Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Lessons from a Private Prosecution (2) (a) Why this type of incident?

I dislike dangerous overtakes and I dislike the Metropolitan Police's indifference to dangerous overtakes.  An overtake is, or should be, a planned manoeuvre and passing a cyclist too fast and close is done deliberately.  Whether it is done deliberately to intimidate or just because a driver is callously indifferent to a cyclist's safety seems to me to be secondary.  Discussing this topic with a Met Police Sergeant on the Cycle Task Force back in 2010 I was told these were 'too subjective' to take action.

That though is very hard to accept.  Back in 2012 the Surrey Police charged this HGV driver with dangerous driving and the CPS then accepted a plea to careless driving (a decision keeping the case away from a jury and with which I have greater sympathy now than I did at the time).


Contrast the Metropolitan Police who declined to take any action in respect of this HGV:
I believe close passes to be particularly unnerving both for an experienced cyclist (though we have no option but to get used to them) and for the very many people who would cycle if their perception was not that it was too dangerous.

So why a close pass and not a case where I have actually been injured?  I have exchanged details with drivers on 4 occasions as a consequence of damage to myself or my bike.  Each involved momentary inattention at junctions rather than deliberate bad driving.  The two drivers inside the Met Police area suffered no consequences and the two outside (one Surrey, one Thames Valley) were both sent on courses.  I think the driving in all 4 cases could fairly be categorised as careless driving and none, in my view, justified a private prosecution.

Far more serious was the close overtake gone wrong during a club run just months before my February 2015 incident.  An elderly driver collided with the front offside rider in my group and 4 riders went down with the driver failing to stop.  He was dealt with, albeit rather leniently, by Thames Valley Police and we were told lost his licence permanently on medical grounds.  It is a reminder if any is needed that close overtakes do not all end happily.

Further relevant background is that I had just failed to make any headway at all in relation to the disgraceful decision of the Metropolitan Police not to refer the case of Michael Mason to the CPS.  Mr Mason had sustained fatal injuries when run down from behind on Regent Street and I was instructed on behalf of the family to invite the Met to reconsider.  I got nowhere beyond a confused and then retracted announcement that they would consult the CPS..

Perhaps for practical reasons a prosecution actually involving injury might have been more promising in terms of likelihood of conviction than a 'near miss'.  However I did wish to try to make the point that dangerous driving that did not result in a collision should not be ignored.  Quite fortuitously I got the driver's address, something that is not likely to happen again in any near miss case.

This was not of course the first piece of dangerous driving I have encountered but nor was the driver (as he claimed at his trial) a 'scapegoat'.  It goes without saying that had he not endangered me I would not have prosecuted him.  The fact that similar overtakes are fairly common-place makes it more important that they are tackled.  Progress is being made with the Transport Select Committee just reporting that:



I have no regrets over prosecuting a case which (to my mind) involved a classic near miss from a close pass at manifestly excessive speed.  In the right circumstances I would encourage another attempt.

The next post on this subject will look at my factual evidence, how strong it was and how it might have been stronger.

6 comments:

  1. Glad that you are making a stand for those of us who could not undertake this. So very disappointed that you did not succeed.

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    1. Thank you for your support. It is appreciated.

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  2. The prevailing attitude (as exemplified by the outcome of this case)seems to be that 'a miss is as good as a mile' or if there is no actual collision/injury then no harm done. Most of my cycling miles are clocked up commuting to work. I don't fear for my life every time I get on the bike but I steel myself for the daily grinding unpleasantness and casual indifference to my safety. It does not and should not be this way. Thank you for your efforts in highlighting the issue. I hope the police and CPS are in the process of adjusting their attitude.

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  3. I lack the IT knowledge to post as anything but "anon" but my name is Mick Agar.

    Supporters of trial by jury often point to the way it accurately reflects current social norms in a way that out-of-touch judges, and lawyers more generally, cannot. If changing attitudes render something acceptable to the majority, then a jury may acquit a defendant no matter how a judge instructs them. Driving is within the personal knowledge of most ordinary people and not something obscure they need explaining. The definition of the offence of dangerous driving, inserted into the Road Traffic Act 1988 by sec 2A, sets a subjective standard which a jury must surely consider against the backgound of what they regularly witness on the roads. Incidentally, that standard is deteriorating as a consequence of the retreat from the enforcement of traffic law.

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  4. I would like to add my thanks to Martin for taking the time and effort and then to have to put up with the disappointment.

    I am horrified every day by the standard of driving in London. It seems like a regular thing for juries to take next to no time to acquit people of horrifying driving offences.

    Today I see that the lorry driver who crushed Janina Gehlau has been found not guilty of her death by careless driving. The jury took less than an hour to come to their decision.

    This chimes with what Mick says above. Are people desensitised to appalling driving - or is it "there for the grace of god"?

    I am so sad about this result and so sorry for that woman's husband and family.

    Please keep up the good work, Martin.

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  5. It is great to see that I am not the only one who suffers near misses whilst cycling! I have had three collisions in ten years and at the moment I am trying to navigate a claim with a Solicitors whom I feel are biased towards me! It is so frustrating trying to explain to them that I am not cycling around hoping to get knocked of my road bike in order to make a claim!....I am a driver and have a clean license/history and care about cyclists/pedestrians and anyone who is terrified of the Homicidal traffic out there. My last injury involved me being knocked out cold and waking with a screaming and panicking driver in my face who was trying to blame me for his violent left turn in front of me...thankfully several witnesses helped me. As I have said though it's the system which is stacked against me and the frustration I feel is disheartening ....

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