Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Criminal Justice System - Only as Strong as its Weakest Link

Back in September 2012 I experienced this when cycling from my home to the circuit at Hillingdon for my last race in the Wednesday evening Masters' Series
video

The driver's first misfortune is that he chose to try this incredibly dangerous overtake just on the Surrey side of the Surrey/London border (the Metropolitan Police have a very strange but strong disinclination to prosecute based on video evidence as confirmed in their evidence to the APPCG last month).  His second misfortune was that I had my camera attached to my handlebars.  I reported promptly to Surrey Police.  They investigated carefully and decided it was appropriate to charge the driver with dangerous driving.  I was told they anticipated a guilty plea.
However after the Court case was over, I was informed the driver had attended a preliminary hearing and that his plea of guilty to driving without due care was accepted and the dangerous driving charge dropped.  He was fined £265 with 4 penalty points.
I do not think it good enough that in those incredibly rare cases where the police choose to prosecute, the CPS respond by reducing the charge without even a reference back to the police or complainant.  I also think the CPS were just plainly and obviously wrong in deciding that this was not dangerous driving.
So I complained.  I just got back a letter (here and here) rejecting my complaint, to which I have just responded here.
Unless and until the CPS take this kind of offence much more seriously than they do then the broad masses of potential cyclists are going to remain terrified to use the road.  It terrified me and I am fairly hardened.  My full description of the incident is set out in the statement I made for the police here.
I intend to pursue this further.

27 comments:

  1. Thanks Martin. I believe it's the relentless work of people like you that will contribute to a change of attitude from both Police and CPS. I also believe that such change of attitude will be one of many factors that will lead to more attentive and considerate driving.

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  2. Thankyou for holding them to account. You are speaking for many cyclists who don't have the legal expertise to make their case effectively. I wish you the best of luck.

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  3. Crikey, what an outrageous manoeuvre! I trust your thorough response receives the attention it deserves from the CPS.

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  4. Thank you Martin for continuing to work towards better treatment of road incidents like this by the criminal justice system. The idea that driving like this is just "careless" even if you kill someone, is appalling. Especially when the driver is a professional in charge of a more-than-normally-lethal motor vehicle.

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  5. I had a similar thing happen to me, but not at such speed. One thing: I noticed the lorry had a "cyclists caution" sign on the back - probably to warn cyclists about passing - which I could not help but think of in a funny way. That is, it's an easy and cheap way to deal with your poorly trained drivers - to slap a sticker on the back of the truck to warn cyclists to just stay away!

    Regarding the charge, isn't it typical to have charges dropped or lowered? In the US, you know the police will make many more charges or serious ones that will not hold once they reach court.

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  6. Well done Martin, that was really scary. Thanks for pushing for authorities to take this seriously and I hope you get satisfaction.

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  7. I'd be interested in how you go deal with an incident such as this i.e. reporting to the Police, following up etc...

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  8. Thank You Cycling Lawyer. Please keep it up - your efforts are hugely appreciated.

    Only today did I suffer another dangerous overtake - while out riding with my wife and child no less - but with no camera evidence, what am I to do? I may reluctantly be getting a camera. But the example you set is exemplary - please stick to your principles!

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  9. I read your blog with a mixture of amazement and horror. I must say that I am very fortunate that my cycle commute is not as hazardous as your own. I just hope that one day the use of cycles to travel will be seen as ordinary as driving a car.

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  10. Being from another country, and a non-native english speaker, I must confess to be flabbergasted at the distinction between "careless" and "dangerous". "careless' is a broad term, and might include "dangerous". (Like leaving poison out on the floor when a toddler is wobbling about unsupervised). When does "dangerous" begin then? When somebody is actually hit? When somebody is crushed to death?
    Sorry that my english is so bad, that I don't get this. But I am wondering now.

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  11. It is a legal technicality from the Road Traffic Act 1988... S.2 Dangerous Driving, S.3 Driving without due care and attention (or careless driving - a lesser offence). So the evidence required for careless is where the driving falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. Dangerous requires that standard to fall far below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver and it would be obvious to that careful and competent driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

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  13. That stretch of road between the reservoirs is one which I find menacing enough when driving along in my car (being harassed and often aggressively overtaken by impatient people to whom the speed limit doesn't seem to apply). I've only cycled along it once, and the shared-use path section was covered in debris and glass. A woman was killed exactly where your incident happened, within the last few years.

    Bravo for taking a stand on all our behalves! Richard.

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  14. Having experienced something very similar myself but without a camera, good luck to you in getting this prosecuted properly.

    Best wishes
    Adam

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  15. Yes I agree with the above comments & as most road cyclists are aware of the dangers of impatient 'professional' drivers & I too take up a position in the road to ensure they actually see me, I think this action probably annoys them which in turn they drive in aggressive manner....childish even!

    Unfortunately, only last year a friend of ours was knocked off his bike & killed due to a van towing a trailer made a left turn onto a motorway junction so we need to make drivers more aware of other road users needs.

