Tuesday 30 April 2013

Why are those who assault cyclists not usually prosecuted

There has been some publicity recently over the failure of the West Midlands Police and the CPS to prosecute the charmless man who was filmed assaulting Stephen Perrin.  The story has made it into the redtop newspapers and the broadsheets.  The assailant was not even, contrary to some of the reports I have seen, cautioned for assault since his victim reluctantly accepted 'local resolution' when told by the Police that there was no prospect of the thug being prosecuted.  (His identity has not been released so I shall call him 'the thug').  That means he has no criminal record and, the next time he does this, will be eligible for a caution under the rules which the West Midlands police have applied to this case.

In response to Stan Fichele's comment on twitter, retweeted by Chris Boardman, saying that there is a lot to do to get Britain Cycling when the police think it is OK not to prosecute/warn the thug, West Midlands Police referred to their press release which (to my mind) rather glosses over the fact that the victim wanted a prosecution.  Reference is made to Home Office Guidelines which mean, they claim  that 'the offence would not have been put before the Courts'.  The victim is reported to have accepted from the police that they (the police) were not to blame because of the government guidance.

These guidelines are the same ones that I was told meant that Timothy Denman could not be prosecuted for assaulting me in December 2010.  I wrote to my MP and to the Home Secretary about the application of this guidance but got nowhere with responsibility being shunted back and forth between the Home Office and Lord Chancellor's Department.  Subsequently there has been a promised review of the cautioning of offenders and, very recently, some embarrassment now that it has come to light how frequently the police settle for 'local resolution' in cases of violence (see today's BBC news.)

I fear there is a strong element of our law enforcement authorities seeking to do as little as possible whilst at the same time bombarding us with press releases and twitter feeds designed to reassure us that they are doing much and, indeed, everything they can.

The Home Office Guidelines that are said to tie everybody's hands are the Gravity Factors Matrix which ACPO drew up in consultation with the CPS but which are not openly available.  A Criminal Justice Service booklet compiled by the MoJ/Home Office and CPS expressly refers to the ACPO Gravity Factors Matrix under the rather important question of 'offence suitability'.  Certainly these guidelines require much greater scrutiny than they receive.  It is all too easy for those deciding not to prosecute to rely upon guidance that 'outsiders' know nothing about.

When I complained about Denman's caution to the Thames Valley Police, I was shown a copy of the guidance by the Inspector who came around  to my home to apologise.  It was very similar to the Matrix used for Young Offenders which Kent Police have made available for download here.  From this it can be seen that an assault occasioning actual bodily harm (bodily harm that is not trivial) gets 3 points.  If there is any aggravating factor then (unless balanced by a mitigating factor) the score gets to the 4 which should 'normally' result in a charge.  The way then to get around the inconvenience of having to charge somebody is to say that an assault which in fact occasioned ABH should actually be treated as a common assault which scores only 2 and so (under the counting system as I understand it) cannot get to the magic 4.

Such a mechanistic system is bizarre and bound to lead to unacceptable results.  That is why the Police and CPS are at perfect liberty to depart from it when they feel the circumstances warrant it.  The Matrix itself confirms that:

15.2 Discretion does exist to deviate from the normal response, as indicated above, but only if the circumstances justify this, and the reasons for such action would need to be fully recorded by the decision maker.

For example as I pointed out in 2011, a leaked police document indicated that no person had been cautioned for offences arising out of the inner city riots notwithstanding the fact that many of the offenders arrested would have qualified for a caution under the Matrix.  Equally Hate Crimes involving assault are singled out as meriting an award of 4 and therefore likely prosecution.

There is a simple answer here.  The Government wishes to encourage cycling in furtherance of the public interest.  Assaulting a cyclist because he is on a bicycle should be characterised as a 'hate crime' and should result in prosecution.  I fully recognise that there are issues of choice here that distinguish race, gender and sexual orientation from transport choice but the evil of being attacked for what you are and what you represent goes beyond these factors to cyclists, 'Goths' and transvestites (and quite possibly others).  Let us label them all 'hate crimes', get ourselves away from the absurd and discredited Gravity Factors Matrix and get prosecuting.  Where the Police and/or CPS decide not to prosecute they should be required to explain why not without vague reference to guidelines that are too often used as a excuse designed to be incomprehensible to the victim.

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  1. It's worse that that.

