Friday 31 December 2010

Home Office Response

A Home Office official at the 'Direct Communications Unit' has diverted my letter addressed to Theresa May MP to the Ministry of Justice on the grounds that 'the matters raised are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice'.
All in a day's work I suppose to redirect a complaint on to somebody else, but is it not truely deeply shocking that an official at the Home Office does not appreciate that his/her department is responsible for the police service?
I have heard that other complaints involving the police have been misdirected in a similar way.
I shall be e mailing again asking that my letter be put before the Home Secretary.

"Dear Sirs,

I have received a letter dated 23rd December indicating that my letter of 22nd December (a copy of which is again attached) has been passed to the Ministry of Justice by an individual whose signature looks like 'M. Mioh'.
Kindly note that my letter was addressed to, and intended for, Theresa May MP, the Home Secretary and should not be redirected to the Ministry of Justice.
I find it disappointing that anybody working in the Home Office should think that the matters I raise in my letter about the police are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. They are not.
I would be grateful for your early confimation that my letter has been passed to Mrs May.
Yours faithfully,
Martin Porter"

Wednesday 22 December 2010

An open letter to the Home Secretary

I have written to the Home Secretary, Theresa May MP.  If you live in her constituency she can be contacted at, otherwise it may be more appropriate to contact her at the home office if you have your own views.  I would rather she did not think I was an isolated malcontent.

"22nd December 2010

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Home Secretary
2 Marsham Street

Dear Mrs May,

Treatment of offences affecting cyclists

I am a keen cyclist and secretary of a cycling club, Thames Velo, which is based in your constituency. In the last couple of months I have had two interactions with the police after I reported circumstances in which I had been, in the first case, threatened and, in the second case, actually assaulted by a motorist.

I write, not to detail my individual cases (though I would be very happy to furnish details if you wish) but because my experiences chime with those of a large number of cyclists who find that the commission of criminal offences which endanger or intimidate them are not taken sufficiently seriously by the prosecuting authorities, the first stage of which obviously is the police.

Relevant Home Office guidance has been issued to Chief Constables in the past. Specifically, in relation to cautions, Home Office Circular 30/2005 addressed to Chief Constables and copied to Crown Prosecutors refers to a gravity factors matrix and also requires that the victim’s views about the offence and the nature and extent of harm are taken into account.

My understanding is that the gravity factors matrix does include the vulnerability of the victim as a specific aggravating feature.

My experience in the case of the assault on me was that existing Home Office Guidance was not complied with before a simple caution was administered. In the case of the threat I have had to battle against a total lack of enthusiasm on the part of the police and the CPS to take my complaint seriously.

When cases get to Court there are sentencing guidelines which indicate that harm to a vulnerable road user is an aggravating feature but there is a problem in that too few cases where cyclists are harmed or threatened are taken to Court.

On a practical level could I ask your department please to consider issuing clear guidance to Chief Constables and to Crown Prosecutors that the endangering of vulnerable road users is a specific aggravating feature in the commission of a criminal offence?

At the moment the Government correctly encourages more active lifestyles. An increase in the level of cycling is obviously of direct interest to both the Department of Health and Department of Transport and relieves public expenditure from both those departments. Unfortunately there are a small minority of motorists who resist with aggression what they see as an invasion into ‘their’ road space and justify their malevolence towards cyclists with misunderstandings about ‘road tax’, safe cycling techniques, use of cycle paths, condemnation of all cyclists as ‘lawless’, and other misconceptions. Mass cycling will never become a reality while so many people are afraid of cycling on the roads because of inconsiderate, and even hostile, motor traffic.

May I suggest to you that it is a completely false economy, and wholly unjustified, to ‘go soft’ on motorists whose conduct tips over into criminality that endangers or threatens those using a form of transport that the Government is seeking to encourage?

I am not suggesting that a ‘soft’ policy has been directed from the top; rather it has emerged from the bottom and now needs to be tackled from the top.

I would be very happy to meet with you or your officials in your constituency or in Westminster (perhaps with representatives of relevant cycling organisations) to explain further the concerns which I know are now shared by a very large section of the cycling community.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Porter"

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.

Saturday 18 December 2010

More thoughts from a snowbound cyclist

Time for a new camera?

I have collected no useful footage from my helmet camera in the last few weeks because the battery life has deteriorated to just 17 minutes.  I need to decide whether to get a replacement.  There are arguments either way:
1.  Some of the publicity I am getting is not great.  My clerk has kindly been keeping an eye on it for me.  The other day he announced looking up from his screen, "It says here you are a brilliant also says down here you are a total prat".  I already have a thick skin and have learnt the hard way not to seek to defend myself on these open fora; it is never constructive.
2   Perhaps I have done my bit, made a point and can now revert to just shrugging off bad driving in the way I used to in the past.
3.  I may be adding to the perception that cycling is dangerous.  This is the one that concerns me the most.  It is perhaps worth pointing out that I cycle a lot of miles.  Judging by DoT statistics I ride 200 times further than the average male cyclist!  The statistic must include a lot of very low mileage cyclists (or even everybody who owns a bicycle), but it is reasonable to suppose that what I encounter occasionally may be encountered by a moderate level cyclist only once or twice in a riding lifetime.  [Afternote:  I ride about 1,000 miles a month and the 'average' male cyclist apparently only does 200km a year.]
1.  Some of the publicity is, I hope of assistance to cyclists generally.  Nothing I have done before has got me into such a range of newspapers, radio chat shows and even a local television news programme where the message is, I hope, getting across that there is some unacceptable driving out there which needs to be tackled more effectively than is the case at present.  On balance the postive feedback outweighs the negative stuff.
2.   After BBC London Radio had done with me, they interviewed DCI Nick Chalmers of the Met's Roadsafe.  I was impressed by him and, after a sceptical start reflecting some misunderstandings, I am now persuaded that it is well worth reporting bad driving using this online resource.  Mr Chalmers has made it very clear that the police find video footage very helpful.  A report to Roadsafe will not result in prosecution but will, where justified, lead to a warning letter which is a good deal better than nothing.  I accept that there cannot possibly be a prosecution for all the inadvertant bad driving that is out there.  Surrey Police have a very similar online reporting site.  So there is something constructive to do with the video footage other than just post it on youtube.
3.    A very major factor that explains the persitently low modal share of cycling as a means of transport is the fear of traffic.  This fear often overestimates the risk of cycling compared to other activities.  However it could never be described as irrational while poor (and even aggressive) driving around cyclists persists.  A new cyclist  could very readily be put off by such driving and revert to their own car.  I think on balance it is better to do what I can to address the bad driving at source rather than leave it to shock and surprise the new cyclist who takes to the streets.  I know of, and respect, the alternative school of thought which is to let motorists get on with their own thing and seek segregated infrastructure for cyclists.  However I jealously guard my right to use the roads (save motorways) which are ideally suited to fast efficient cycling, if only all motorists were willing to share.
4.    When something does get onto my film, I have sufficient legal knowlege, persistence and stubborness to push it further than others may.  If I can make a contribution to road safety above and beyond driving/cycling carefully myself, then I am very happy to devote time to doing so.  It is in my view a good cause.
5.    The cost of a replacement camera is such that I save it in just two days by taking the bike instead of the train to work.
Conclusion:  I have clicked the button ordering my new camera.  For those who have asked it is a veho muvi camera ordered on the web (many outlets) for about £45.  You will need a better SD card and mounts as well but I already have those from the old camera.

