Cyclist pleads not guilty to ‘furious driving’ charge after woman, 81, died

An 81 year-old woman who died days after being hit by a pedal cyclist had no warning that the bicycle was heading towards her, a jury has been told.

Polly Friedhoff was “catapulted with incredible force” after being hit during a lunchtime walk as she and a friend made their way along a towpath near Iffley Lock, south of the centre of Oxford on November 20 2022.

She died in hospital 12 days later, Oxford Crown Court heard on Monday.

Edward Bressan, 56, of Newton Road, Oxford, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of “causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving,” an offence under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

The prosecution says the cyclist was “reckless” and told the jury “the case concerns the nature of Mr Bressan’s driving of his bicycle”.

Ms Friedhoff was “propelled” by the force of the bike, pushed across the path and fell on her face, without time to try to break her fall, according to her friend Ewa Huggins who had joined her on their routine stroll.

Ms Huggins insisted the situation happened suddenly, without warning and Ms Friedhoff was hit from behind.

She told the court: “Polly was on my left. We were chatting and walking fairly close together. The path is not very wide and suddenly I saw Polly basically flying in front of me and falling.

Ms Huggins said they were about a foot apart and her friend landed “at an angle with incredible force – actually, I can still hear how her scalp hit.”

She added: “She did not have enough time to put her hands out. She just went straight out to the side and lay very uncomfortably with one of her arms out.

“She fell across the path. She fell about a metre away from me.”

Ms Huggins said the bicycle was flat on the path and the cyclist was on top of it.

She said: “I did not see him hit Polly. I only saw the aftermath when she was catapulted with incredible force.

“I did not hear anything. I did not hear a bell. Quite often cyclists shout when they see pedestrians and are coming from the left or right. I did not hear a bell.

“Normally, Polly and I have a habit of saying ‘thank you’ when somebody rang a bell. It does not happen often. I presume the bell was not rung. I did not hear it.”

Ms Huggins told the court that she thought her friend of 40 years was seriously injured on the ground and that the cyclist was sobbing and “very upset” but she was not focused on him.

She said: “She was very badly hurt. She could not speak. I was asking her to give me some sign of life. I was not aware of what the cyclist was doing.”

Ms Huggins said: “I thought she was dead. She was lying uncomfortably. I was telling her to squeeze my hand. There was no response. There was a lot of blood coming out of mouth. She was badly hurt”.

Ms Huggins had also described her friend as a “keen walker”, who was “pretty fit” despite underlying health conditions. Ms Friedhoff was wearing a “very colourful knitted multi-coloured short coat” during their walk.

Kuljeet Dobe, defending, suggested that Bressan was cycling behind the women and travelling at a pace that was “little more than walking speed”.

Mr Dobe added: “I’m going to suggest that he did ring his bell and you moved a bit further to the right hand side, you said something to Polly and she moved suddenly but moved to the left suddenly and that was when his bike made contact with her and that is when she fell.”

Mr Dobe also suggested that Ms Friedhoff did not fall across the towpath but fell more or less where the contact was made.

Ms Huggins replied: “I saw her being propelled and she didn’t go across, she went at an angle. She was at an angle. It was more than just a knock.”

Earlier, prosecutor Andrew Jordan described the terms “wanton” and “furious” driving which appear in the charge as “rather old-fashioned language” which dates back to the Victorian era.

He told the jury: “Queen Victoria was still on the throne then and the form of transport then was probably horse-drawn carriage.”

He added: “These days that old statute is used to deal with cases that are sometimes not on a highway, as in this case, and sometimes do not involve a motorised vehicle, as in this case, and that is why this curious piece of antiquity is there in front you.”

The hearing was adjourned to Tuesday at 10.15am.