Driver Was Looking At Camera Screen In Cab And Not The Road When Fatal Collision Happened
A highly respected psychotherapist was unlawfully killed on a pedestrian crossing when a bus driver looking at a camera screen in his cab ran a red light, an inquest concluded.
Gilla Gelberg’s husband is now calling on Transport for London to investigate screening policies operators apply when recruiting staff after the hearing was told that the driver who caused the collision had a history of alcohol and drug addiction.
Gilla was a senior psychotherapist and team leader for East London Mental Health NHS Trust in Newham. She suffered multiple injuries when she was hit by the bus while crossing Stratford High Street on her lunch break. She was pronounced dead at the scene near Stratford Magistrates’ Court.
Gilla Gelberg's family ask lawyers to investigate following her death
Following the 63-year-old’s death her husband, Jonathan Wilson, instructed expert road accident lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help investigate and support him through the inquest process.
Jonathan, 66, has joined his legal team in warning of the consequences of drivers not paying attention. He has appealed to Transport for London to review driver screening procedures used by franchised bus operators.
Inquest told driver's drug and alcohol history not picked up during screening
In Gilla’s case the screening carried out by Tower Transit Operations, the driver’s employer, did not pick up his drug and alcohol abuse nor his medical conditions, the inquest was told.
Walthamstow Coroner’s Court was told that the driver was not looking at the road when the bus hit Gilla. Instead he was viewing a camera screen showing the top deck of the vehicle. There was nothing to distract the driver requiring him to look at the screen, Assistant Coroner Ian Wade QC concluded.
He added that a second pedestrian was nearly killed. Fortunately, their sister pulled them back as they were about to step out into Stratford High Street.
During the coroner’s investigation, medical records were disclosed which revealed disturbing facts about the driver’s medical condition. He had been under NHS treatment for drug and alcohol abuse since 2013, according to his GP.
“He was a very hard man to help because he . . . was unhappy to change his life style” his GP wrote in a pre-Inquest statement.
Bus firm said driver wouldn't have been employed if it knew about driver's medical history
Whilst the Assistant Coroner did not consider that these issues had contributed directly to the incident, testimony from a representative of the bus operator made it clear that the driver would not have been in their employment had they known about them.
Evidence was also heard that the driver’s probation period had been extended several times after the commencement of his employment in August 2017, and that he had been involved in previous collisions.
Angela Batchelor is the specialist road accident lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Jonathan and the couple’s sons, Eliot and Asher aged 31 and 28.
Expert Opinion“This is a truly tragic case which has had devastating consequences for Gilla’s family and many friends.
“The last couple of years and trying to come to terms with Gilla’s death while having so many concerns about what happened has been incredibly difficult for the family.
“While nothing can ever make up for their loss, they take some comfort that the inquest has at least helped provide them with some of the answers they deserve.
“Many people will be shocked by the evidence heard during the inquest. Gilla’s death is a stark reminder of the dangers drivers can potentially pose to other vulnerable road users by not paying attention.
“We will continue to support the family at this distressing time as they attempt to try and come to terms with Gilla’s death the best they can.” Angela Batchelor - Partner
Gilla moved to London from South Africa in 1978. Originally a professional jazz singer Gilla retrained as a psychotherapist at the Minster Centre and Tavistock Centre.
She met Jonathan in 1988 and they married in 1992. They lived at their family home in Crouch End, Haringey, at the time of the incident.
Walthamstow Coroner’s Court heard that Gilla waited for traffic lights to turn red and the green man to come on before stepping onto the Toucan crossing. Moments later the bus hit her.
Later that evening Jonathan and Eliot became concerned that she hadn’t returned home. They looked on a phone tracking app and saw Gilla’s mobile phone was at a police station. Shortly afterwards police officers knocked on their door informing them Gilla had died.
CPS was due to charge driver following family appeal
A year after the collision Jonathan was told that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute the driver.
Following an appeal and a review, Jonathan was told in September 2020 that the driver was due to be prosecuted for causing death by careless driving. However, he died prior to a criminal trial being heard.
Husband's tribute to Gilla
Jonathan said: “Gilla worked tirelessly to help others. She was admired, respected and loved by her colleagues, and was a shining example of an NHS worker who treasured the opportunity to serve others.
“I can’t adequately describe the impact Gilla’s death has had on Eliot, Asher and me. We’re still struggling to come to terms with the brutal shock of the heart of our family being wiped out in an instant. There was no warning, no period of acclimatisation through a period of illness.
“Our grief and anguish have been magnified by the events that unfolded in the aftermath of Gilla’s death. We appreciate that a thorough investigation had to take place to decide whether the driver should be charged. However, it’s difficult not to be upset at the delays, the original decision not to prosecute and then having to appeal this.
Call for improved bus driver vetting
“We welcome the inquest findings which brings to a close a three year quest for official recognition of the disturbing circumstances of her death.
“However, it remains a matter of great concern to our family that a driver with such a medical history could be employed to drive a double decker bus by one of the franchised bus operators. We do not in any way wish to vilify drug and alcohol addicts; we understand that this condition is an illness. However, we think it is wrong that individuals with such issues can be put into a demanding life-critical role, driving a public bus in a busy metropolis, without adequate screening and monitoring.
“We have asked Transport for London to investigate in the hope that screening procedures for bus drivers will be improved. Passengers and the public deserve no less.”