Where is all your footage of bad cycling?

One thing that is totally predictable where there is any discussion (particularly online) of what I have filmed, is that somebody will come on and complain about standards of cycling.  It is a reaction as reliable as any reflex; that cyclists have a total disregard for the law, ought to be taxed, insured, helmeted, day-glowed and so on.  Even DCI Chalmers, whom I have praised above, took time to encourage cyclists to broadcast video footage of poor cycling.
From a law enforcement perspective I can sympathise with this.  A policeman's obligation is to enforce the law, all laws.  That though is not my role; I am not an unpaid law enforcement officer and I can take the luxury of pursuing single-mindedly my interest in safety.  Were I to film a cyclist endangering anybody other than himself then I will post it, but I seldom witness and have never yet got film footage of this happening.
Cyclists break the law, of course they do - just as every other class of roaduser does, I see it every day and I do not condone it.  Nonetheless I am no more inclined to post up every occasion that a cyclist contravenes a red light than I am everytime a motorist contravenes a red light by passing an advance stop line.  Worse in my view is a cyclist in black unlit at night but that really doesn't film well.
I do not even bother with my pet irritation which is the cyclist who undertakes me when I am moving, typically when I am slowing for a red light.  Clearly not all cyclists are angels, I confronted one in Central London recently who had travelled for miles, undertaking me and then going through a red light and after I had overtaken him repeating the whole process again and again.  I eventually advised him for his own sake not to undertake moving vehicles (including me) and was rewarded with a string of obscenities.  But, and this finally is the point, however irritating this was, I knew he was there, could avoid him and he was not a danger to me or to anybody else save possibly himself.  This is a function of his weight, his speed and his size.  Besides it was a cold day and I was wearing a woolly hat with no camera mount.
I firmly believe that to get sidetracked from dealing with the faults of motorists by an idea that it is equally important or 'even-handed' to tackle the faults of cyclists is to severely trivialise the evils associated with poor motoring.  I find the relentless pursuit of the likes of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Jon Snow by tabloid reporters anxious to photograph the slightest appearance of a breach of the law deeply unappetising and I do not think I will be contributing to it.
Those most offended, or at least those with most reason to be offended, by law breaking cyclists are the many law abiding cyclists who feel they are being given a bad name.  I understand that too but, as I say, I am free to focus my efforts where I wish and I choose road safety.

Legal Update Winter 2010

Yes, I am snowbound, the Winter Series is again cancelled and I still do not posses a turbotrainer so I will crack on with a legal update instead:

On 1st November the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by cyclist, Carl Betts, against his sentence of 30 months imprisonment for inflicting grevious bodily harm on a youth who had taunted him.  The facts, taken from the Judgment of Mr Justice Hedley, were as follows:

"The events develop really in the early hours of the morning of 26th November 2009. The complainant was aged 17 and was part of a group of young people in a park and there was much laughing and general noise and so on going on. The appellant, who was some 5 years older, at 22, passed this group on his bicycle. There was directed at him quite unnecessary abuse and foul language. Wiser heads would simply have ridden on. But the appellant decided to stop and confront this group about their behaviour and he got off, returned to the group and there was an altercation. The appellant then delivered two punches to the head of the complainant, the effect of which was to put him on the ground.
As he struck the ground it appears that the complainant suffered a further and, as it turns out, extremely serious brain injury."

The Court commented that there was simply no reason at all for the violence to be offered.  It is all particularly distressing as it is all so unnecessary.  Against that, Betts pleaded guilty and, through the prosecutions's acceptance that this was not the more serious offence of causing GBH with intent, it was accepted that he had not intended the consequences of his actions.

Nonetheless the Judge was held to have been entitled to pass a severe sentence to reflect the gravity of the injury which had occurred and, as a matter of general public policy, if you punch somebody to the head, you should take the consequences however unintended or even unexpected.

It appears that the only reason for the original abuse and foul language was that Betts was on a bicycle and perhaps the main lesson for cyclists is that in the face of such abuse they should ride off if they can.  There may also be parallels to be drawn where the cyclist is the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of violence.

On 18th November, Dennis Putz, the killer of the cyclist, Catriona Patel, was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment following his conviction of causing her death by dangerous driving.  He ran down Ms Patel driving a Thames Materials skip lorry in South London in June 2009.  Mr Putz was using a handheld mobile 'phone at the time of the collision and was also still above the legal drink drive limit after a binge the night before.  Putz had a long long history of convictions demonstrating a contemptuous disregard for the laws intended to make the roads safer.  His Honour Judge Chapple gave him a lifetime driving ban (a very rare example of this power being exercised).

Questions must arise as to whether Putz's employers, Thames Materials, knew or ought to have known that they were sending lorries driven by such a dangerous menace onto the public roads.  These questions only intensified when on 7th December a Japanese businessman in a taxi on the A4 heading into London was killed when a Thames Materials HGV travelling in the opposite direction apparently lost control.  Thames Materials has been reported to state that, "We are very sorry about both cases. We are working very closely with police to try to understand what happened. It has been very hard for us as a company."  The last sentence has not succeeded in eliciting any great sympathy from this quarter.

