A sunny June afternoon two summers back and Craig Perrott’s cycling home in South London when he’s nearly hit side-on by a Lexus 4X4.
He swerves to avoid being taken out by a driver who’s ignored a Give Way sign. Craig drags his bike in front of the stopped driver and gives him a piece of his mind. What were you playing at? You could have killed me. You went straight through the Give Way, was the angry gist of it, heard by four witnesses.
The driver of the automatic, 70-year-old Abdool Choonka, could have chosen to apologise, hold his hands up to his thoughtless, dangerous driving. Instead he made a decision that all but killed Craig. He put his foot down. Craig was crushed between the Lexus and two parked cars behind him.
As Craig went into near-fatal shock on the ground, smashed pelvis and ribs the least of his worries, Choonka calmly parked up and took out his mobile. He didn’t call an ambulance. Instead he took photos of critically-injured Craig for what he told police was ‘for insurance purposes.’
Coma, 12 days on life-support, 17 weeks in three hospitals, chronic pain, PTSD and depression. All these are the legacy of Choonka’s decision to drive more than 1500 kilos of car at Craig. There’s a lot of titanium in him now, doing what his bones used to do. And a lot of anger.
Some of that anger might have had a chance to subside when the case came to Kingston Crown Court. Instead Craig was left feeling ‘worthless’ all over again. Mown down callously by a remorseless driver, then let down carelessly by a thoughtless justice system.
At first police thought there was evidence and witnesses enough to go for a charge of attempted murder. Establishing intent was then reckoned to be problematic. The charge was revised down to one of grievous bodily harm – with intent. So far, so not entirely logical, but Craig and his partner Joyce Harvie accepted it with assurances of no more amendments without consultation with them. There’s also a criminal damage charge for what was done to the parked cars Craig was crushed against.
When they get to court they’re shocked to discover an alternative count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving has been added to the charge sheet. This decision had been taken by the Crown Prosecution Service four months before the trial – but neither they nor the police saw fit to talk to the couple, as promised.
The Judge told the driver on sentencing day that he had ‘used his car as a weapon effectively.’ But Choonka was convicted on the lesser, added charge.
We’ll never know what persuaded the jury to convict on dangerous driving and not on GBH with intent but it’s reasonable to think that the predicted difficulty of proving intent in relation to attempted murder also applied to the alternative.
But this misses the point.
It is hard to imagine, on hearing the driver’s complete inability to explain his actions, that the jury would solely have convicted him for the criminal damage he caused to those parked cars by pinning Craig between them.
It was a deliberate act. A slip of the foot on a clutch and a forward jolt couldn’t occur on his automatic. He had to deliberately put his foot on the accelerator to crush Craig. He said he did this while his mind ‘went blank.’ Again the Judge, on sentencing, pointed out that this does not constitute any kind of defence.
No-one suggests Choonka set out that day to hideously attack a cyclist or anyone else. It wasn’t a premeditated act. But when it came to it, when he had a choice to make, he put his foot down and put one and a half metric tons of metal through skin and bone.
Never mind GBH. A stationary car, by definition, was not being driven dangerously. But it was then aimed murderously.
If the police and CPS hadn’t opted for the more conservative charge, the man who used his car as a weapon might be looking at a bit more than a 30-month sentence.
And Craig and Joyce might have left court with a bit more faith in British justice.