Widower of pedestrian killed by cyclist: 'My children are the reason I still get up'
At 2.30pm on an otherwise uneventful Friday afternoon in February 2016, Matthew Briggs received a call that would change his life.
He was on his way to a meeting in London’s West End when the police rang to deliver the news that his wife, Kim, had been involved in a collision with a cyclist – the full, terrible facts would become clearer later - and had been taken to The Royal London Hospital. Briggs dropped everything to meet her but it wasn’t until late that evening that he learned the severity of her injuries: catastrophic, irrevocable brain damage.
“Kim never regained any consciousness from the collision through to her dying a week later,” he says when we meet at his lawyer’s office in London. “Your mind runs through all sorts of scenarios. I’ve always been a focused person. I tried to be a focused person. It was a week that I would hope that no one else ever has to live through.”
Briggs is speaking exclusively to the Telegraph the day after Charlie Alliston, 20, the man who mowed down his wife on a bicycle in east London, was found guilty this week of causing bodily harm by “wanton or furious driving”, an offence based on an archaic piece of legislation from 1861 and the closest thing to dangerous driving a cyclist can currently be given – something Kim’s widower is now campaigning to change. Given the severity of the case, Alliston was put on trial for manslaughter, a charge that has never previously been brought against a cyclist and of which he was cleared.
The facts are these: Kim, 44, an HR consultant, was hit by Alliston, then 18, at 18mph while she was crossing the road during her lunch break. Alliston was riding a fixed gear bike, more frequently used in track racing, and without a front brake, meaning it could not legally be ridden on roads. It is stopped or slowed by peddling backwards. He told the court he shouted at Kim twice to move out of the way but failed to stop before they collided.
Hours after the crash, Alliston posted a comment online claiming the accident was Kim’s fault and hopefully this would be “a lesson to be learned on her behalf”. He wrote: “I refuse to accept any responsibility in this whatsoever… It’s not my fault people think they are invincible or just have zero respect for cyclists.” The post was later deleted. Crash investigators using CCTV footage during the trial concluded that, had a front break been in place, Alliston could have stopped in time. He now awaits sentencing next month and is facing up to two years in jail. Judge Wendy Joseph QC said: “I have not seen one iota of remorse from Mr Alliston at all at any stage.”
“Mr Alliston has his own conscious to live with,” says Briggs, 47, a company director, when asked about the defendant. He has had to become used to speaking in measured tones, of restraining his anger and frustration, not least for the sake of the couple’s two children, a boy aged 14 and a girl aged 11. To protect them, he would rather they weren’t named. “You have two choices,” he explains. “You either fall apart, or you get on with it. I chose to get on with it.”
Briggs is determined to change the law so that reckless cyclists can be charged with causing death by dangerous or careless cycling. He quotes Winston Churchill, saying this feels, at least, like the “end of the beginning”.
Yet 18 months on, the grief is still palpable. “There are definitely times where I still get a jab. When I’m walking past a gift or jewellery shop and think, ‘Oh, Kim would love that.’ Before, when I used to get a bit of good news I would give her a call. And I still do go to do it. Eighteen months on, that still happens.” He pauses. “My children are extraordinary and the reason I get up. Quite often, in modern society, we say you don’t have to be strong. Actually, when this happens, you do. You have to get up and do your duty. You have to dust yourself down and make breakfast for your children and pack their kit bags. You don’t get back to normal, you build a new normal.”
The pair met as students at Greenwich University in London, although Briggs first spotted Kim on a 161 bus from Woolwich to Eltham. He was studying politics, she was doing English. “I saw her and fell for her. She was very, very attractive.” It took him a year for him pluck up the courage to ask her out and they dated for seven years before marrying in July 1997, in a rain-soaked marquee in Cheshire. “She looked at me and said, ‘wet bride, lucky bride’ - that was typical of Kim; she was an extraordinarily happy person and always so positive. Nothing bothered her.” He describes her as an “exceptional” mother with a funny and wicked sense of humour, always pushing the family to travel and explore together.
They would visit Scotland up to four times a year to go hill walking. In July, on what would have been the couple’s 20th wedding anniversary, he took their children to Thailand on holiday to keep the spirit of adventure burning bright. “I had to take myself off for a short time,” he says.
The family has stayed in the house they bought together in Lewisham and Briggs is slowly adjusting to life as a single father. That has included learning how to cook and buying a slow cooker. “I am determined not to just do potato wedges, ready meals and pizza.” The children are back at school and he relies on his parents-in-law for help. Every two or three months he goes away by himself for a few days of long walks to ensure he doesn’t get overwhelmed.
“It is a balance with children with how you do things. How you calibrate the grieving process is very important and very personal. There is no right or wrong way. There is your way and you try your best.” If he gets stuck, he asks himself, ‘What would Kim do?’
His last memory of his wife was running out of the door to work, something he clings to now. “It was a normal, happy morning. Now I say to people, never leave your partner on an argument, because we didn’t.”
Now Briggs is determined to do what he can to prevent others going through “the heartache we have had to bear following Kim’s needless death”.
This year it was reported that the number of accidents between cyclists and pedestrians had soared by almost 50 per cent, although it is comparably rare for a collision to end in a fatality. Briggs still cycles around London on Boris bikes and his own hybrid model, and the family have not been put off cycling down the Thames Path together.
“Losing Kim will continue to punctuate our lives regularly and acutely,” he says. But it will not break them.