Section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 is intended to protect persons not at work from the activities of those at work where risks to health and safety may arise from the manner of the carrying out of the employer's activities (I paraphrase).  Enforcement is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive.  In the past the Executive have made it clear that road traffic is not one of its priorities.  HGVs kill a disproportionate number of cyclists, especially in London, so arguably this should move up the list.
Thames Materials may be an obvious place to start, but this gives me an opportunity to name and shame Fowler Welch, Oil Salvage Limited and Sunlight Textile Services, none of which have taken the slightest interest when I have drawn to their attention poor driving by their HGV drivers around cyclists.  Lorry drivers have an enormous responsibility, and to be fair most of them drive very well.  It seems reasonable to expect, in the interests of road safety, companies running fleets of lorries to ensure they employ only the most responsible careful and well trained drivers.

Monday 13 December 2010

Update on incident on 4th November

I am very grateful to the Metropolitan Police for reopening their investigations into an incident that involved me on 4th November near Hounslow.  To the extent that my technological abilites permit I will now remove posts relating to this and hopefully restore them once the investigation and any criminal proceedings are complete.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Imperial Winter Series Race 2

A good day for the first of the terrific Doug and Lucy Collins’ Imperial Racing Winter Series for this season. Dry with a temperature of +9°C and a light westerly wind (though it always seems a bit stronger at Hillingdon). The series was planned to kick off last Saturday but the ice and snow on the circuit made cancellation inevitable. We will be lucky if that is the only race to be lost to this icy winter.

I signed on a little apprehensively for I had somehow stepped up from 4th category to 3rd category since last winter. I need not have worried though; the speed was very similar, though there was some more tactical riding with bursts of energy interspersed with collective breathers while we waited to see what move would happen next.

Early on I discovered I was not in good enough form to keep up with the rider who keenly sprinted straight off the start or to get into any break. There were some early attempts, but I did not have the strength to go with them and no-one had the strength to stay away (maybe the ice hasn’t affected just my training, though I somehow suspect most others have a turbo in the garage). My club coach was watching, and he had once advised me to settle for an objective of staying near the front for as long as possible. It was therefore largely for his benefit that at 3 laps to go I was at the front; indeed with the sprint on everybody’s minds I had trouble getting off the front and then struggled with the inevitable acceleration in the last couple of laps.

I was at the back discussing with my old racing companion, James, how it might not be wise to compete the sprint, when the wisdom of that joint thought was borne out by a crash on the home straight. Bikes came down to the left of me and then immediately afterwards one to the right of me. I do hope they are all ok. I carried on to roll over the line just off the back of the bunch, which pretty much met my objective of the day.

25 miles in 1h02m. Average speed 24.2 mph. Top speed 30mph just before slowing for the crash.

Friday 10 December 2010


I am very grateful to Roadpeace, the charity that does so much invaluable work supporting those bereaved by road crashes, and works so hard to reduce the carnage on our roads, for this message of support.

"RoadPeace is in complete support of your efforts to get the police and CPS to take the case of a driver threatening to kill you seriously. Their reluctance to give it proper consideration is indicative of the wider problem we have on our roads where drivers believe that they can drive aggressively, dangerously and in a life-threatening manner, particularly around cyclists, with impunity. A message needs to be sent out to these road users that their dangerous behavior will not be tolerated by the law. The use of the car as a dangerous weapon is strangely tolerated, even more puzzling when it is responsible for over 6 deaths a day in the UK, and one every 27 seconds worldwide. The use of any other weapon/drug/military intervention causing such level of devastation would never be tolerated.

We have called in the past for the definition of dangerous and careless driving to be consistent with that used by DVLA examiners. We can only assume that the driver involved would have failed his test if he had driven like this. Let’s expect drivers to drive as they would on their test, and let’s have a policing and judicial approach that backs that up."

Letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions

9th December 2010

Keir Starmer QC
The Director of Public Prosecutions
Rose Court
2 Southwark Bridge

Dear Mr Starmer,

Threat to kill, Hounslow 04.11.10

On 4th November I reported a crime committed earlier that day on the A315 just west of Hounslow, when a motorist drew close alongside me on my bicycle and threatened to kill me. The context was that 10 minutes earlier he had been annoyed when I took sufficient road space, alongside a traffic island, that he had to wait until past the island before he could overtake me. The clear implication of the threat was clear; that if I ‘held him up’ again he would not wait behind but would run me down and kill me. It was a threat neither issued, nor taken, in jest.

My evidence about this incident would, I suggest, warrant some investigation on its own. However my account of the events (which has been clear and consistent from the initial report on the same day) is fully corroborated by video evidence from a camera mounted on my helmet. This records a long sequence of verbal abuse leading up to the incident and a clear admission immediately thereafter that the motorist concerned had indeed threatened to kill me. This admission (‘Did you just threaten to kill me?’ ‘Yeah, I did.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yeah’) is clearly recorded on the video as are the additional, and plainly abusive, words (‘you are a cocky cunt, mate’).

The film footage both with and without subtitles (which represent my evidence as to what was said) are attached on the enclosed DVD. These have of course been overtly edited by me so I also attach a longer stretch of around 10 minutes of unedited film which covers the incident.

The police officer assigned to investigate this case told me that he was considering issuing a fixed penalty notice to the suspect for a breach of section 5 of the Public Order Act (a lenient but inexpensive option). He then took advice from the CPS at Hounslow. The police officer has told me that he was advised, on 11th November, by Mr. Manjit Mahal that there was insufficient evidence ‘to pass the threshold test’ and that no action should be taken. The police officer concerned made it clear to me in an email of the same date that “the decision was not mine and was made by the CPS I shall not be investigating this matter”

I e mailed Mr Mahal on that same day, 11th November, asking him to review his decision or refer it to a Senior Crown Prosecutor.

Unfortunately two weeks later I had not had the courtesy even of an acknowledgment of this e-mail and I therefore wrote on 25th November to Mr Arwell Jones, the District Crown Prosecutor for West London. I regret to say that two weeks on I have not had any response of any kind to that letter either.

I know that you are keen that the CPS complies with Core Quality Standards which include standard 2, that the Service will make timely, effective and fair charging decisions in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, and Standard 11 that the Service will deal promptly with complaints about its decisions. The Code for Crown Prosecutors provides at 3.2 that every case prosecutors receive from the police will be reviewed and prosecutors must ensure that they have all the information they need to make an informed decision as to how best to deal with the case.

