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Driver jailed for two-and-a-half years for killing one cyclist and seriously injuring another blamed victims for “not riding in single file”

Arthur Robert McGrillen also failed to declare that he had suffered a stroke when renewing his driving licence a year before the fatal collision

A pensioner who blamed two cyclists for “not riding in single file” after driving into them, killing one and seriously injuring another, has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

74-year-old Arthur Robert McGrillen, who initially denied seeing Aidan Fitzpatrick and Ralph Mills before hitting them from behind in October 2019, later changed his story to claim that the cyclists were in fact at fault for the collision, telling police that they were “too wide on the road” and that he “went to go around them and they bumped on top of my car”, the BBC reports.

McGrillen pleaded not guilty to the charges of causing death and grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving in February this year, but changed his plea in May after footage from Mr Mills’ rear-facing bike camera and dashcam footage from a passing ambulance showed that the motorist had “taken no steps whatsoever to avoid a full-on, nose-to-tail collision” before “ploughing straight into” the cyclists.

Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy KC also told Downpatrick Crown Court that the 74-year-old should not have been driving on the road at the time of the fatal collision, as he had failed to disclose that he had suffered a stroke in 2017 when renewing his licence the following year.

Motorist “drove through the cyclists without making any attempt to avoid them”

Aidan Fitzpatrick and Ralph Mills, members of La Lanterne Rouge Cycling Club, were riding on the Killyleagh Road in Downpatrick, Co. Down, at 2pm on 20 October 2019, when they were struck from behind by McGrillen.

Both victims were taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where Mr Fitzpatrick, a 59-year-old father of five, died from his injuries three days later. Speaking at the sentencing this week, Judge Geoffrey Miller said that Mr Fitzpatrick’s death had caused “unbearable pain for his widow and family”.

Mr Mills was also seriously injured in the collision, which the judge said has left him in “constant pain, with survivor’s guilt and a joyless outlook on life”.

Prosecutor Ciaran Murphy told the court, sitting in Belfast, that McGrillen “drove through the cyclists without making any attempt to avoid them”.

The motorist told a police officer at the scene that he “didn’t see” the cyclists before the collision. However, he later claimed that the victims were to blame for the crash, telling police that they were “too wide on the road... were not riding in single file” and that he “went to go around them and they bumped on top of my car”.

After initially denying the charges, it took until May this year – over two-and-a-half years after the incident – for McGrillen to admit that he was at fault for the collision and to plead guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and causing grievous bodily harm. The 74-year-old, who appeared in court via video link from Maghaberry prison, “expressed remorse and hurt” for the victims and their families.

“A true gentleman”

The court was also told that misleading information supplied by Mr McGrillen when he was renewing his driving licence in 2018 was an aggravating factor in the collision.

Mr Murphy said that the pensioner had suffered a stroke in 2017, but had failed to declare the condition on his paperwork the following year. When asked if he suffered from any illnesses, including a stroke, which could affect his entitlement or ability to drive, McGrillen had answered “no”.

“Had he made a disclosure about his medical condition prior to the accident, we say it is reasonable to conclude that his licence would have been revoked,” Murphy told Downpatrick Crown Court.

“This is an aggravating feature in that had he made the appropriate disclosures he would not have been driving and the collision would not have occurred.”

Judge Miller said that the motorist’s actions, captured on the victim’s bike camera and dashcam footage, “amounts to an exceptionally bad piece of driving which resulted in a fatality and serious injury. I am satisfied that this amounts to an aggravating feature of dangerousness in this case.

“He first blamed the cyclists and claimed he was not at fault. Had it not been shown in Mr Mills’ camera footage, he might have persisted in this lie.”

McGrillen was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, with a further 30 months on a supervised licence following his release from custody. He also received a four-year concurrent sentence for causing grievous bodily injury, and has been banned from driving for life.

At the time of his death, Aidan Fitzpatrick was described by La Lanterne Rouge Cycling Club as “much loved by his cycling friends. He was a true gentleman and it was an absolute privilege to know him. He will be very sadly missed by us all.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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47 comments

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Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
10 likes

I can't help but feel the sentence is pretty low given the severity of his behaviour and denial. 
Still NI seems more anti-cyclist than most places and since he's 74 it's probably a miracle he didn't get away with it. 

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belugabob | 1 year ago
13 likes

So, he hit both cyclists, despite claiming that they'd have been fine, if only they'd been riding single file?
This premise brings his spatial awareness skills into extreme doubt.

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eburtthebike | 1 year ago
5 likes

"McGrillen pleaded not guilty (link is external) to the charges of causing death and grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving in February this year, but changed his plea in May after footage from Mr Mills’ rear-facing bike camera and dashcam footage from a passing ambulance showed that the motorist had “taken no steps whatsoever to avoid a full-on, nose-to-tail collision” before “ploughing straight into” the cyclists."

Yet every week, we read of another driver who blames the cyclists for the collision.  Cyclists have every reason to avoid collisions, because they know they will be injured or killed, drivers much less so.  Perhaps it's time the law was changed so that there was a presumption of guilt on the driver, not the cyclist, especially when police figures show that it is much more likely to be the driver at fault.

