Sunday, 19 December 2010

Police Caution for Unprovoked Assault by Motorist on Cyclist (me!)

I have this evening received a telephone call from Thames Valley police informing me that a motorist who assaulted me and a friend last week is to be dealt with by way of a police caution.

Last Sunday (12th December) I was out on a club run. Towards the end of the ride I was with (and following) just one club mate heading back towards home. As we made a right turn off a main road, a BMW passed me on the inside cut between us and also turned right. I let him go, so I was rather behind as he then passed my companion. As he passed, he swerved into the kerb when alongside some 3 times forcing my companion to a stop. Apparently (and understandably) my companion banged on the side of the car, though I did not know it at the time.

I was though aware that, after I had passed my mate and before I reached the BMW, it stopped by the left side of the road and the driver got out, swore at my companion and, as I understand he subsequently admitted, pushed him before checking his vehicle for damage. While this was going on I stopped alongside his car with a view to turning into a side road on the right. As he returned to his car he came up to me shouted something abusive about cyclists and pushed me hard so that I fell into the other side of the road and into the path of an oncoming car. I fell onto my right elbow and hip and saw the oncoming car braking hard and stopping around 18 inches from me.

The driver of this car was good enough to stop and leave her details and the police confirmed to me that she had provided a statement indicating that she had seen the assault on me and had to brake hard to avoid hitting me.

The Thames Valley Police investigated including spending 2 ½ hours with me taking a very detailed statement. I showed them where my right elbow was skinned and informed them of the bruising to my right hip. They suggested I went to a doctor which I did the following day. It is clear he did not consider my injuries insignificant and referred me for a hip X-ray. I rang the police officer last Wednesday to tell him but as he was unavailable sent him an email.

I have kept quiet about this until now as I had thought it inevitable that a charge would follow.  I do though think it desirable to publicise it now that I know no prosecution will follow, although I know there are some who will (again) seek to exculpate the motorist on the grounds that I must be doing something to attract this hostility!

My understanding is that the driver, when interviewed by the police, admitted both assaults, said he had lost his temper, thought his car had been dented and claimed to have been provoked by my companion. I still call that a wholly unprovoked assault on me (even by the assailant’s own account), though the police and I had to agree to differ on that.

In law there is no real doubt that the assault amounted to one occasioning actual bodily harm, though I am told that under CPS guidelines it would be likely to be regarded as a ‘common’ assault. I was told it was not a serious enough matter to be referred to the CPS.

I must be out of touch with the practicalities of the criminal law as, I have to confess, it had never occurred to me that a caution would be thought a suitable disposal for an offence of unprovoked violence even assuming (as I must) that the offender has an unblemished record. I was also surprised that I was not informed of the possibility of a caution before it happened, so that I could make a representation about it.

Roadrage is dangerous and far too prevalent. Roadrage directed at vulnerable road users is especially dangerous. I regard it as a severely aggravating feature. Sadly ‘it’s just roadrage’ seems to be regarded too often as an exculpatory explanation. I do not think it very reassuring that someone is violent only in the vicinity of his car.

I am, not for the first time, disappointed in the level of protection that our criminal justice system provides to cyclists.

Before anyone mentions it, the CPS has a clear policy of taking over any private prosecution and discontinuing it if it relates to an offence where a caution has been given and accepted.

Update 20th December:  I have now written to the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police and await her response with interest.  My letter sets out the facts much as above and identifies all the officers involved.  I included the following paragraph on the public interest,
"Further there is a small, but significant, minority of motorists who express aggression towards cyclists and justify their aggression by reference to misunderstandings about road tax, safe cycling technique, use of cycle paths etc.  There is a clear public interest in protecting cyclists from this dangerous form of malevolence."
and the following on the views/injuries of the victim:
"Home Office Circular 16/2008 states, paragraph 20, that it is important to establish both the victim’s views in relation to the offence and the proposed method of disposal and the nature and extent of any harm and its significance to the victim."  Neither was established in my case.