A CPS spokesman is reported to have told a reporter on the Ascot News that:

“The police asked the CPS in Hounslow for early advice on whether an offence had been committed.
“Having a brief overview of the case the prosecutor advised the police that there appeared to be insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.
“If the police ask us to undertake a full review of this material then we will do so, but this has not been requested since we provided our initial advice.”

I do not understand how this can be thought to comply with the code. Since the police did bring this case to the CPS, the prosecutor should not have issued the advice he did without, at least, the benefit of a statement from me and the result of questioning of the motorist. Because he issued this advice after ‘a brief overview’, the police are taking no further action. Mr Mahal’s advice is in any event erroneous. My evidence of a threat to kill is clear. The video both corroborates that, and also clearly records threatening and abusive words and behaviour, proving the lesser offence that the police officer was considering whether to pursue. I invite you to look at the videos and see that on any view:

1. In the initial sequence, the suspect is frustrated at not being able to pass me alongside a traffic island, sounds his horn and says something which is indistinct save for the clear words ‘fuck off’.

2. Nearly 10 minutes later he draws close alongside me but does not, for a period of some seconds, complete the overtake. It is reasonably clear that something is said by him to me.

3. As soon as I am out of immediate danger and the car is ahead of me, I repeat the words I have just heard to the camera ‘If I see that again I’ll fucking kill you.’ This is no less reliable than a contemporaneous written note of the words used.

4. Seconds thereafter I draw alongside him (he is stationery so again can not run me down) and he immediately abuses me verbally and confirms twice that he has just threatened to kill me.

An objective independent observer would find that to be firm corroboration that what I say occurred actually occurred. In respect of threatening and abusive words and behaviour the video alone, even without my recollection, clearly indicates a case to answer and a probability of conviction exceeding 50%.

Further there is, quite rightly, no provision in the Code for the police to ‘half bring’ a case to the attention of the CPS and then deciding not to undertake any investigation on the basis of ‘preliminary advice’. This suggests a joint inclination not to take the issuing of threats by a motorist against a cyclist seriously.

I ask you as the person ultimately responsible for the actions of the CPS to ensure that this (reported) offence is taken seriously and investigated. I appreciate you do not directly control the police, but in circumstances where they have ceased an investigation because of advice from your Service, I am sure they would reopen it at your suggestion. If not (and if it is really for the witnesses and victims of crime to see that justice is pursued) I would take it up with the Metropolitan Police.

At the moment I appear to be falling between two services each of which regards the other as having decided not to act upon my crime report.

May I finally urge you not to dismiss this letter as coming from an obsessed or deranged crank? I trust you will see it as reasonable to take this up with you, after I have failed to get any response from two more junior CPS employees. I have received the full support of countless individual cyclists and also from CTC (the national cycling body) and Roadpeace (a national charity for road crash victims) in the stand I am taking. I ask you to credit that there is a widespread view, which the handling of my case has done nothing to dispel, that aggression and poor driving endangering cyclists is not taken as seriously as it should be by your service.

I would be grateful for an early response even if it is to indicate that time is required to respond substantively.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Porter

Sunday 5 December 2010

Reporter from Ascot News gets some interesting quotes

I note that in my local newspaper, the reporter Hannah Masters-Waage has got some interesting quotes from the Hounslow Police and CPS.

A spokeswoman from the Metropolitan Police said: “The matter was investigated by officers from Hounslow and discussed with the CPS and no further action will be taken as we have been advised by the CPS that there is insufficient evidence to support a prosecution.”

A CPS London spokesperson said: “The police asked the CPS in Hounslow for early advice on whether an offence had been committed.

“Having a brief overview of the case the prosecutor advised the police that there appeared to be insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

“If the police ask us to undertake a full review of this material then we will do so, but this has not been requested since we provided our initial advice.”

So the CPS say that after 'a brief overview' they advised that there 'appeared to be insufficient evidence' but they will not undertake a full review until the police request it.  At the same time the police say that they will take no further action as the CPS have said there is insufficient evidence.  Meanwhile my correspondence with the CPS has gone unanswered and nobody is prepared to undertake a review because I have requested it.

I have tonight e mailed the police officer who originally investigated this case as follows:

"Dear PC       ,

The following has been reported in my local newspaper the Ascot News.

You will see that a CPS spokesman has told the reporter that:

“The police asked the CPS in Hounslow for early advice on whether an offence had been committed.

“Having a brief overview of the case the prosecutor advised the police that there appeared to be insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

“If the police ask us to undertake a full review of this material then we will do so, but this has not been requested since we provided our initial advice.”

If the spokesman is correct, then it is clear that the CPS will review their advice in the event that you ask them to do so. Naturally I have asked them to review their advice but have not, to date, received any response. Could I request you please therefore to ask the CPS to undertake a full review.

Also, since you do not have a statement from me, it may be helpful if you know what I say was said; a video with subtitles to indicate that can be viewed here
I note from today's Sunday Times that a police spokesman has described the use of cameras like mine as "tremendously beneficial", which is reassuring.

Thank you for your continued attention to this.
Martin Porter"

Saturday 4 December 2010

Crown Prosecution Service decisions – compare and contrast.

Just over a year ago, Dan Black was cycling home from work along a section of the Celtic Trail on the A48 in Chepstow when an elderly driver turned right into oncoming traffic and drove directly into him. 23-year-old Dan suffered appalling injuries and has been left paralysed from the chest down, as reported on CTC's stop SMIDSY site.  The CPS chose not to prosecute the driver due to it "not being in the public interest". The CPS have suggested that Dan was "poorly lit" despite his bike meeting legal standards for lighting and his wearing reflective clothing

In June 2008, Marie Vesco, a 19 year old from France who had recently settled in this country, was cycling on a dual carriageway in a group of around a dozen from London to Brighton. They reached a junction where the nearside lane of three became an exit slip road. To travel straight on the group had therefore to cross the nearside lane. This is what Ms Vesco was doing when she was fatally struck first by a car taking the exit and then by another car following close behind. The CPS decided not to prosecute.

In July 2008, Anthony Maynard, a 25 year old experienced cyclist was riding on the A4130 dual carriageway near Henley with a club-mate.  Both were struck by a van that had overtaken another vehicle and then pulled in to the nearside lane killing Mr Maynard and injuring his companion. No prosecution was brought apparently on the basis that the van driver had been dazzled by the sun and could not therefore see what was, or was not, in the road space that he was driving into at speed.

