notes a point at which “you can get a clear view right up to” the collision location. This is somewhere between 11 and 14 seconds after passing Animal Inn, with the start of the pavement being passed at 31 seconds past Animal Inn and the collision location at 36 seconds. The vehicle from which the video is shot appears to be moving at a broadly steady speed for this duration, though this is far from calibrated.
It is difficult from both Street View and video E1 to get an accurate estimate for the point at which a cyclist would be visible, because in both cases the line of sight is obscured by a van. (I am expecting further videos which will rectify this issue.)
Video H1 was taken after tying white bags at the side of the road at the start of the pavement and at the collision location, and the passenger reports seeing these bags at respectively 20 seconds and 10 seconds prior to the collision site, or 15 and 25 seconds past Animal Inn. Note that video H1 is shot from a van of similar size to Sinden’s.
This claim raises the question of how possible it is to be certain of the position of a cyclist from this distance, especially given the very narrow pavement: the lateral difference between being anywhere on the pavement and being on the left edge of the road is a matter of centimetres. This is a matter which should raise some scepticism about the claim.
It would not be difficult to construct a test whereby a subject stood randomly on the pavement or at the left edge of the road, a juror was seated in the passenger seat of a car, and that car was driven along the road with the juror trying to assess, at a point known to be 10 seconds from the collision site (as noted in the previous article, 300ft from the subject’s position), whether the subject was on the pavement or in the road. Given the extensive sight lines, this could be done safely, as the subject could simply step out of the road whenever a vehicle was less than 300ft away. A little co-ordination would be required but this seems a straightforward experiment to undertake and would not require the road to be closed (something which, according to a Spokes East Kent member, contributed to the fact that jurors were not taken to the collision site as originally planned).
Claim 14: That he “was possibly 10 to 12 seconds away from the point of collision when he noticed the cyclist” (Source A.)
This is potentially consistent with Claim 13, considering the timings noted in videos E1 and H1. As previously noted, it would place Sinden’s van at roughly 300-400ft from the start of the pavement, and around 26 seconds past Animal Inn, assuming Sinden’s claimed speeds are approximately correct.
Claim 15: That “that the gradient up to the ‘brow’ of the hill meant the cyclist was beyond and below his line of sight”. (Source D.)
This is difficult to verify from either Street View or video E1. It is potentially consistent with Claim 13 and Claim 14.
Video H1 tests this claim and suggests that a cyclist at the collision location would be visible 10 seconds prior to the collision, while one at the start of the pavement would be visible 20 seconds prior to the collision.
Claim 16: That Squire “started to come off the pavement and [he] started to…brake and steer around the cyclist”. (Source A.)
As previously noted, this seems far-fetched.
The forensic evidence as reported by Source D does not support Sinden’s claim that Squire ever joined the pavement. The absence of marks in the mud just before it means that he would have had to join via the raised kerb. There is no dropped kerbstone by which to join, and so there are only two possible means of accessing the pavement: Squire would have either had to hop his bike upwards and sideways at speed—an extremely difficult and risky manoeuvre—or stop in the carriageway, manhandle the bike onto the pavement, and recommence pedalling. Neither of these, given their inherent risks, seem remotely likely for a cautious rider who had previously refused to cycle on the A258 at all.
There was also no forensic evidence to indicate that Squire rode along the pavement, further undermining this claim. (Source C and Source D.)
The physical evidence is also inconsistent with Sinden’s claim of attempting to brake and swerve prior to the collision.
Additionally, the claim that Squire subsequently left the pavement also seems unlikely. Given that the only two means by which he could have accessed it are both fairly desperate manoeuvres, if he had done so then it would have been a desperate action. To then abandon that supposed decision to flee the traffic in fear and then jump back into the road directly in front of it, when the pavement continues all the way into Ringwould, would be incomprehensible.
