Edinburgh bus driver claiming unfair dismissal accused of showing ‘utter disregard’ for cyclist he collided with - by waiting 9 minutes before leaving cab to check if he was okay
An Edinburgh bus driver claiming unfair dismissal has been accused of showing “utter disregard” for a cyclist he collided with by waiting nine minutes to leave his cab and check if he was okay - after taking pictures of the bicycle on his phone first.
Sam Beech told an employment tribunal he was “already committed” to accelerating the vehicle as he pulled away from the bus stop in Leith Walk, near the Pilrig Street junction, when the cyclist overtook him and clipped his wing mirror in September 2019.
Camera footage from the front of the bus, played to the tribunal on Monday, showed that the cyclist then moved in front of the vehicle and appeared to gesture to Mr Beech who sounded the horn. Mr Beech says this was when he first realised it was a cyclist who had struck the vehicle as he had only heard a “loud bang” moments before.
Mr Beech, representing himself in proceedings, claims the longer triple axle bus he was driving at the time has a “quick response” to acceleration and that the cyclist lost his balance and fell into the double decker bus as he braked and swerved the bus to avoid him.
On Tuesday Will Rollinson, the lawyer representing Lothian Buses, played footage from the front of the bus which showed the vehicle’s speed increase to 19mph while the cyclist was in front of him, prior to the collision.
Mr Rollinson said: “It does not matter that you say you swerve after, as it appears you deliberately accelerate towards a hazard.
“If you were not certain of how the cyclist would behave, surely you should slow down and assess the situation and stop altogether?”
Mr Beech, 39, said he expected the cyclist to carry on rather than brake. He also said that police cleared him of any wrongdoing as the cyclist was “under the influence of alcohol” and was not wearing reflective gear and had no lights.
However three managers from the bus company who were involved in disciplinary and appeal proceedings gave evidence on Monday to say he should have slowed and stopped the bus sooner, suggesting he accelerated after being angered by the cyclist’s behaviour.
The second day of the tribunal - heard by judge Amanda Jones in Glasgow - began on Tuesday and focused on Mr Rollinson’s cross examination of Mr Beech.
Mr Rollinson referred to the minutes of a meeting with dismissing manager Louis Ferguson in which Mr Beech stated he had “50/50” responsibility for the incident, suggesting this gave his managers the impression he had equal culpability.
Mr Beech, who lives in Edinburgh and now drives for First Bus, said he recalled telling Mr Ferguson he could have “held off” but that it all happened so quickly and he was very stressed about the incident.
Mr Rollinson suggested Mr Beech should have stopped and the collision could have been avoided had he not “accelerated towards a vulnerable road user.”
The lawyer said: “My point is, it doesn't really matter if the cyclist was drunk or did not have lights, you should have braked when whatever the hazard was hit your wing mirror.”
Bur Mr Beech responded: “If this individual had not been drunk, and had lights, this unfortunate event would not have happened.”
A police spokesperson said: “Officers carried out an investigation and although no criminal proceedings took place, both parties were spoken to regarding their conduct.”
The tribunal heard previously that the cyclist suffered a shoulder injury and was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for further examination following the collision at around 8.30pm on September 21, 2019.
Mr Rollinson also played CCTV footage in the aftermath of the collision which showed Mr Beech leaving the bus and using his phone to take pictures of the bicycle on the road before checking if the cyclist was okay.
Mr Rollinson suggested he showed “utter disregard” to the cyclist’s welfare and that this amounted to “gross misconduct.” This was denied by Mr Beech.
The lawyer said: “Can you see how that might seem callous?”
Mr Beech acknowledged it could be viewed that way but stressed he waited in the cab to radio control and call 999. He said an off duty nurse had been keeping him updated until police and paramedics arrived and that another man came to him and told him the cyclist was sitting up and “having a cigarette.”
Mr Beech insists drivers were also previously advised by union representatives, following an incident earlier that year in which a bus driver was assaulted in Great Junction Street, that they should not get out of their cab if the driver deems the situation could be aggressive.
However Mr Rollinson said Mr Beech’s explanation for staying in the cab, as well as his position that the bus was sensitive to acceleration and his claim that the cyclist fell into the bus, were not put to any of the managers who dealt with disciplinary and appeal proceedings at the time.
Mr Rollinson also said there was no recording in the dismissal or appeal meetings of Mr Beech raising impartiality concerns with dismissing manager Mr Ferguson because he had previously lodged a grievance against him.
Mr Beech told the tribunal on Monday he lodged a grievance over a perceived “lack of action” in response to flexible working requests made to help his depression. The need to alter his working pattern was highlighted in a doctor’s note shown to the tribunal.
But Mr Ferguson strongly refuted he had any knowledge of this grievance when undertaking disciplinary proceedings. He also said if the union had been made aware of the grievance, there was no way it would not have been raised.
On Tuesday, Mr Beech also confirmed that he had fallen out with union representatives during the proceedings after being asked about the matter by employment judge Jones.
The tribunal is expected to conclude on Wednesday.