In 2006, the CPS decided to charge Daniel Cadden with inconsiderate cycling. His alleged offence related to his use of the road on his commute home through Telford where he was cycling at around 20mph. Initially the police stopped him for riding in the road position which is recommended by the cyclists’ bible ‘Cyclecraft’ and taught on bikeability cycle training courses; that is, he was cycling in a position well out from the nearside edge of the road.  A District Judge wrongly convicted Mr Cadden on the basis that it was inconsiderate to ride on the road rather than on a separate cycle path. The CPS chose, wrongly, to oppose Mr Cadden’s successful appeal against that absurd ruling.

Earlier this year the CPS chose to prosecute Jared Kelly on a charge of assaulting a taxi driver in London’s Oxford Street, following a ‘road rage’ type of incident, on the strength of evidence from the taxi driver that the Court decided was not reliable. The real risk of a miscarriage of justice was averted when the cyclist launched his own appeal in the Evening Standard for independent witnesses supporting his evidence that the taxi driver had tried to strangle him with his own scarf.

The CPS is of course capable of better and I have publicly acknowledged and praised them for that here.  (I got a much speedier response to that, than to my recent, correspondence with the CPS!)  However attitudes are patchy and, in my view, need to be challenged.

I appreciate that the decision in the case of the threat to kill directed against me is not as significant as those cited above. However the quality of CPS charging decisions, where cyclists are involved, is at best patchy. That is why I am not planning to quietly resign myself to the CPS decision made in my case. I have still received no word from either the Hounslow CPS or the District Prosecutor for West London. My hope is that they are taking their time to investigate this carefully.

As well as the many expressions of individual support that I have received I am grateful to the following relevant organisations for their support:
CTC (national organisation for cyclists)
Roadpeace (charity for road crash victims).
The Chairman of the Road Danger Reduction Forum has commented that:
The motorist was unaware that you were in the correct and safe position in the first instance of conflict, and motorists should be made aware of this by their organisations and in the training they get for taking a driving test.  Saying "I'll kill you" in a public place when you have a potentially dangerous piece of machinery which you are (mis)using in close proximity to a vulnerable human being is worse than when you don't have responsibility for such machinery. Incidents where people have been endangered should be prioritised both by the police and the CPS.

I will continue to keep you posted.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Thanks for support and a response to my critics

I have been critical of law enforcement agencies that have failed to take any action against a driver who threatened to kill me when I was on my bicycle. Many many people (the vast majority) have been kind enough to let me know that they believe I am doing the right thing and this does certainly motivate me to keep at it.

It is though predictable that anybody who pops their head above the parapet to seek to change the established order invites criticism, some of it expressed in immoderate terms and some of it from surprising quarters. The criticism broadly falls under the following heads:

1. You are making a lot of fuss about nothing and you have lost all objectivity likening this to a threat with a gun. The threat was hollow, empty and unexecuted. Happens all the time. You escaped unharmed; get a life.

The threat was delivered pre-meditated for a period of around 10 minutes (since the incident that upset him). He drew alongside me no more than a couple of feet away on a narrow road and threatened to kill me. He had the means at his disposal to carry out his threat (to my mind the analogy with a gun or knife is apposite). He became more sheepish afterwards when, because his car was stationary and I was alongside him, he could no longer use it to harm me. This is not journalistic hyperbole, like that from Matthew Parris, which need not be taken seriously. Of course he did not actually kill me or in the event try to; if he had he would, or should, be on a murder or attempted murder charge. It is quite obviously not a defence to a charge of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that the offender stopped short of a more serious offence.

My view is that it is time to call a halt to this type of behaviour and one important first step is to call a halt to its acceptance by police, prosecutors and apparently some cyclists. If I can play some small part in this I would be very happy to do so, as must be obvious to anyone who has read my Cycling against the Car Culture. I, too, used to live in a world of indifference to aggression of this sort. My Pauline conversion came when representing the Vesco family at the inquest into the death of their young daughter Marie, an experience I will not ever forget. There was too much indifference there on display from authorities whose job it is to protect us. I hope that the experience has turned me into an activist.

How can we expect ordinary people to take to their bicycles in the numbers which would make the world a better place if we tolerate abuse, threats and far too often real harm and even death inflicted on vulnerable road users?

If the police have the resources and inclination to hand out penalties to cyclists who cycle though Abingdon's pedestrianised high street, they surely have the resources to hand a fixed penalty for disorder to a motorist who abuses a cyclist.

2. You asked for it.

Astonishingly enough there are people on a bike chat forum who express this in various different ways. An 'expert' on riding the A315 has popped up to say there is no need to antagonise motorists by moving out from the edge of the road and that he has been passed by this same car with no drama.  A triatheletes' forum is suggesting 'six of one half a dozen of the other' or 'gobby motorist v gobby cyclist'. Some have appeared to say that as they cycle around and motorists do not often threaten to kill them, it must all be my fault and point to my having a camera as further proof.

I do find it hard not to take offence at this. No bikeability instructor or knowledgeable cyclist would have any criticism of the way I was riding. (If I am wrong and you are a bikeability instructor let me know!)Furthermore motorists are not beasts on a safari park whose instincts to attack may be aroused if you do not act cautiously around them. The motorist is responsible for his actions and I am not going to ride in a position that is unsafe so as not to arouse him. As for 'gobby', am I expected to remain mute while this is going on? If not, bear in mind that the microphone is much closer to me than the motorist and when moving there is no point in saying anything at all unless I shout it. Is it really thought that the content of what I am saying is in any sense comparable to the content of what he says to me? I do not get it, and I do dislike the rush that some people make to blame the victim.
The video also demonstrates that, whatever motorists may think, they do not get to their destimation a moment later because of my presence on the road.

3. The CPS are right - there is no evidence

The same discussion on a chat forum is almost comical on this subject. Apparently those at the sharp end of the criminal justice system, who cycle, post their opinions (along with I readily concede more sensible voices) and advise each other knowingly on what evidence is, and is not, admissible (the clear admission immediately after the event that the suspect threatened to kill me is no evidence of anything in one learned opinion) and how my story has shifted over time, casting doubt on whether I was called a "f***g c**t" or a "cocky c**t", which means the case would surely be thrown out (neglecting to notice that those words are actually quite clear on the video). My evidence as to what was said when the car drew alongside is also pronounced to be worthless (the fact I repeated the words into the camera giving it the same status as if I had written it down contemporaneously is alas overlooked). What innocent explanation is there, I wonder, which could turn out to be consistent with what is on the tape and would explain why I have fabricated all this against an innocent motorist? - we will never of course know until the motorist is asked, but it would have to be good for even the lawyers on bikeradar to secure an acquittal.