Update 21st December:  A commendably prompt response from a Chief Inspector tells me this will be investigated.

25 comments:

  1. I am really sorry to hear this and welcome your persistence in referring to this and the other matter. It beggars belief that you and your friend can be assaulted in this manner and the police just give the culprit a caution. Keep up the good work, friend!

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  2. Wasn't there a "Road Rage incident in the area of Sevenoaks where the victim was murdered ?

    So "road rage where you are ONLY InJURED is OK in this day and age ?

    Seems to me that you have had the legs kicked from under you by a Police Officer who does not understand the ramifications of his negligence !

    What action can you take against the POlice Officer ?

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  3. It makes me wonder what the charge would have been if you or your companion had pushed the motorist and he received an identical injury and experience of nearly being killed by an oncoming car.

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  4. Martin, just out of curiosity, on average how much distance do you think you put in on the bike in a year?

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  5. I assume that part of this is that police and CPS get the same positive bump on their figures from cautions and prosecutions.

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  6. Isn't the initial use of the car to bring your companion to a halt some kind of assault?

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  7. In Germany 2001 during TDS a car door was used to stop me on the wrong side of the road(Driver drove against traffic, passed me and flung door open & then stopped) the Police treated him as a hero and hauled me to court!

    Explanation was that i had annoyed him by replying in English after he had cut me up in traffic several times in their rush hour.

    Does anything change when the aggressor is in a vehicle and attacking a cyclist? Still an assault if not worse in my book !

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  8. This is saddening. Its is almost as if many members of the Police just dont want to deal with cyclists and think that we will go away.

    That to me is not just assault but attempted murder/manslaughter. The driver knew there would be traffic and still decided to proceed with pushing you off into oncoming traffic.

    I did read of a country where all car plates are published in a directory along with the driver/owner's name and address. Perhaps drivers would behave a little more responsibly if they had this to contend with..?

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  9. Probably lucky your companion didn't end up of a charge of criminal damage. As anyone with any dealings with the police in SE England will know an attack on property, in this case chummy's beamer, is nearly always viewed more dimly than an attack on the person. The only mistake made, imo, was that after your friend was pushed, i.e. assaulted, he allowed your assailant to remain concious for long enough to inspect his car and assault you. Two wrongs may not make a right but one is in law allowed to defend oneself.

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  10. Very sad, but not surprising. What would be the best-case scenario outcome from your letter? I presume the caution would not now be able to be upgraded to a charge?

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  11. Very poor. Very, very poor. The time has definitely come for aggression on the road, especially against more 'vulnerable' road users is treated harshly. For far too long we have sat back and accepted our lot on the road.

    We need a system that ensures that there is consistency and fairness across the county when dealing with road traffic incidents like these. We also need a directive from the top to 'encourage' the police/CPS/PF to take these matters more seriously.

    Time to write to MP's/MSP's?

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  12. You can view my thoughts on this incident and the whole issue of Red Mist here (http://magnatom.blogspot.com/2010/12/i-am-angry-today.html)

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  13. There will never be a fairness or consistency as we are a minority. We get mistreated by people because there are less of us than there is of them.

    Kinda reminds me of the deep seated racism that still exists to this day.

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  14. Shocking and seems a totally unsatisfactory outcome. This could so easily have had a far more serious outcome yet nothing more than a 'lazy' caution. Terrible.

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  15. This really sucks. Doesn't it? Revolt!

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  16. Martin I follow your blog with interest. Though mostly we agree and I rarely comment we do at times differ.

    I strongly approve of your perseverence with the powers that be over enforcement. I think that sometimes your tone on 'vehicle as dangerous weapon' can occasionally sound mildly hysterical to those who know less about cycling and brain injury -especially the petrol heads which in my opinion includes police who are commonly to be found astride the ASL or parked in cycle lanes etc.

