Muddy road contributed to Erith cyclist’s death on Silvertown commute, inquest finds

Benjamin Wales. Picture: Family handout

Benjamin Wales. Picture: Family handout - Credit: Family handout

Mud tracked onto a busy road near an industrial estate contributed to a cyclist’s death under the wheels of a lorry, an inquest found.

Benjamin Wales. Picture: Family handout

Benjamin Wales. Picture: Family handout - Credit: Family handout

Benjamin Wales, 32, from Erith, crashed his mountain bike on his commute to Tate and Lyle’s Plaistow Wharf sugar refinery seconds before a tipper truck drove over him.

Driver Jose Rodrigues had been on a hands-free phone call at the time he struck the father-of-two on February 9 last year.

An investigation into Mr Wales’ death on Thursday concluded his bike “slipped on mud” while travelling west on North Woolwich Road towards Knights Road, close to the factory site.

Walthamstow Coroner’s Court heard how he fell about two metres in front of the stationary lorry, which was waiting to turn out of the junction.

Benjamin Wales. Picture: Family handout

Benjamin Wales. Picture: Family handout - Credit: Family handout

Returning a narrative verdict, assistant coroner Elizabeth Bussey-Jones said the lorry then pulled away, causing the “multiple injuries” that killed him instantly.

Mr Rodrigues, who has not faced criminal charges, refused to answer whether he had checked his mirrors when giving evidence to the inquest.

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The assistant coroner found the fallen cyclist, who was wearing fluorescent clothing, would have been seen had the driver checked his mirror prior to moving.

In previous hearings, representatives for the Environment Agency, Newham Council and businesses in and near to the estate agreed road conditions had posed an ongoing safety concern for some years.

Speaking via Skype, Dominic Parkinson, managing director of trucking firm RMS, whose site Mr Rodrigues had been leaving, said about 50 lorries moved through the site a day, each averaging five loads.

The company had been installing a “state-of-the-art” wheel washer to reduce debris tracked from its site, but it was not yet operational that day.

Concluding, Ms Bussey-Jones said it was “feasible to speculate” the volume of vehicles toing and froing contributed to the state of the road, but it was not possible to “attribute a specific source of dirt” to one business.

Nearby construction works had also closed the designated cycle lane in sections that day.

Since the “extremely unfortunate day”, Ms Bussey-Jones said road conditions had improved following a deep clean and resurfacing.

She chose not to issue prevention of future deaths report given these measures but called on all parties to “remain vigilant” to make sure conditions do not deteriorate.

Before leaving, she passed on her condolences to the members of Mr Wales’ family present in court — including his widow, Sarah — who sat through every session of the three-day hearing.

“When Ben was taken from us our world fell apart,” Sarah said in a statement.

“He was simply a wonderful husband and father who doted on his family and was a joy to have in our lives. He was always positive, seeing the best in people, making the most of any situation and even smiling when he was down.

“What is so difficult for us to process is the brutal and unnecessary nature in which he died. Ben was a cautious and safe cyclist and was just yards from work when he was taken from us. Ben was liked by so many people and will be missed by them all. As a family we will never forget him.”

Will Cornwell, the family’s lawyer, added: “It has been incredibly hard for the family to hear the evidence first-hand throughout the inquest and it is essential that vital lessons are learned.

“This case underlines once again how crucial it is that HGV drivers keep a proper lookout for vulnerable road users including cyclists, and the importance of drivers using their mirrors to full effect before pulling away. The inquest has also raised important questions about driver distraction when using a hands-free mobile phone and wider issues about corporate responsibility to keep our highways free of hazards. The inquest has been a necessary part of the grieving process for the family and I hope that its conclusion enables them to continue the hard process of rebuilding their lives.”

The council’s highways spokeswoman, Cllr Rachel Tripp, said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Wales’ family as they struggle with the enormity of their loss. We have heard from Mrs Wales what a much-loved, hard working, active and family-focussed husband and father Ben was, and nothing we can say can bring him back. On behalf of myself and the council, I would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to Sarah Wales, her children Hannah and Ryan, and all of Ben’s extended family and friends.”

She added: “Companies working in the area have an important legal and social responsibility to ensure debris from their sites does not contaminate the road surface. The council has, and will continue to work hard with its partners, to ensure the highways remain a safe place for all road users and pedestrians.”