    If you had punched the person who assaulted you, you can be absolutely SURE that as a cyclist, and therefore subhuman, you would have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    Uppity cyclists deserve everything they get. That IS the view of The Establishment. It's totally clear.

    1. Thats the feeling I'm now getting here, but over a separate issue of potholes. I've had a third wheel destroyed by them today, the last series of letters sent to the council have been ignored. My emails to local councilors ignored too.

      Not even a "piss off".

      I'm out of pocket now by quite some margin. I can well see that others new to cycling are going to experience the same and just give it up, get back in the car and we go through this same nonsense of obesity and traffic jams hitting the headlines.

      Its like all of these people in positions of power have figured out that if they keep doing nothing together then no-one can stop them.

    2. Hate to be repetetive... but it's worse than that.

      My local council forged inspection reports to "prove" that the huge hole I went into a broke both wheels, my styep and lighting system on DID NOT EXIST.

      Nottingham City Council. Was willing to commit perjury. The BC lawyers would not take the case on due to this "evidence"

    3. Is it not possible to start proceedings in the Small Claims Court against the council? I would imagine as soon as the paperwork lands on their solicitors desk they will suddenly be more attentive to your claim.

    4. Won't help if they falsify evidence.

  2. Martin,

    I think non-cyclists underestimate quite how common violence from motorists towards cyclists is. It certainly feels like a hate crime when one suffers it.

    When I lived in London, I suffered one assault (albeit only a common assault) at the hands of a bus driver who objected to my photographing his intrusion into an advance stop area. Another time, I was very seriously threatened by a driver who desisted only when I called police and gave them his licence plate. Both of those incidents were very unpleasant. While the bus driver resigned from his job, neither incident resulted in any police action at all.

    The one point to make, I suppose, is that the physical assaults with fists are at least generally less serious in outcome than those where a motorist deliberately rams a cyclist with his/her car (while I've definitely suffered "punishmnet passes", I've never had a car deliberately hit me). I suppose, given the police's reluctance to prosecute cases where motorists hit cyclists, one might create perverse incentives for angry motorists to assault people with cars, rather than their fists. I accept I'm probably overthinking things, though.

    Meanwhile, now that I live in New York, I truly dread the day some motorist assaults me here. The NYPD's attitude makes that of the Met and other UK police forces look positively enlightened.

    All the best,


  3. Anyone who has tried to deal with Central Government downwards will soon realise that the system is entirely designed to deflect criticism and escape responsibility.

    The conversation goes like this:

    - Did you know that YOUR LAW is being ignored?

    - It is for the police and CPS to decide.

    - Did you know that YOUR LAW is being interpreted in this bizarre way?

    - It is not for us to decide what the laws we wrote mean.

    - Do you realise your guidance is not being complied with?

    - It is not law, only guidance, therefore the other bodies have discretion.

    - We cannot get satisfaction from these unaccountable bodies?

    - There are appropriate complaints procedures to go through (which if you have survived a year or more of prevarication will produce some verdict designed to avoid any criticism, unless there has been a national outcry in the meantime, then there is a small chance of someone being thrown to the lions).

    The whole ACPO guidelines thing seems highly inappropriate that a small group of people get to decide what the law will be in effect. The fact that the Matrix is not a publicly available document is extremely concerning - it goes in the pot of "bringing the judicial system into disrepute" - and also gives lie to the game that the police (as the public facing element of the agreement) are powerless in the face of the CPS when it appears they are acting in collusion.

  4. I don't think assaults on cyclists should be classified as a hate crime just as assault on any pedestrian wouldn't be classified as a hate crime (unless there was racially aggravating factors). Imagine a situation where a pedestrian was walking on the side of the road due to no pavements being present(such roads do exist in many rural areas) and a driver passed the pedestrian at close range/cut in sharply. The pedestrian, gesticulated (and possibly shouted an obscenity) in fear. The driver turns around and starts chasing after the pedestrian (who is running away at this point) with his van; the driver eventually gets out and assaults the pedestrian. Would we as a society classify this as a hate crime? I am not so sure. To me hate crime should be the preserve of innate features that a person cannot change about themselves, such as colour of their skin. (Yes, I accept that crimes committed on others due to religious beliefs would then fall outside of this because you are free to change your religion, but that's a different discussion as to whether religious views/beliefs should be 'special' or not).