    I agree with you on assaults using cars and verbal harassment or road rage but feel that to some people you can sound like you are overreacting or have a hair trigger for positional threats against yourself whilst riding.

    I think that it would help if the video evidence was always gathered with more like it so people who see the incident in question can see the others which we all put up with too.

    I myself have ridden approximately the same route to Fleet Street for 33 years. I am detecting a marked rise in the tide of direct violence or just atrociously inconsiderate driving with a hint of 'accidentally on purpose' over the last 5 or 6 years. This clearly has some correlation to numbers of cyclists reaching critical mass and being less easily ignored but has involved direct physical assault by motorists against me with intentional attempt to close gaps as I was riding up them, heavy unnecessary braking or on 3 occasions a motorist getting out and pushing or punching me. I like you have wondered whether it was something that I had done or the style of my riding.
    One feature I particularly notice is that these activities are often coming from black cab drivers or minicab drivers and only slighty more occasionally from people driving the firm liveried vehicle. I too have had no cooperation from the police and almost nothing from the public carriage office either. Keep up the good work but I wonder if you would also ensure that you leaven the mix by reference to some pretty bad cycling which we are now starting to see just so that you are being balanced. I am sure that you are seeing it too. I have been spoken to very offensively or just as offensively ignored recently for merely commenting on red light jumping which interferes with pedestrians crossing. In fact when reminding 6 commuting cyclists about stopping for school children waiting at a zebra when they blatantly ignored them last month the response was: 1 apologised but said I should make the same point to the others, 1 told me to mind my own business, 4 turned away and simply ignored me. We too have in our midst stupid and psychopathic people and we should point that up a little more.

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  17. As a TVP officer myself I know the process that the investigating officer will have had to go through before the decision to issue a caution was taken. It's no good people trying to lay the blame at his/her door as they will have taken their case to Case Directors or the Custody Sgt and they will have decided what to do.
    As you rightly point out, a persons previous criminal history will be taken into account as should your views on the matter. Too often though, the victim is not consulted on the matter and, even when they are, their views are only to be taken into account and are not used as the deciding factor.
    I too am a keen club/commuting cyclist and would be mighty peeved to have been the victim of such an incident. It will be interesting to see what, if any, reply you get from Ms. May.
    Ride safe.

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  18. Dear martin, I am very sorry to hear about this distressing incident. Thank you for your continued persistence in highlighting these matters on behalf of all cyclists.
    paul

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  19. Good to hear! Some justice after all.

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  20. Keep up the good work. My own experiences tally with your own.

    When I was assaulted by a van driver, again with witnesses, I could never obtain any evidence from the Police that the incident was even properly followed up. The Police at the roadside took the view that I was 'asking for it' as I had given the driver the finger when he had tried to overtake me whilst indicating and banged on his van when he had run me off the road.

    However, kick a car which has put your life in danger and the Police *WILL* arrest you and put you in the cells. They can now issue an on the spot fine but again the you will be properly punished with "the full force of the law". I'm not proud of my behaviour in these incidents but the imbalance is shocking.

    Minor damage to property - dealt with.
    Actual bodily harm of a cyclist - ignored.

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  21. The driver has accepted the caution so you should be in a good position to bring a civil case for damages. British Cycling incident hotline is 0161 274 2015

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  22. Cars should be classified as mind-altering drug-like objects.

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  23. Have you yet heard the result of police investigation - some seven months on?
    Or have you put it behind you?

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  24. I have been updating this story, see http://thecyclingsilk.blogspot.com/2011/04/out-of-court-disposals.html
    Currently I am awaiting a medical report from my GP to use in civil proceedings. Regular readers will know that I am not quick to put things like this behind me.

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  25. disgusting to hear how pathetically your complaint was dealt with.
    i would be sooo angry if this had happened to me, and i dont know anything about the law so i would be left feeling completely insignificant, hurting and afraid to cycle on a road again

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