    By the way I also hold a full car & motorbike licence & have towed a caravan [in Europe as well as the UK] so I am fully aware that you have to be far more pro-active & look further down the road & be prepared for the unexpected.

    I believe all motorists should have to re-take their driving tests every 10 years to ensure they know the current laws & be made aware of others [typically 'life savers' ie: looking over your shoulder & actually using mirrors]. As for drivers who use their mobiles....immediate bans are the only deterrent, I constantly see drivers in mercs/BMW etc using them.... why?

    On a final note Stead must be regretting his action as he wasn't to know that your are a practising barrister...give them hell & thanks on behalf of al;l cyclists [I look forward to your update in due course].

    Kind regards

    Michael Bury

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  16. It is probably worth noting that the CPS are not particularly anti-cyclist, but this is a side-effect of a system where the prosecution seem only to be interested in certainties.

    Many people who have had involvement in the courts (as victims) will have come across this. It has a pernicious effect because the police are less likely to pursue these cases as they can predict the response of the CPS.

    What it suggests is either you need to fix the CPS system (expect a long and tedious non-response from Government on this) or it requires some clarification of law (I think that there is some awareness that it is not fit for purpose) or sentencing guidelines (path of least resistance there) to all the CPS to be able to see that there is a 99% chance of a worthwhile conviction of sufficient weight to act as a wake-up call for motorists who think a punishment pass is an appropriate response to a cyclist who offends their sense of rights and wrongs of road use.

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  17. FYI - this just in from Bournemouth... http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/10312967.Motorist_who_hit_me_mounted_pavement_and_crossed_grass_verge____but_police_won_t_charge_her/

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  18. The CPS is clearly not fit for purpose. That was most clearly a reckless and very dangerous act, that if repeated under identical conditions would most likely have resulted in death, or very serious injury to the cyclist.

    It would be most instructive for the CPS employees to experience this for themselves.

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  19. In terms of riding style, this video from 1955 is as good as any for showing riding closely together yet clearly not racing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=kP1KxPjh4RM#t=370s

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  20. Congratulations on an excellent escalation letter. I know this type of persistant, eloquent and informed argument would be the norm in your day to day work, but we definately need more of this to counter the current lack of protection, legal or otherwise, cyclists seem to experience.

    I recently complained to our local bus company following an incident in rush hour where a bus driver behind me got annoyed when I adopted the centre lane 'primary position' in reponse to the road conditions and layout. Finally, presumably in a fit of pique, he overtook me - overshooting the next bus stop with passengers waiting - and pulled sharply to a halt in front of me at an angle across the road, leaving the passengers to run up the road to board the bus. As an experienced and confident cyclist with good brakes, I was able to stop safely. However, as a cycle instructor who teaches 'primary position' techniques to young children as part of Bikeability training, I was very concerned of the effect that such a scary, intimidating and dangerous manouvere could have on such young riders. I had no video on my bike but discovered later that day that I had a witness in the traffic behind who would back me up.

    My letter of complaint was constructed with as much calmness and eloquence as I could muster and included extracts and photos from the Highway Code and the government's Bikeability syllabus.

    I am glad to say, I received a prompt response with apologies, assurances that cyclists safety is particularly stressed with their drivers and that the driver in question was no longer with the company!

    I'm a great believer that nothing will change unless people are prepared to challenge and complain about injustices such as this. Well done and good luck, I look forward to further developments.

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  21. Martin,
    Like every one else, I await your response from the CPS with great interest. Surely, they have a response time? Also, what is the situation if the CPS agree with you that he was wrongly charged now that he has been convicted on the original charge?

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  22. There is another issue with this. At the moment, though you wouldn't know it judging by current driving practice, such vehicles are limited to a maximum of 40mph on single carriageway roads, but the transport industry are lobbying for this limit to be raised as they think that HGVs are perfectly safe at higher speeds on these roads.

    There is a combination of effects - by allowing them to drive at higher speeds, they will probably be driving on their 56mph limiter as that is just about within ACPO guidelines; of course they will be passing cyclists at high speeds with limited width; and due to the higher limit they will find it even more tempting to pass cyclists especially they do not have the performance to accelerate and pass safely once they are held up by oncoming traffic.

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  23. Whether it is police or CPS getting their knickers in a twist to avoid the effort of a prosecution, take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OCwF3cRv74

    A clear premeditated assault, sustained, I reckon a category 2 offence of Assault occasioning actual bodily harm, starting point 6 months in prison.

    Police choice offered: a caution or a local settlement (financial plus written apology). Amazing!! Perhaps the CPS really do have it in for cyclists???

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    Replies
    1. I agree. I could hardly believe it when the same thing happened to me http://thecyclingsilk.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/police-caution-for-unprovoked-assault.html

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    2. My wife (who is a magistrate) ran through it. She pointed out it was assault by beating, and she interpreted it as having minimal premeditation, got out her fines table and concluded that the chances were something around a £140 fine plus £85 costs - so not surprising that they didn't want to take it to court.

      That rather brings into question why a serious assault like that should manage to find its way to that level of punishment.

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  24. great work, keep pushing.
    mark

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