4.  The video is very dodgy - you've doctored it.
I have very overtly taken out a long segment between the time that the motorist took offence and the time that he threatened to kill me.  This has apparently aroused some suspicions that I have edited out frightful behaviour which would justify the threat.  If you have time on your hands you may view a 10 minute unedited version here.   I have, from day one, offered the original memory card to the police.
Equally I can appreciate that the video is very hard to hear; so there is a transparently doctored version equipped with subtitles here.  As I say on youtube, if anybody has the capability to report reliably on the content of the soundtrack, I would be very happy to send them a DVD for that purpose.

5. You can't complain you are a lawyer...or you should do it yourself

The idea that a lawyer cannot complain about deficiencies in the legal system seems to me very odd. The idea that a lawyer who is the witness of a crime should bring a private prosecution with no assistance from the state even more odd.  Just as I am not above the law, so too I am not beyond its protection. If I am in an advantaged position through having legal knowledge, I very much hope I am putting that to use for the benefit of others rather more than for myself. I have to pursue this because many others would be put off from doing so. A stand has to be taken somewhere somehow.

Enough for now; even in this cold weather I cannot devote all my leisure time to this!

Friday 26 November 2010

Press Coverage

London Evening Standard (West End Final A)
26 Nov 2010

Click here for the on-line version with a range of comments (I encourage you to add yours).  The comments there range from supportive to hostility to cyclists, and in a number of cases a view that a threat from a motorist in erratic control of a tonne of metal is something that cyclists should be expected to shrug off and not waste police time with.  I suspect this latter view most closely accords with the view the police/CPS take.

Daily Telegraph Saturday 27th November
Ascot News Friday 3rd December
Maidenhead Advertiser Tuesday 7th December
BBC News Berkshire Wednesday 8th December

Thursday 25 November 2010

Threat to kill: letter to CPS District Crown Prosecutor

25th November 2010

Mr Arwell Jones
The District Crown Prosecutor
3rd Floor, King’s House, Kymberley Road, Harrow HA1 1YH
DX 4204 Harrow 1

Dear Mr Jones,

Threat to kill, Hounslow 04.11.10

On 4th November I reported a crime committed earlier that day on the A315 just West of Houslow, when a motorist drew alongside me and threatened to kill me. His admission soon afterwards that he had threatened to kill me is clearly recorded on a video camera as are the words ‘you are a cocky cunt’. The film footage can be viewed at

My understanding is that the police officer assigned to investigate this case considered issuing a fixed penalty notice to the suspect for a breach of section 5 of the Public Order Act and took advice from the CPS at Hounslow. The officer was apparently then advised by Manjit Mahal that there was insufficient evidence ‘to pass the threshold test’ and that no action should be taken.

I e mailed Mr Mahal on the same day this decision was communicated to me, 11th November. For your convenience I set out a copy of my email.

“Dear Mr Mahal,

I refer to your decision that there is not sufficient evidence of a crime (specifically use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby, contrary to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986) to give rise to a reasonable prospect of a conviction. I take it that you have decided this on the basis of the evidential test.

The evidential test should only be applied when all the available evidence has been reviewed and this includes an assessment of any Defence that might be put forward. If the allegation is put to the motorist and he admits making a threat to kill; then it seems to me incomprehensible that any potential prosecution would fail a merits test. If on the other hand he denies making a threat to kill (or exercises his right to silence), there is still my evidence that he made such a threat coupled with a repetition by me of what he said on a tape (which is equivalent to a contemporaneous note) and a further requirement to explain why he would have admitted threatening to kill me if he had not actually done so. At the very least the video evidence I have supplied you with provides strong corroborative evidence of my account which gives rise to at least a 50% prospect of conviction.

I have already informed the police that I retain the original and complete film recorded onto a mini SD card and I can think of no possible informed basis upon which anybody could doubt the admissibility of that evidence. Indeed a forensic analysis of the file may confirm my account of the actual words spoken by the motorist as he drew alongside me.

You are also bound to bear in mind that that threat from a car driver immediately alongside me is equivalent to making a threat with a loaded gun. All he need do to actually kill or maim me was to steer even further over to his left. This is an offence which should be taken seriously.

If it comes to a consideration of the public interest, you will no doubt bear in mind that cyclists are extremely vulnerable to harm inflicted intentionally or carelessly by motorists. There is a widespread perception that cyclists are often not enjoying the protection of the law to which they are entitled. Threats and abuse against cyclists is unfortunately widespread especially in the outer London boroughs and the main problem is (usually, though not in this case) securing sufficient evidence to take action against the minority of motorists who are determined to persecute cyclists.

I invite you to reconsider this decision and to refer it to a Senior Crown Prosecutor.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Porter”

Unfortunately two weeks later I have not had the courtesy even of an acknowledgment of this e-mail.

The only sensible inference that can be drawn from this failure to prosecute where the evidence is so overwhelming, and no sensible justification is put forward for failing to do so, is that crime committed against cyclists by motorists is not treated seriously. I do urge you please to investigate this and to review the decision not to charge this individual. If you are unable or unwilling to do this, please treat this letter as a formal complaint and accord me the courtesy of a reasoned explanation for the decision.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Porter

The Metropolitan Police Response; Roadsafe London

I have received a letter responding to my complaint back in September that I was not getting any joy from using Roadsafe London.  I was sent a copy of a letter addressed to me and dated 5th October which never arrived.  It is a little unfortunate that my e mail chasers which postdated that letter got no response as it might have become apparent that this letter was 'lost in the post' before I had to write to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner again in early November.
Leaving that miscommunication aside, the response is quite encouraging.  Apparently the reports I made on Roadsafe London were not ignored.  The clips I posted on youtube were viewed and a letter was sent to the registered keepers of the vehicles concerned with a link to youtube and a request to "drive carefully, keep yourselves and others safe and avoid the risk of being prosecuted".  None of this is apparent though to the reporter of the incident who gets only an (apparently) automatically generated e mail response and hears nothing more.  This may not compensate for the marked reluctance to prosecute on the part of the police and CPS but to give credit where it is due this is better than nothing.  If I had known such letters were being sent out to registered keepers I would have reported some of the more dangerous close passes from lorries.  Now that I do know I will resume using the site in appropriate circumstances.
None of this relates to the difficulty I have had in getting the threat to kill pursued and my next task is to pen a letter to the CPS.
I will keep you posted.

