I didn’t know Mark Francis at all, really. People said to me, yeah, yeah, you do, you know, the tall mixed race kid, he was always at the Duke of York on Clerkenwell Road on a Friday, with all the other couriers. At the service, they projected pictures of him that people had brought along, pictures of him from his childhood, and there was a photo that had been taken a couple of months before, at a party that the London Bicycle Messenger Association had organised. I recognised him, and thought, bastard, he still owes us £3!
He had come up us at the door, and said, can I come in, and see if I like it, and then come back and give you the dosh? Of course he hadn’t come back. And he wasn’t going to be able to pay me now.
Sebastian Lukomski, I actually did know a bit. He was a hard-working hard-partying Polish guy who had come to a big international courier event that I had helped organise, and, like Mark, used to hang out at the Duke of York.
All the others, Joe Cooper, Judy Mihlenstedt, Calvin Simpson, Paul Ellis, Edward Newstead, Reidar “Danny” Farr, & Henry Warwick, all these bicycle couriers I didn’t know at all before. I met Edward Newstead’s kids at one of the West End magistrates court, at the trial, which took place months afterwards. After the verdict, they had questions that I couldn’t really answer.
I helped paint the names of all of these people on the road, in the road, as close as possible to the spot where the incidents happened, some of the names we painted 4 or 5 times. It’s almost impossible to put into words how strange and unsettling it is to paint the name of a dead person you didn’t really know on a road in central London.
Yesterday, I rode my bike with Southwark Cyclists up from Peckham Rye to meet the Big Bike Ride, an event organised to publicise London Cycling’s Campaign push to get more Space For Cycling. We stopped at Newington Butts, at the south end of the Elephant & Castle roundabout, a junction that Boris Johnson said was perfectly safe to cycle “as long as you keep your wits about you”. The junction has been recently re-engineered. The re-organisation was supposed to make what is more or less a dual-carriageway intersection safer for cyclists use.
When I arrived at the junction, I spotted a lady in a head-scarf, holding a bunch of lilies. Then I noticed Cynthia Barlow, who was recently awarded an OBE for her work as Chair of Roadpeace, the charity that supports the families of road crash victims, standing next to her. And my heart fell. Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed last week whilst cycling through Newington Butts. I was introduced to his widow, Fatima.
I am sick of meeting the families of people that I didn’t know, whose relatives were killed whilst cycling in London. Mr Johnson, you said you wanted London to be the best city in the world to cycle in. We need the right actions and infrastructure, not more words and paint.