Note also that the marks on the road indicate that at the point of collision Squire was moving parallel with the course of the road. If he had left the pavement, he had time to adopt secondary position and assume a straight path of travel prior to being hit. It seems unlikely that the prosecution tested how much time this would take.
Claim 17: That Squire “rode off the pavement and onto the road without looking”. (Source A.)
Clearly this is not inconsistent with Claim 16, but given that Claim 16 is so severely undermined, it follows that so too is this. For an experienced and cautious rider to do this would seemingly require an exceptional stimulus, no suggestion of which appears to have been forthcoming in court.
Claim 18: That Squire “had moved out slightly from the lane he should have been on”. (Source A.)
This claim is quite bizarre.
Any talk of having “moved out from a lane” makes no sense: this road comprises a single lane in each direction. The lane that Squire “should have been on” is the lane in which Sinden’s van was being driven, and to move “out from” that lane would be to move into the oncoming lane. It seems implausible that this is what Sinden means.
It is just about possible that by “lane” Sinden means “pavement”, but given that the term “pavement” was used elsewhere and—being a pavement—Squire shouldn’t have been on it, this seems unlikely.
Claim 19: That Squire “turned around and looked behind him just before [the van] struck the bike”. (Source A.)
Is not inconsistent with any other claims per se, but if true, this implies that Sinden was visually processing Squire to a reasonably advanced degree prior to the collision.
Claim 20. That he “spiked [his] brakes”. (Source A.)
I suspect this to mean that the van’s ABS engaged.
It is unclear whether there is evidence to disprove or support this claim. The critical aspect would be to determine whether there were any relevant marks on the road and, if so, whether they were made before or after the collision, which would seem straightforward from the relative positions of marks on the road if they were present.
Claim 21. That he “swerved to go around the cyclist”. (Source A.)
This claim is clearly undermined by the forensic evidence (see above) which strongly suggests that there was no swerving of the van prior to the collision, and that at that point it was still being driven parallel to the kerb.
Claim 22. That “[the cyclist] swerved”. (Source A.)
Forensic evidence showed Squire’s rear tyre to have been 0.67m from the kerb at the point of impact. Bikeability training defines “secondary position”—the position that most competent cyclists will adopt on a straight rural road—as “roughly 1 metre to the left of the traffic flow and not less than 0.5 metres to the edge of the road”. Squire was thus, at the point of collision, at the more conservative end of secondary position. Indeed, the DfT defines the “dynamic envelope” of a cyclist to be 1m in width and thus he was only 17cm to the right of what one might consider an absolute minimum.
Note also from the forensic evidence above that Squire’s rear was hit by the front of the van, implying that in excess of 0.5m of his dynamic envelope (and in excess of 0.3m or so of his static width) was overlapping the van, and it is clear that even if Sinden did see Squire, and even if Squire did swerve, Sinden must have been attempting an outrageously dangerous pass: he had clearly left significantly less that 0.67m to his nearside, which is at best a terrifyingly dangerous pass just inches from someone who is practically skimming their pedals on the kerb. For a cyclist in a normal, correct position it is simply an inevitable collision.
It should be noted that there was no oncoming traffic, whilst there was extensive forward visibility of the clear road, and therefore there was no reason for a competent and careful driver not to pass fully in the oncoming lane as advised by the Highway Code.
If Squire was never on the pavement—which seems extremely likely to be the case—the positions of the bicycle and van alone must surely have been arguable as sufficient evidence for dangerous driving, because a collision was clearly inevitable beyond reasonable doubt.
It must be noted that if Squire was never on the pavement then only two possibilities appear to exist: One is that Sinden failed to observe Squire and made a catastrophic error of inattention; the other—which one would hope is absurd—is that Sinden did observe him and the collision was intentional.