    Now, it is my belief that in the above scenario the police and the judicial system would take this incidence with much more seriousness than the assault on the cyclist. To me the issue here is partially the laziness of the police (i.e., not wanting to do the 'tedious' paperwork involved in charging/cautioning) and partially viewing/treating cyclists as an out-group that is acceptable to bully/mistreat.

    As a cyclist I don't think it's in our long term interest to be classified as special victims but to show that we are just human beings and this sort of attack on a person should be treated as any other similar attack on another human being who didn't happen to be on a bicycle at the time.

    Do not get me wrong on this. I am appalled that 'the thug' was not charged/cautioned and in general so many violent assaults are dealt with in such a laissez faire manner by the police and our judicial system.

    1. I understand the argument that hate crimes are particularly objectionable because the victim is targeted for characteristics over which s/he has no control. It does however seem to me to be a way of cutting through the system that we now have. Taking account of the vulnerability of the victim is another angle but would not alone satisfy the Matrix. Being 'a cyclist' does seem to arouse a distinct hostility from some that I have never encountered as a pedestrian. Encouraging cycling by giving those who take up the exhortation maximum protection of the law seems to me to be justifiable.

    2. Dear Martin,

      Thank you for your reply. I understand the temptation of using hate crime legislation to cut through the "Matrix". However, saying to potential would be cyclists that they are protected by hate crime legislation sends out completely the wrong message. To me it says that the situation on our roads is so bad that hate crime legislations is being deployed, I'll stick to my car/train/bus/walk, thanks very much. I'd much rather we (and especially eloquent voices such as yourself) showed to the public how this guidance (and our police/judicial system) is effectively legalising assaulting strangers on the street.

    3. The question is not whether hate crime legislation sends out the wrong message but whether cyclists are suffering hate crime. It seems we are and therefore the legislation would be entirely appropriate.

    4. I agree with Fifth Gear. If would be entirely appropriate.

      Someone who has never cycled would not understand.

      We are targeted. The media set us up as hate figures, and the masses, fooled into thinking that the motor car gives them ultimate freedom by ridiculous advertising react to us with irrational hate.

      Just start riding a bike regularly Parimal. You will see.

      You are fair game to have your LIFE THREATENED, and must have NO comeback whatsoever, NO recourse in law. You MUST JUST ACCEPT BEING INTIMIDATED.

    5. I concur that hate crime fits.

      Just as 'race' is no longer limited to a sort of sub-species classification, and is frequently extended to incude ethnicity and relitigion, 'hate' can be extended to any sort of demographic. I happen to hate any number of neo-cons, celebrities, and corporate types. Were my animosity to boil over into violence, I should expect to be indicted for a hate crime.

      Personally, I can see hate crime in this sense becoming very useful for dealing with bullies, road rage, and even bad customer service! Well, maybe not quite. But I do think the concept has merit, and would support some wider application.

      PS - is there some sort of bug with this comment system? Had to go from FF to IE to get this in.

    6. Parimal,
      You are contradicting yourself. You say "To me the issue here is ... partially viewing/treating cyclists as an out-group that is acceptable to bully/mistreat."
      1. Some people view cyclists as different from themselves purely because they cycle
      2. Some people express this hate with physical violence
      That is the definition of hate crime.
      Since the Police are institutionally in Group 1, it is important to use Hate Crime legislation in persuing perpretators of violence against cyclist.
      It would send a clear message:
      "This stuff has to stop!"

    7. I'm afraid I have HUGE doubts about the whole concept of "hate crime". Not because I deny that racism, say, is extremely damaging to all, but rather because so many violent crimes are really hate crimes but are not recognised as such.

      The murderous attack on that poor Goth woman, for example, appeared to me to have an element of class-hatred behind it (Goths are, after all, a notably middle-class subculture).

      I know people who grew up very-slightly-middle-class on council estates, for example, and who suffered bullying that clearly had roots in class-resentment.

      Then there's the abuse that disabled people can get, perhaps particularly the mentally disabled.

      A lot of violent attacks by men on women seem to me to have a strong element of misogyny behind them - only the misogyny is so deeply embedded into 'normality' that it often goes unaknowledged.

      Likewise I would say that my being a cyclist (and not a motorist) is not, in fact, 100% a random choice, it owes a lot to my particular upbringing and circumstances and origins. Identity is not an all-or-nothing thing, its a sliding scale. If religion can be a basis for a 'hate crime' when its clearly not as innate as race, then why not class, and if class, why not youth sub-cultures that correlate with class, and so on...
      In short, most violent crime I think is motivated by hatred of one form or other.

