Cleo Kenington is a Consultant Surgeon at St. George’s Hospital, London, which treated the children involved in the collision at The Study Preparatory School, in Wimbledon on July 6, 2023. Two children died and a number were injured after a Land Rover SUV collided with pupils while they were enjoying a picnic in the school grounds.
By Cleo Kenington, Consultant Surgeon at St. George’s Hospital, London
On a sunny afternoon in September 2020, I was in the garden with my kids. My phone beeped with a message – “Major incident declared.” This was the first time this had happened since I had become a consultant surgeon at a London Major Trauma Centre. The adrenaline rushed through my veins as I called my colleague in the hospital to see if I could assist. He explained that they were expecting multiple child casualties after the driver of an SUV had collided with children and parents outside Beatrix Potter Primary School.
At that time, I wasn’t needed. But listening at the major trauma meeting the following morning, I was horrified by the severity of injuries to young children and adults, requiring intensive care treatment. I was quite shocked that this incident barely made the news. How could I ensure this never happened to my children?
I was waiting for the national response. After major incidents I had been involved in previously – the London Bridge and Westminster Bridge terrorist attacks – there were visible actions taken to prevent a repeat incident. This incident seemed to have been caused by the driver accidentally pressing the accelerator instead of the brake; this could happen to anyone. However, you have to be driving an SUV for it to cause the severity of damage.
There was no response to the incident. No statement from Wandsworth Council. No national response to prevent SUVs causing carnage at school gates.
Finally, nearly two years later, the outcome of the court case was published. A tragic accident, not intentional. The driver was fined £3000 and had six penalty points added to her licence. I agree – imprisoning the driver or banning them from driving won’t stop this from happening again. But what will? Walking through the streets of London, almost every other car is now an SUV. Surely this number of supersized vehicles, which we know are more deadly when involved in collisions, is not necessary.
Then I was sitting in a service improvement meeting one Thursday morning, and my phone beeped again – “Major Incident declared.” In the three intervening years, we had had one other major incident declared, but that had been stepped down quite quickly as it became apparent that there weren’t many casualties. This time I was the surgeon on call, so I headed straight to the Emergency Department.
I felt cold when I heard that it was a similar story to the previous incident. An SUV driver had lost control and hit a group of primary school children. This time, however, the injuries were much worse. The vehicle must have been bigger and going at greater speed. This time, there were two children, eight-year-olds, whose lives were taken.
This time it made headline news, maybe because it was a private school. Maybe because the injuries were more serious. But there hasn’t been a statement from Jaguar Landrover acknowledging that it was their car that caused this devastation. No statement from TfL that action is needed to reduce the number of these oversized vehicles on our streets.
We just seem to be waiting. What for? The next incident or “accident”? How many people will be killed then?
I’ve heard people liken this incident to Dunblane. Is this the moment that we recognise it is ‘Not Cool’ to have a potential child killer on your drive? However, the difference between this and Dunblane is that, according to the judge in the Beatrix Potter case, anyone could make this “mistake with tragic consequences”.
Updated on: 19 September 2023