Distraction by the mobile phone becomes a moot point here: the only conceivable way in which this could have been anything other than fatally poor driving by Sinden would have been if Squire had launched off of the pavement at a point at which Sinden would have been unable to respond: something which the physical evidence appears does not support. Thus the case is, at this point, surely a matter of res ipsa loquitur provided it can be “proven beyond reasonable doubt” that Squire was not on the pavement. And since there was neither forensic nor witness evidence to suggest he was on the pavement, while there was a strong logical argument against it, and the forensic evidence showed Squire to be cycling in the carriageway parallel to the kerb, and Sinden’s original statements entirely omitted it, it is astonishing that this claim could be considered truthful.
In light of all these points, a not guilty verdict for all counts seems quite incredible.
Claim 23. That Squire “swerved out in front of him, apparently to avoid a drain cover”. (Source C and Source D.)
It would appear from Street View and other sources that there is no such drain cover. This claim seems patently false.
Claim 24. That he “just did not see the cyclist”. (Source A.)
This directly contradicts a vast number of Sinden’s claims, though explains much. It is noted by Source C that Sinden made this claim when giving statements to the police but changed his claims at trial. Numerous other sources state the same: Sinden’s whole case shifted markedly from not having seen Squire to having seen him well in advance of the collision.
At trial, it was accepted by the defence and Sinden himself that the lighting at the time presented no difficulty in seeing anything (Source D).
Claim 25 That “he later stopped his vehicle and ran back to the scene and sat down on the verge” (Source A.)
As with most claims, we have only Sinden’s word for this.
There is an as-yet unsubstantiated rumour that “he only stopped after being flagged down by another motorist”, but this should be viewed as low-grade information at this stage; it is currently unknown whether it was brought up in court and I have as yet seen no information that such a motorist exists (it may be the driver who called 999, but neither have I seen a transcript of that call nor the details of this witness’s account).
Claim 26. That after the collision “he did not know where [his mobile phone] was”. (Source A.)
Clearly, this seems unlikely. A text message was received a matter of seconds before the collision, and (assuming the phone wasn’t in silent mode, which would have been checked with a cursory inspection) it would have made a sound advertising its presence in the cab. Someone who, by their own admission, texts while driving would surely have a text notification that is audible while driving.
One might take Sinden’s claims at face value: that the phone’s location was a mystery, that its screen or keypad was activated during the journey and that inanimate objects had typed a message into it, that he had ascertained its battery level without looking at it, that it both did and didn’t have any remaining battery life, that he had then thrown it onto the seat and in so doing managed to land it underneath a bag onto which the aforementioned inanimate objects had fallen, and had then within a matter of seconds forgotten that it was actually in his van at all. Or one might be somewhat sceptical of this quite dazzling collection of claims.
There were, according to multiple sources, no witnesses to the collision itself other than Sinden.
It is reported by Source A that three people, travelling in at least two cars, stopped at the scene to give medical assistance. It is also reported that a driver called 999.
Source F and Source D report that the 999 caller was in a car travelling in the opposite direction, which stopped at the collision location and is believed to be the first vehicle to stop at the scene.
Source D further reports that the caller was the male passenger, and the call was made subsequent to the female driver (who was a witness in court) stopping at the scene, getting out to assess the situation, returning to the car and only then instructing the passenger to dial 999.
We know that there were no witnesses to the collision (and Source D reports explicitly that neither of the occupants of the first vehicle on the scene witnessed it), so one might reasonably infer that the vehicle was out of sight of the collision location at the time at which the collision occurred. Checking sight lines on Street View, this places it at least here along the A258 towards Deal, 280m from the collision site.
If we assume the vehicle’s speed to be 40mph (the speed limit at this point), and ignore any additional time accounted for by deceleration, we find that it would take them a little over 15 seconds to reach the collision location.
We can then draw an envelope of possible collision times, shown here in blue. (Again, please note the earlier remarks about reduced confidence in the position of point T; this analysis makes reference to the reported time of 08:40:44.)
The crucial implication here would be that the collision would have occurred prior to V. Thus, on the basis of the information available, the window for the possible collision time can be reduced from 55 to 40 seconds.