If it hadn't been for the overwhelming evidence against him, this driver would have got away with it, like so many before him and probably a lot more after.

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Sriracha replied to eburtthebike | 1 year ago
10 likes

There should certainly be a presumption that the driver did see the cyclist, or would have if they had been paying attention. Any claims of SMIDSY should be on the motorist to prove that they in fact physically could not see the cyclist.

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
5 likes

I fail to see how "not seeing" something is in any way a defence for hitting something with your car. If you cannot see what is (or is not) in the space your car is about to occupy, you should not let your car occupy that space. You have no idea whether your driving is safe or not which makes it inherently unsafe. SMIDSY is an admission of culpability and guilt and should be treated as such.

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Sriracha replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 1 year ago
3 likes

It's to do with intent. If you genuinely do not see whatever you hit that could be dangerous driving, because you are driving where you can not see it is safe. But if, seeing a person in front of you you drive into them, without loss of control, that is a calculated act. It is no surprise that so many drivers claim they could not see, and it must be very hard for the prosecution to prove otherwise. I think the burden should fall on the person claiming they did not see.

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chrisonabike replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
2 likes

I don't necessarily disagree but that might be a big law change.  I'm dimly aware that there are certain defences which may require some effort (but maybe that was torts which is a different legal area?) but I suspect this is still "it's up to the prosecution to prove their case".

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Car Delenda Est | 1 year ago
8 likes

What is point of making drivers renew their licence if it relies on honour to get them to disqualify themselves?

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IanMK replied to Car Delenda Est | 1 year ago
13 likes

There's clearly a problem with the system. The question is why it isn't it being reviewed. It's obviously not fit for purpose.
No business would be allowed to continue where there was a continuous failure of systems that led to repeated incidents where there was injury or death.

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brooksby replied to IanMK | 1 year ago
4 likes

The tabloids would hate it, and would go off on one about it being the next front on the War in the Hard-pressed Motorist.

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Sriracha | 1 year ago
16 likes

Given that he was able to describe how the cyclists were cycling, it must be the case that he was fully aware of their presence. And yet he drove into them. How can this not be construed as a deliberate act? There is no sense that he lost control or only saw them when it was too late, which would tend to indicate dangerous driving resulting in involuntarily hitting the cyclists. He hit them on purpose, maybe incensed by the impertinence of them cycling two abreast.

If you chose to run over a person using your car, is that still just "dangerous driving"? At what point does it become more serious than a traffic violation?

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David W replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
1 like

As unpalatable as it feels to defend this person, there are 2 options as I see it. Firstly, that he is a truely despicable person who chose to drive into 2 cyclists to punish them. The second, which I think is probably more likely, is that he wasn't paying attention, and that his initial statement that he did not see them is true. If he was punishing them for cycling 2 abreast, it doesn't make sense to target the cyclist on the inside as well. Memory is a fickle thing, and at 74 more fallible than ever, and his later statement describing how they had been cycling may well have been after he had viewed the footage, or been told of their content, and the result perhaps of trying to fit what he remembers in with what he knew later. Not looking to excuse his liability for this tragedy, but he may not be the monster he comes across as, just another inattentive person in charge of a machine capable of killing and tearing apart lives. Either way, the complete driving ban is a positive for the rest of us still on the roads. 

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Hirsute replied to David W | 1 year ago
3 likes

What do you make of his false declaration that he was fit to drive ?

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wtjs replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
2 likes

What do you make of his false declaration that he was fit to drive ?

Presumably that he understandably forgot about his stroke

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David W replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
3 likes

hirsute wrote:

What do you make of his false declaration that he was fit to drive ?

No excuse for it at all. He clearly lied on his application, but I assume that was to enable him to continue driving, rather than a lie specifically to enable him to mow down cyclists. Like most drivers, I'm sure he felt that he was completely competant. I'm glad he's banned now, and serving a sentence, but would have preferred that he'd not been reissued his licence then. I'm not trying to defend this guy at all, but I can see that his change in story MAY have been the result of receiving new information, rather than exposing an original lie that he hadn't seen them. He may be a monster that took out his anger on these 2 victims, or he may just be another motorist taking or changing lives through inattention. I've not read enough information in the article to persuade me of either scenario, and if there is anyone who has made up their mind about that, they either have access to more information, or they don't have a solid base for their belief. 

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Sriracha replied to David W | 1 year ago
3 likes

The detail that tips me towards thinking it was deliberate was that he went on to blame the cyclists for the collision on the basis of their road position. I suspect he held the same belief at the time of the collision, and in the moments before.

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David W replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
0 likes

He killed a man, and seriosly injured another. In most road collisions each party will blame the other. Most road users think they are better than average. When there is such a serious consequence, it must be tough to own up to personal responsibility; much like a surgeon may not want to admit they could have done things better after a failed operation; its a protective cognitive bias we all hold. You may be right about him. I'm not there yet.

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