Edinburgh bus driver claims unfair dismissal over Leith Walk collision with cyclist who was ‘under the influence’ - but Lothian managers say he drove ‘recklessly’ after gestures and should have stopped sooner

An Edinburgh bus driver claims he was unfairly dismissed by Lothian Buses after being involved in a collision with a cyclist on Leith Walk.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 9:55 am

Sam Beech told an employment tribunal he had “already committed” to accelerating the vehicle as he pulled away from the bus stop, near to the Pilrig Street junction, when a cyclist overtook him and clipped his wing mirror at around 8.30pm on September 21, 2019.

CCTV played to the tribunal, heard by judge Jones in Glasgow, then showed the cyclist move in front of the bus and appear to gesture to Mr Beech as he sounded the horn. Mr Beech says this was when he realised it was a cyclist who had struck the vehicle as he had only heard a “loud bang” moments before.

Footage shows the bus travel on, and the cyclist and bus then collide on the right side of the vehicle. Mr Beech claims the longer triple axle bus he was driving has a “quick response” to acceleration and that the cyclist lost his balance and fell into the bus as he braked and swerved to avoid him.

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Mr Beech said the union had previously advised drivers to stay in their cabs if they deemed a situation could become aggressive, following an assault of a driver in Great Junction Street.

He also said police cleared him of any wrongdoing as the cyclist was “under the influence of alcohol,” and they were not wearing reflective gear and had no lights.

However, witnesses from the bus company - dismissing manager Louis Ferguson, first appeal handler Stephen McQueen and second appeal handler David McCallum - told the tribunal on Monday that Mr Beech should have stopped sooner but instead drove on “aggressively” to a speed of about 18mph which led to the collision.

In response to questioning from Mr Beech, who is representing himself in proceedings, Mr Ferguson said: “It’s my opinion that the cyclist overtook you and you were unaware of the cyclist until he hit your wing mirror. Obviously he cycled in front of you and my opinion is that annoyed and angered you and caused your bus to accelerate.

“It would have been easier to slow the bus and stop the bus. It’s unnatural to accelerate towards a cyclist who is acting in a way you can not predict.

“Mr Beech could have and should have stopped.”

Under questioning from Will Rollinson, the lawyer representing Lothian Buses, Mr McCallum said if he were to accept Mr Beech’s explanation that this type of bus was more responsive to acceleration, which he does not, he should have known to stop sooner than he did.

Respondents from the bus company also said the driver should have left his cab to establish if the cyclist was badly hurt and to ensure the safety of passengers once he stopped the bus - but he waited inside for several minutes before leaving.

Mr Beech, 39, said he waited inside the cab as he radioed the control room and called 999. He said drivers were 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 they deem the situation could be aggressive.

He said: “From what I experienced first hand, this cyclist has hit my wing mirror and given me the w****r signs and middle finger and was saying ‘you f*****g w****r.’”

Mr Beech also said other passengers, including an off duty nurse, were dealing with the situation and keeping him updated until an ambulance and police arrived and that the cyclist was “sitting there having a cigarette.”

Managers from the bus firm said his duty in this instance was to leave the cab and check if the cyclist was okay.

Mr Beech believes instead of a dismissal the company should have given him a written warning and offered training - but Mr Ferguson insists he considered all options and felt Mr Beech’s actions were “worthy of dismissal.”

Mr Beech also suggested to Mr McQueen during cross examination that police finding the cyclist to be under the influence of alcohol was not properly factored into his decision in the first appeal hearing.

When asked if there was a chance to adjourn the appeal process to let police look at the CCTV, Mr McQueen said this could have taken weeks and they “could not take that chance to wait.”

But Mr McQueen said this did not change that Mr Beech “speeded up” before stopping and contact was made with the cyclist, adding: “I dealt with the CCTV and to me that was reckless driving.”

The tribunal also heard the cyclist suffered a shoulder injury and was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for further examination.

A police spokesperson said: “Officers carried out an investigation and although no criminal proceedings took place, both parties were spoken to regarding their conduct.”

Grievance claims

Mr Beech also claimed he had taken out a grievance against Mr Ferguson over perceived “lack of action” in response to previous flexible working requests made to help his depression. The need to alter his working pattern was highlighted in a doctor’s note, dated September 12 in 2019, which was shown to the tribunal.

Mr Beech said: “I was a thorn in your side and this was an opportunity to use this against me.”

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.

Mr Ferguson added: “I sacked you because you drove a bus at a cyclist and endangered his life.”

Witnesses for the bus company also said the points raised by Mr Beech about the quick response to acceleration on the triple axle buses, being advised to stay in the cab by the union if a situation was deemed aggressive, and the claim about the cyclist hitting the bus, were not put to them during disciplinary or appeal proceedings.

The CCTV footage is not available for publication.

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