Driver of night bus that dragged tragic medical student 800 metres along road walks free from court

Thursday, 21st June 2012

Mingwei Tan, left, and Shariar Firouzian

Published: 21 June, 2012

A BUS driver accused of causing the death of a medical student walked free from court yesterday (Wednesday) after the case against him was withdrawn.

Mingwei Tan, a 20-year-old Cambridge undergraduate, suffered “massive internal injuries” including a fractured spine when she was dragged more than 800 metres, from Pond Street near South End Green, to beyond ­Belsize Park tube station by the N5 bus in ­September 2010.

Driver Shariar Firouzian, 52, stood trial last week after he was charged with causing death by careless driving, but he was declared not guilty yesterday as the jury was dramatically discharged.

Hamish Reid, QC, withdrew the case at Blackfriars Crown Court stating “the Crown Prosecution Service is satisfied there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction”.

Mr Firouzian, from Watford, had denied the charge and said he knew nothing of the incident until he arrived for work the following evening when he was suspended by his employers.

In a statement read outside court, Chandrakant Solanki, Mr Firouzian’s solicitor, said: “My client is very relieved that this case is now over.

"It has taken almost two years to be resolved. He is very conscious of the loss suffered by Ms Tan’s family and friends.

"This whole matter has been a tragedy for all parties concerned.”

He added: “Mr Firouzian would like to express his thanks to his friends, family, his defence experts and his legal team for all of their support and help through this difficult time.”

Mr Firouzian, who was born in Iran, remained expressionless in the dock as a translator explained the decision to him.

It was believed Ms Tan was swept under the driver’s side front wheel and her DNA was discovered on a clump of brown hair found under the bus.

Her trainers and socks came off during the incident and were discovered on the road with her mobile phone and purse.

The tragedy shocked nearby residents and businesses.

A humanist service was held for her in South End Green and a hanging basket was put up to remember her.

Ms Tan, from Singapore, had just returned from a holiday in Cyprus and was in Hampstead to collect luggage from a friend’s house before heading to Stansted airport.  

CCTV footage from several buses and the Marks & Spencer store in Pond Street was shown to the court and 3D-modelling was used to try and pinpoint the exact movements of Ms Tan and the bus.

The prosecution had claimed a light-coloured dot and an area of shadow captured by the cameras showed Ms Tan carrying a white bag.

But expert witnesses who gave evidence on Tuesday said there was no way to guarantee if it was or was not Ms Tan.

William Platts, a former RAF image analyst, said of the footage: “I don’t know if this is an animate or inanimate object.

"I don’t know if it’s a person or not.”

He added: “You can take any image out of context and you can read into it what you like.”

The police investigation was criticised by Mr Platts and Robert Elliott, an accident investigation specialist, who said a night-time reconstruction should have been carried out at the scene to determine if Ms Tan would have been clearly visible to Mr Firouzian.

Itiel Dror, an independent expert brought to court by the defence, said investigators had not followed best-practice and had introduced elements of bias by asking forensic scientists to confirm that the unclear footage showed Ms Tan, rather than leaving them to come to their own conclusion.

The case was delayed on Monday morning while the prosecution decided whether or not to go ahead with the case.

Judge John Hillen discharged the jury of six men and six women assuring them they played a vital role in the case and thanked them for asking probing questions throughout the seven-day trial.

He said: “Do not think for one moment that you have been wasting your time or that my time has been wasted.

"We are necessary parts of the process of justice.”

Judge Hillen said that “one of the tragic things” in the case was that the focus was on the evidence and not the loss of life.

He added: “One for­gets that there is a family – not in this case who have been present in court – who have lost a daughter, a sister, a friend and we have been talking about things diverting away from the fact that Ms Tan lost her life.”

A spokeswoman for the CPS said: “At the commencement of this trial we considered that there was a realistic prospect of conviction.

“During the course of the trial some key aspects of the prosecution evidence, particularly with regards to expert evidence, were undermined.

“This weakened the prosecution case and meant that we were unable to prove that Shariar Firouzian had driven at a standard which was below that of a competent and careful driver.”

She added: “In line with our duty to keep cases under continuous review we have re-reviewed this case and concluded that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.”

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