St Albans hairdresser acquitted in first ever crowdfunded trial

Gail Purcell at the Old Bailey. Picture: Ed Willcox

Gail Purcell at the Old Bailey. Picture: Ed Willcox - Credit: central news

A St Albans hairdresser accused of killing a cyclist when she knocked him off his bike has walked free from court after Britain’s first ever crowdfunded private prosecution failed.

Gail Purcell, 59, of Meadow View Moor, Mill Lane, Colney Street, was driving home from work when she hit Michael Mason’s bicycle in London’s Regent Street on February 25 2014.

Purcell insisted she didn’t see the 70-year-old teacher and “just heard an impact” when she hit him from behind in her black Nissan Juke at around 6.25pm.

Mr Mason suffered a fractured skull, broken ribs, and a broken ankle at the scene and was quickly rushed to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington.

His life-support machine was switched off three weeks later, on March 14, after he fell into a permanent vegetative state.

Purcell denied and was cleared of single charge of causing death by careless driving on April 6 following a four-day trial at the Old Bailey - the jury deliberated for just 17 minutes before returning their verdict.

Purcell drove on for around 30 metres after the accident before pulling over and returning to the scene.

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She told a witness: “I’m the driver. It was me. Is he okay?”

Before adding: “I just didn’t see him.”

The first officers on the scene described her as appearing shaking and upset.

The case was funded by the Cyclists’ Defence Fund after the Metropolitan Police twice decided not to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Mason’s family, including his daughter, BBC journalist Anna Tatton-Brown, decided to go ahead with a private prosecution and raised £60,000.

A JustGiving page was set up to raise money for the legal costs by charity Cycling UK’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund (CDF).

The CDF and Cycling UK brought the private prosecution following donations from more than 1,600 supporters who helped raise over £60,000 towards case costs.

The CDF, a campaigning body that defends the rights of cyclists, was set up in 2001 by Cycling UK in response to the case of Darren Coombes, a nine-year-old cyclist who suffered brain damage from a collision with a motorist.

Members of Mr Mason’s family, including Ms Tatton-Brown, showed no emotion as the verdict was announced.