However, we know that deceleration is not instantaneous, and that the call was made after the driver got out of the car and assessed the situation. We can add in estimates for the minimum times that these factors would add. I’ve estimated them at 2 seconds and 3 seconds respectively, but it would not be hard to reconstruct the sequence of events to establish an accurate minimum figure.
Note that we can, of course, do the same for the minimum time required to read and respond to the received text message, pushing the earliest possible time of the collision forward and narrowing the collision window further.
One important aspect of the timeline (subject to the accuracy of the estimates) becomes clear: this already places the latest possible time of the collision at pretty much the point of Sinden saving the text message. To occur at this time, the collision would have to have occurred immediately prior to the 999 caller’s vehicle rounding the bend ahead. It is clearly likely that the collision occurred earlier than this.
The positioning of point V depends on four timings:
- the time between the collision and the witnesses’ car rounding the bend (which could, in the absence of further evidence and with very low statistical probability, be as little as zero; but with further witness evidence—notably the position of Sinden’s van when first seen by the witnesses—could be established as being a least a certain number of seconds)
- the time taken for the witnesses’ vehicle to reach the collision location and be brought to a stop (a minimum of which could be established for any given speed by simple off-site reconstruction)
- the time taken to exit the car and assess the situation (a minimum for which could, again, be established from reconstruction using the witness accounts)
- the time taken to dial 999 and gain a connection (as above)
Importantly, if the sum total of these is greater than 21 seconds (and note that the second alone is, at the speed limit, in excess of 15 seconds, leaving less than 6 seconds for all the others), an important inference would emerge from being able to establish such a timeline: namely, that Sinden would have exited the messaging application after the collision.
This would be, to put it mildly, quite important.
If, as Sinden claimed, he had not been using the phone at the time of the collision, why would he do that? Why would anyone, having knowingly struck someone at such speed that their windscreen was shattered “as if by a sledgehammer” (witness quote via Source F), respond to the collision by picking up a phone that they had not been using and exiting the app they had last used, before then putting the phone back down?
I can conceive of no plausible explanation for exiting the messaging application in the seconds following a collision—and, if the timing estimates above are representative, then this must surely have been the case—other than to crudely attempt to hide the fact that the messaging app had been in use.
I have not heard any report of the prosecution having tried to construct a timeline. Nor any report of the evidence then being assessed so as to narrow the known events into ever smaller ranges, so as to be ever more confident in the theory that Sinden was using his phone at the time of, or immediately before, the collision. Nor any report that it was implied through the rather more easily proven theory that he responded to the collision by attempting to hide his use of the messaging application.
With better access to information and only a little diligence, this is surely the most compelling route to secure a conviction based on mobile phone use. So why did the CPS apparently not take this approach?
(It is also worth noting the case of R v Foster, the deletion of text messages from a phone immediately after a collision constituted a perversion of the course of justice, even though the defendant was not found guilty of having caused death; it seems feasible that exiting a messaging app immediately after a collision could be argued to constitute the same offence. There was no such charge in Sinden’s case; but then, the required inference only shows up after diligent time analysis.)
It is quite apparent that most if not all of Sinden’s statements are contradictory, implausible or—at best—unsupported by any other evidence.
The aim of the prosecution was to establish that Sinden’s driving was dangerous (or at the very least careless, pursuant to the definitions in the Road Traffic Act 1988) and that this standard of driving was the cause of Daniel Squire’s death. For this, it would seem that two success scenarios (for the prosecution) are available:
- To prove beyond reasonable doubt that Sinden was using his phone at, or immediately before, the time of the collision. This would clearly demonstrate that Sinden’s driving was of a sufficiently low standard at the critical moment.