  5. Number crunching:

    15,000 police sacked
    10,000 violent assaults weren't prosecuted last year.


  6. A couple of years ago I was assaulted by a man over a parking dispute outside my house, and slammed against a wall. He also threatened to torch my house.

    I had parked close to his car for a few minutes, and then someone else had blocked him in from the other side (obstructing a drive as well).

    Police officers actually threatened to charge me for obstruction if I pressed on with wanting action, and came back later with some tale of how he was sorry. I and the family were scared and shaken so didn't press the issue.

    I honestly believe all of these incidents are down to the police trying to keep the statistic for recorded crime down so the place seems safer.

  7. Downfader:

    On the less important issue - you CAN get compensation for damaged equipment. Follow guidelines from CTC, Cycle nation etc. and particulalrly
    1. Photograph (with dated newspaper) the pothole.
    2. Get good estimates of damaged kit from bike shop (reputable one).
    3. If necessary use a solicitor to pursue the Highway Authority.

    they often settle without going to court as this can be expensive for them.

    It is important to do because it will increase pressure on them to do something about surfaces.

  8. Dual standards apply... I was charged, as a cyclist, with assault after riding into someone who stepped out of a car in front of me. The charges were only dropped by the CPS when I pointed out the the "victim" admitted to stepping out of an illegally stopped car without looking and the witness statements were complete nonsense.

  9. I overheard part of a conversation in my local swimming pool a while back, in which one person said to the other "'E 'ates cyclists, 'e really 'ates them". So if the person to whom he was referring chose to attack a cyclist, would that not be by definition a hate crime?

  10. The issue with the police is not just with assaults, it is how they pick and choose what traffic law to enforce.

    I regularly get residents referred to me from the police for traffic calming or speed restraints - I thought it was their job to enforce speed limits which can be in reaction to complaints and my job to make road layouts safer in a planned and long term way - no, they are always passing the buck.

  11. Another point on the police press release. On comments associated with the video that sparked this, Stephen made it quite clear that he was not happy about not having it charged, but being the typical reasonable human being who has not sought legal advice, he made it clear that he was not happy about the person not being charged and it was with reluctance that he accepted the local settlement - I think he had minor damage to his bike and he gained the impression he could not readily recover this if the thug was cautioned. It is misleading of the police (though a typical political move) to represent his reluctant agreement under the police advice that a prosecution was not possible as a positive consent.

    Reasonable people trying to be cooperative are often disadvantaged.

  12. I feel very lucky that the thug (different one) who assaulted me last year under extremely similar circumstances was prosecuted - and convicted - of assault.

    Actually the chase was more aggressive, but there were no witnesses to that, so it was just the assault which was charged.

  13. The latest to add to the worrying comments by judges pile: it's ok to kill someone as it was only a momentary loss of concentration, and no helmet means that the cyclist was essentially suicidal.


    Second offence - got 2 years in 1986 for killing another cyclist.

    1. It's ok he showed "genuine remorse". One would imagine that he also showed that last time he killed, obviously not enough to change his driving habbits.

  14. Regarding hate crimes:

    I have seen many comments on facebook/twitter from people claiming to hate cyclists and threatening to drive into them/mow them down/etc.

    Is this not in itself a hate crime? I believe the law in relation to hate crime also covers those who encourage, plan, discuss these crimes.

    The police do appear to have twitter accounts so a simple search should suffice to help them get the 'solved crimes' statistics up. Win-win all round!

  15. Agree hate crime is needed to protect cyclists from hate, if we can't get it as cyclists I'm thinking of setting up a religion that is based around cycling.

    I've had things like "Get off our F***** roads you F***** cyclist" yelled at me, so it's obvious it's about cyclists.

    I've had glass bottles, lit cigarettes and the occasional balloon full of piss thrown at me, often with abuse being yelled at the same time. It's obvious that these are hate crimes against a group that these specific people hate, us cyclists.

    I've told police on numerous occasions with no action, I've got mild cerebral palsy and if the person used the words spastic, spaz or similar it would have been investigated straight away. But not being one to lie to police I just gave them the facts, the cars registration number and that was as far as it ever goes. We need protection from hate!

    Hope everyone has a safe cycle and May the Forks Be With You!