Thursday 11 November 2010

The Metropolitan Police/CPS response; brace yourselves

Thank you for sending me the disc. I have viewed it with a colleague and unfortunately there is not enough there to secure a conviction or give the male a PND for this offence of Sec 5 POA. I have spoken to a CPS lawyer who is based at Hounslow Police Station and on their advice their is not enough to secure a conviction and that the threshold test has not been met. I appreciate you will find this disappointing to hear and I can only apologise for that. For this reason the investigation will now be closed.
Kind Regards
[Police Constable]

My response:

Dear [Crown Prosecutor],

I refer to your decision that there is not sufficient evidence of a crime (specifically use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby, contrary to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986) to give rise to a reasonable prospect of a conviction. I take it that you have decided this on the basis of the evidential test.
The evidential test should only be applied when all the available evidence has been reviewed and this includes an assessment of any Defence that might be put forward. If the allegation is put to the motorist and he admits making a threat to kill; then it seems to me incomprehensible that any potential prosecution would fail a merits test. If on the other hand he denies making a threat to kill (or exercises his right to silence), there is still my evidence that he made such a threat coupled with a repetition by me of what he said on a tape (which is equivalent to a contemporaneous note) and a further requirement to explain why he would have admitted threatening to kill me if he had not actually done so. At the very least the video evidence I have supplied you with provides strong corroborative evidence of my account which gives rise to at least a 50% prospect of conviction.
I have already informed the police that I retain the original and complete film recorded onto a mini SD card and I can think of no possible informed basis upon which anybody could doubt the admissibility of that evidence. Indeed a forensic analysis of the file may confirm my account of the actual words spoken by the motorist as he drew alongside me.
You are also bound to bear in mind that that threat from a car driver immediately alongside me is equivalent to making a threat with a loaded gun. All he need do to actually kill or maim me was to steer even further over to his left. This is an offence which should be taken seriously.
If it comes to a consideration of the public interest, you will no doubt bear in mind that cyclists are extremely vulnerable to harm inflicted intentionally or carelessly by motorists. There is a widespread perception that cyclists are often not enjoying the protection of the law to which they are entitled. Threats and abuse against cyclists is unfortunately widespread especially in the outer London boroughs and the main problem is (usually, though not in this case) securing sufficient evidence to take action against the minority of motorists who are determined to persecute cyclists.
I invite you to reconsider this decision and to refer it to a Senior Crown Prosecutor.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Porter

The evidential test is described in the Code for Crown Prosecutors (scroll down to section 4).

Saturday 6 November 2010

Taxi Drivers

Taxi Driver

A bad week for me commuting (what with the threat to kill me on Thursday morning and being forced to the side of the road at a pinchpoint Friday morning) was rounded off with this 'advice' from a black cab driver to keep to the side of the road because 'my cab is harder than you are.'  The advice was delivered after he had come shockingly close to knocking me off my bike.

I have to beware of course of generalisations - I once sat next to a charming cab driver at a wedding and they always used to be friendly enough to me as a fare in the days when I used to use them.   Having said that I have been on the roads of London long enough to know that a substantial proportion drive with an arrogant assumption of entitlement to the road.  A lot have no respect whatever for red traffic lights and give woefully inadequate space to cyclists (whom many, like the one above, just appear to loathe).

Here is one cutting me up on Constitution Hill, a road which is barred to all other commercial vehicles (including as a University friend of mine once found to his cost, motorcycle despatch riders).
During my walk down the Strand on Thursday to visit Charing Cross Police Station I noticed that almost every vehicle in the substantial traffic jam was a Black Cab.

I suppose it is no surprise they feel an unusual sense of entitlement.  They are entitled to enter central London without paying a Congestion Charge; they are entitled to use bus lanes (including that famous one on the M4) whether carrying a fare or merely looking for one, they get free parking at numerous Central London locations that would cost anyone else several pounds an hour to get their breakfast, tea or whatever.  Black cabbies run profitable businesses.  So why on earth do they get all this direct and indirect subsidy from us?  Would be nothing to do with the frequency with which taxi fares appear on politicians' expenses claims would it?  Personally I do not buy the 'public transport' argument and am surprised that anybody does.  It is personalised transport on an even less efficient basis than private car use.

I know; this blog is starting to turn into a rant, but after a hard week I am feeling despondent.  I am sure it is nothing that a bit of bike riding won't put right.

Thursday 4 November 2010

The Metropolitan Police. Do they take cyclists seriously?

Why would I doubt it?  Well, I have tried using the Roadsafe reporting website on a few occasions and have not yet elicited any kind of response beyond an automated acknowledgement.  I complained to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner back in September and have had only a holding response despite chasing.

I decided I would report this morning's incident (see my immediately preceding blog post).  Since it has required, and no doubt will require, a substantial investment of my time I thought I would spend the further time to report here how I get on.

I reported this morning to a central number, gave very outline details and was told the matter could be taken further only if I reported to a Metropolitan Police Station and filled in the form applicable to road rage.  I was also asked to take in the video evidence.

I have just returned from visiting Charing Cross Station.  It took just over an hour.  The appropriate form is not available to be picked up, you have to get to the counter.  After a 20 minute wait I got to see an 'SRO'  (Station Reception Officer, I think).  He told me first that I could not have a form as there had not been a collision.  I told him I was there at the request of somebody else in the Metropolitan Police and had compelling evidence of a crime in the form of a video.   I had as requested taken the video along on a CD.  'Are you a licensed to take copies of videos...No, well then I am afraid we cannot use that video.  If we were to use that in Court it would be thrown out'.  (Not true).

I persevered and eventually he went away to consult a sergeant.  20 minutes later he came back saying he would record the details as a public order offence.  He took my details and recorded my answers in his computer.  The questions included
'What were you wearing, was it fluorescent?'
'Were you in lycra?'
'You were riding along the yellow line, yeah?'  Indicating, on Google Earth streetview, the single yellow parking restriction line you can just see at the outset in my video.
'Did you inform him you were filming him?'
'Why did you have a camera?'