- To disprove beyond reasonable doubt that Squire was on the pavement at any point. This would mean that Squire was on the carriageway, was there to be seen, and was struck from behind when the collision was perfectly avoidable. (This is perhaps less robust than the former scenario, because cases too numerous to list demonstrate that it is by no means a given that a jury will convict for driving into the back of someone on a bicycle who is riding legally and responsibly.)
The bewildering aspect to this case is that there is only one piece of evidence that suggests Squire was ever on the pavement, and that is Sinden’s allegation. Clearly, and tragically, a dead man cannot talk. This would have been evident when the defence team was constructing Sinden’s case, of course.
It is not impossible that Squire was on the pavement. It is, however, unlikely. It’s more than just unlikely. Squire was a competitive triathlete; he would have been fit and fast, and such riders almost always stick to the carriageway even when half-decent cycle tracks are available. I would wager that you could survey every triathlete in the country and ask them if they would mount that pavement at the entry to Ringwould, and if there are more “yes” replies than can be counted on one hand, I would raise an eyebrow at the very least. Which isn’t to say that Squire didn’t do it, but—to any “cyclist” at least—it is surely beyond reasonable doubt.
The fact that there was no forensic evidence whatsoever to back up Sinden’s claim should surely have cemented this point. Even if one was inclined to take the defendant’s word for it, Sinden appears to have blazed a trail of contradictory, far-fetched claims. The trustworthiness of any given claim must surely be rock-bottom. Not least when one considers that reportedly none of Sinden’s statements prior to the trial implied that Squire was on the pavement (Source E, Source G, etc.)
When the trial pivots around a single claim that contradicts all claims made prior to trial; a claim in a stack of self-contradicting and implausible claims; a claim for which no forensic evidence, no witness evidence, nor any reasonable explanation exists; then surely—surely—the defence case must be in tatters?
When the forensic evidence on the road is reported to indicate that Sinden did not steer prior to impact, surely those tatters are vaporised?
Yet, apparently not. Sinden was cleared of causing death by dangerous driving, and of the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving. Sinden also escaped convictions for dangerous driving and careless driving, despite both being available to the court. It is truly baffling that this could have ended up this way.
So what do we know about the trial?
Here are some (mostly qualitative) remarks about the trial from, variously, Sources D, F and G:
- “There was a huge amount of time-wasting and confusion over mobile phone event timings. I suspect the jury were as flummoxed as I and the judge were.”
- “[The defence expert witness] had not taken light meter readings, thus allowing the defence to introduce the idea that there was a major reduction in visibility under the trees…much argument over adverbs like “very reduced”, significantly reduced”, etc, which was of no scientific value but which may have helped to introduce that idea into the jurors’ minds; there was also adverbial debate over how steep (very? slightly? moderately?—all ridiculous) the road is. Sinden was very keen to suggest that the gradient up to the ‘brow’ of the hill meant the cyclist was beyond and below his line of sight. None of this had been analysed scientifically.”
- “Major inconsistencies in Sinden’s evidence; much evidence of lying. Not explored enough.”
- “Much more should have been made of the fact that no cycle tyre tracks were found on the pavement.”
- “Why was the mythical drain not pursued? How difficult could it have been to mark the drain on the map and, presumably, show it to be not at the site of the collision, and/or not in evidence on the photographs of the collision site?”
- “There was no evidence of any mobile phone analysis for Daniel.”
- “Much more should have been made of the fact that the van was closer to the kerb than the bicycle; much too close in any situation, let alone the present one.”
- “As the force of impact was so strong, one might expect Daniel’s wristwatch/mobile/Garmin etc to have been damaged. Evidence from such items could possibly have helped to fix the time of the collision.”
- “The other party in the text conversation was not called to the witness stand. Or a statement from her given in court. Or her phone logs presented as evidence.”
- “The speed of the vehicle at the time of collision, and leading up to it, was never mentioned. No reason was given for the omission of this evidence.”
- “The judge did not qualify to the jury, with regard to their deliberations, any of the accused’s statements which could not be corroborated by witnesses or forensic evidence. Even after he had been shown to be an extremely unreliable witness, with blatant lies and numerous contradictory statements.”
