New Year honours: OBE awarded to campaigning mother of cyclist killed by lorry

Friday, 3rd January 2014

Cynthia Barlow and her daughter Alex, who was killed aged 26

Published: 3 January, 2014

A WOMAN who dedicated herself to road safety following the death of her daughter has been recognised with an OBE in the New Year Honours list.

When her 26-year-old cyclist daughter Alex McVitty was killed in 2000 by a construction lorry, Cynthia Barlow embarked on a 14-year campaign, forcing the formulation of new lorry driver training measures and for construction lorries to sign up to better safety standards.

Such was her determination that in 2002 she bought shares in Cemex, the company the driver of the lorry was working for, so she had the opportunity to speak at the company’s annual general meeting.

Without any warning, once she got on stage she began telling her daughter’s story, and the struggle for justice she experienced afterwards.
Her daughter, a former Camden School for Girls’ pupil, had been hit while cycling in Moorgate in June 2000.

Ms Barlow said: “There was a sign saying that large vehicles were forbidden entry to turn left and he didn’t indicate that that was what he was about to do either, so there was no way Alex could have known he would turn in.”

An inquest into Alex’s death acquitted the driver of the lorry partially because “a policeman couldn’t read his own writing” – which meant a key piece of information was disallowed.

Ms Barlow added: “I suffered severe depression after the inquest. Then I realised the depression was actually anger I was feeling. I felt like I had let Alex down, but I hadn’t let her down, the system had.”

Ms Barlow, who has lived in North Villas, Camden Town, since 1977, has spent thousands of pounds gathering evidence, including hiring an independent traffic investigator and buying copies of the CCTV and witness statements.

Soon after Alex’s death, Ms Barlow began art classes at the Hampstead School of Art. She said: “It was a way for me to reflect on myself, and what I was thinking and feeling. There is one painting I did at the school that I have up in my living room, because it reminds me of something important that I try to remember in all my campaigning work.

“One summer we were outside painting, and it wasn’t working out for me. The painting didn’t look right and I couldn’t get it to look right. So, I called the teacher over. She splashed some water over it and it completely changed the way the painting looked.
“She said to me: ‘You’re too focused on the detail and so you can’t see what’s right for the overall picture.’

“I can get so caught up in the detail that I worry things aren’t quite right with the small things, and then I start to focus far too much on that. Every time I look at it, I remember to stop obsessing over the detail.”

Last month, more than 30 major construction companies signed up to a “Standard for Construction Logistics”, which is a a new safety measure set up by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.  Now Ms Barlow’s future plans involved getting small companies to sign up for it.

“The problem with the construction industry is it uses lots of subcontractors and then they also subcontract, so it’s a chain. There are so many people involved that everybody’s exempt of responsibility for anything.”

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