- “The visit to the site by the juror, as apparently agreed at the start of the trial, did not go ahead because of issues with cost and organization.”
- “There was the shambolic (and invalid?) criteria for selecting and/or excluding jurors. This was seemingly conducted with no proper investigation into their background.”
- “[The defence] simply presented several ‘what ifs’ to the jury, and then sat back. They knew what couldn’t be proved, and so threw as much mud around as possible to confuse the jury. The defence lawyer was spoken to by the judge several times because of his behaviour.”
It wasn’t all bad…
- “[The judge in her summing up] spent over an hour and a half explaining in great detail and speaking rapidly covering the salient evidence of the trial and the points of law that the jury had to bear in mind. At all times she seemed careful not to lead or persuade the jury into making a particular decision, rather that they must be sure to base their deliberations on the evidence that was presented and should not speculate where none existed.”
Indeed, the general impression (though it is not unequivocal) from multiple sources is that the judge largely performed well. I confess that as soon as the verdict was published, when I read her statement that “I appreciate that is not the verdict you were expecting” I read between the lines.
How did the prosecution fail?
Needless to say, even before the publication of Spokes East Kent’s notes, there are hints of the usual excuse-driven line of enquiry in the trial: discussion of Squire wearing dark clothing (though with exposed pale limbs) despite the collision occurring in daylight conditions that were accepted as perfectly unremarkable. The implication, as we’ve seen so many times, that drivers should be excused any ability to inadequately assess the region of space into which they send a rapidly-moving couple of thousand kilos of mass.
But even overlooking this, whether one considers such an approach to be reasonable thoroughness or skewed perspectives (hint: it’s the latter, it really is), how did the prosecution fail to drive a bus through the gaping holes in the defence case?
It seems, from what information and qualitative comment I have seen, that the prosecution case may have been undermined by the following potential flaws.
- A lack of general understanding and explanation of safe, correct, and nationally trained cycling techniques. There is no mention of the prosecution calling a cycling expert witness. Without the jury being able to understand why Squire was so very unlikely to have been on the pavement, or that his position at the time of impact was quite feasibly him trying to swerve away from the path of the van from a perfectly correct initial position, the prosecution’s case is practically doomed from the start. This seems to be a pandemic issue affecting trials of motor vehicle vs pedal cycle collisions, as far as I can tell.
- A lack of forensic investigation, including seemingly basic phone analysis and allegedly no analysis of Squire’s electronic devices (if he had any), nor the phone used to dial 999. It is unclear whether attempts to obtain this information were too weak, or whether all avenues were pursued and it was simply unavailable. The fact that attendees to the trial are currently attempting to ascertain whether devices exist that would potentially supply this information is concerning.
- A lack of basic research: it is a trivial process to determine required speeds and the locations of various items in order to validate the defendant’s claims. The previous post on this case took under three hours to research and write up, yet multiple sources have remarked that this basic level of rigour was lacking from the CPS’s case. This is somewhat shocking to say the least.
- A lack of field analysis: certain tests are quite conceivable, to determine at what points Squire would have been visible and how clearly his position could have been identified; how long certain actions take to perform; or how a laptop behaves when tumbling around inside a Vivaro. Jurors were not taken to the collision location. Even in the absence of field investigation, there appears to be no information to suggest that videos of the road or Street View images were used in court to help visualise the crucial timings and locations; instead, it seems that the focus was on inane and tortuous discussions of qualitative adjectives. Basic timeline analysis is the crux of this case, yet I have heard no report of it having been performed, let alone presented to the court using clear visualisations.
- A lack of focus on clear communication: multiple accounts suggest that jurors were confused and baffled by unnecessary complexities from expert witnesses and the like. The subtleties of mobile phone network timestamps may be complex, but all that truly needs to be explained is that a given timestamp represents the earliest possible time for an event; it is surely not necessary to dissect the potential delays subsequent to that unless other timing data is sufficiently accurate that these additional details would edge the argument into near-proof of guilt. Again, it should be noted that data visualisation is an incredibly useful communication tool: if timeline visualisations were not presented in court, why not?
- A lack of doggedness: the defence case, it would appear, ought to be easily demolished. It is accepted that Sinden changed his story prior to the trial and it is clear that few if any of his claims are reliable alongside the others. The measurements and experiments suggested above surely would have helped skittle every last one of the claims, thus piling as much doubt as possible on the critical claim that Squire was on the pavement. The available information gives little impression that this thorough demolition of Sinden’s credibility, and thus the credibility of his key claim, was a specific objective.
I may be wrong about all these things; I may have been given a totally false impression. I want to be wrong about all these things. I would love someone from the prosecution to say, “actually, we did do X,” or “actually, we couldn’t do X, because Y.” But read below the online articles and you’ll find numerous comments mentioning a disappointing lack of rigour in the CPS’s case.
I would love to be proven wrong; I’d love to hear a compelling reason as to why the CPS was genuinely unable to secure a conviction despite best efforts. It’s just that, from what I’ve read, I’m not expecting it.
I can’t imagine I’m the only one staring at this case, as I’ve stared at others before it, completely failing to understand why certain avenues were apparently not explored, or how the jury can be led to believe that someone who in all probability was riding legally and responsibly (remember: there appears to have been not a single piece of evidence to suggest otherwise; solely the apparently highly unreliable word of the defendant) can end up in the morgue and again—again!—the law decrees that no-one has caused this.
Trials that involve the deaths of “minority mode” road users—people on pedal cycles, on horseback, on foot, on mobility scooters, but all simply people, who for any number of reasons happen not to be inside a motor vehicle at that time—are frequently shocking. This particular example is staggering in its inability to convict, but it is part of a long-term pattern. Plus ça change.
There can be few who can read all the details of this particular case and feel that justice was done. There should, as a result, be few who can read those details and not want to address those points above.
It really is a pattern that has to stop, otherwise more families will suffer the agony of losing their loved ones, and more families will suffer the agony of never seeing justice for it. With no effective enforcement of the most basic aspects of safe driving, things can only get worse.
There is little doubt in my mind—as if there ever has been—that the statute, the court process, and the systemic bias all combine to gradually legalise the vehicular homicide of anyone not in a motor vehicle. They all need fixing.
Something’s seriously wrong here, and that something is pretty much everything
Those of us who dare to venture onto the roads can be as confident or as meek as we like, but we all fear one thing. One thing more than any other.
And that is being struck from behind.
We fear it more than anything else on the roads for two reasons.
One is that we can do nothing about it. Nothing. No behaviour, no experience, no equipment, no courtesy, no phoney “respect” makes any difference when someone drives a van into you because they weren’t looking at you.
And the other reason we fear this is that we know—we know because it is proven time and time again—that if we die in this way our families will get nothing. No justice, no closure, just the agony of a clumsy trial in front of a jury of drivers. The system will find everything in its arsenal to discredit us while it exonerates the driver who ploughed into us.
The death of someone struck from behind serves only to fuel the attitudes that led to their death in the first place. With every failed prosecution we take a step closer to legalising homicide.
There is every possibility that Daniel Squire’s death was our greatest fear: killed on the tarmac, maligned in court, never truly defended by anyone, with no means of avoiding death nor any means of ensuring that anyone is held responsible for it.
His death is not the first to epitomise this catastrophe of everyday life and nor will it be the last, but if this case opens people’s eyes to a legal outcome that is actually much less unusual than you might think; if it opens people’s minds to the idea that this really should be more unusual than you might think; then maybe there can be some thin silver lining to yet another deep, black cloud.
The dead can’t talk.
So we’d damn well better start talking right now.