Before I left I again offered my CD.  No, he would not accept that and no it could not be passed on to Hounslow who were to investigate.  If they took it any further they would require my camera for about 3 weeks.

I was given a reference and told that if I had any further queries I was to revisit a police station with my 9 number reference.  No, I could not telephone/e mail.

I am just telling it as it is, with no comment.  I will update this post as appropriate.

Postscript:  I should perhaps have made it clearer that as a consequence of my persistence the details I supplied (without the video) will be passed to Hounslow Police Station for investigation of a public order offence.

UPDATE (8th November):  Progress.  I have been contacted by a Police Constable in Chiswick who is investigating and I have sent him a copy of the video (and the youtube link).

UPDATE (9th November):  I was pretty fed up as a consequence of Thursday's events so when the following morning I filmed some more aggressive driving, I put it on a CD and sent it to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner with a reminder that I had still received no substantive response to my earlier comments about the RoadSafe reporting initiative.  His office will no doubt have received that yesterday.  This morning between 0915 and 0930 I was sent e mail acknowledgements of the three reports I have made in the last week.  The first response of any kind I have ever got using RoadSafe so things are picking up.
I also got home last night to find a letter confirming that Chiswick were investigating the reported threat to kill enclosed with a leaflet from 'Victim Support'.
I will continue to keep you posted.

UPDATE (11th November):  The police advised by the CPS have decided upon no further action.  I have asked them to refer it to a more senior level within the CPS and indicated that I wish to complain.

Coping with poor infrastructure. Threats to kill.

Of course islands in the centre of the road are useful for pedestrians, though perhaps not quite as useful as an old fashioned pedestrian crossing.  They do seem to proliferate on my route to work and they do potentially cause problems for cyclists.  The way to negotiate them safely is to take the lane and this is particularly so if you cannot trust the impatient motorist behind you.  Thankfully this island near Houslow is not paired with a narrow cycle lane like the subject of my last post.  However some motorists do still express a preference for us to keep to the side of the road, in this case accompanied rather charmlessly with a threat to kill.

One of the more polite adjectives he uses is 'cocky' a word I used to hear in my first year at primary school from second years.  You see, we cyclists ought to recognise our inferiority to people like him in their 'motors' and we should not be upsetting the natural order of hierachy by getting about as fast as them.

A threat to kill is unlawful and I believe needs to be taken seriously when communicated from someone in a motor car to a cyclist.  I contacted the Metropolitan Police about this and the answer is that they will only look into it if I go into a Met station and fill in that form.  No, there is noone to whom I can e mail the video.  Shall I bother?

Postscript:  yes, I did bother, prompted by the many views here that I should.  For the results see my next post.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Sharing the road with sub-standard (ok crap) lorries and crap infrastructure

I have been writing recently about the Mayor's latest cycling safety campaign and the quality of cycling infrastructure.  What I saw this morning illustrates the problems cyclists face.  I rode part of my journey with the best racing cyclist I know who, like me, has gained experience from a long commute.  The cycle lane is rubbish, and I believe positively dangerous when combined with central pedestrain refuges.  Painting it green does not make up for the fact that it is far too narrow.  The lorry driver just squeezes to his left to get past the central refuge either blind to, or not caring, what is in the cycle lane.  My cycling companion was unfazed.  I would have been enraged.  Worse many potential cyclists get so intimidated by this sort of encounter that they do not cycle.  Such people need properly designed, thought out (and inevitably expensive) cycling infrastructure.  Other cyclists need only the roads but with other road users required and encouraged to meet at least basic standards of coutesy and care.  The half-way house of cheap inadequate provision is far worse than useless.

Reporting this standard of lorry driving to the Metropolitan Police has in my past experience been futile, but given Tim Lennon's recent and commendable success in getting information from them which suggests that their reporting website leads (sometimes) to action, perhaps I will give it another go and see whether they have any interest in HGVs that get far too close to cyclists.

The title of this entry borrows shamelessly from freewheeler, who provides a compelling critique of the quality of our infrastructure.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Sharing London's Streets with Lorries

Transport for London have recognised that there is a problem with lorries and bicycles sharing road space on London's streets and have launched a Cycle Safety Awareness Campaign.  the Mayor's transport adviser says that:
"We are working with freight operating companies to improve HGV safety and we are the first city in the UK to trial on-street cycle safety 'Trixi' mirrors.
'However, perhaps most vital is getting safety advice to cyclists, whether new or experienced, particularly about road positioning and crucially that being in the blind spot of a large vehicle could potentially have fatal consequences.'
I am far from convinced that 'most vital' is getting advice to cyclists (see poster above).  Yes, of course, it is important for cyclists to exercise extreme caution in the vicinity of any large vehicle; but this should not for a moment distract from the importance of getting safety information to, and demanding higher standards from, lorry drivers and their employers.
I find the most shocking thing about the poster is the state of affairs which permits a lorry driver to run down all those cyclists on his nearside without obvious blame being attributed to the driver and his employers.  'Blind spots' are not an inevitable fact of life they are a design flaw which in any context, other than motor vehicles, would be regarded as obviously unacceptable.

As Roadpeace point out nearly three quarters of cyclists killed in London are killed by HGVs (9 of 13).  Plainly this is grossly disproportionate to the numbers of lorries on the road.  Who could sensibly argue against the low cost and effective measures that Roadpeace would like to see put in place immediately drastically to reduce the risk to vulnerable road users from lorries?

It is true the Mayor has a Freight Operator Recognition Scheme.  Freight operators who care will no doubt sign up.  The problem I experience commuting is that the vast majority of lorry drivers are very good (usually the best motorists) around cyclists.  However when they are bad, they are very very bad.  These bad drivers are often employed by undertakings that do not sufficiently care.

I do not know whether Sunlight or Oil Salvage Company, for example, are members of the Mayor's FORS - I rather doubt it; certainly they have not bothered to respond to the video footage I have sent them showing their lorries speeding by me far too close.

Sadly, in my experience, it is no use whatever reporting bad driving to the Metropolitan Police.  The Met may be interested in setting up initiatives, such as Roadsafe London that make it look as though they are taking action.  However the claims made that  'At Roadsafe London we make attempts to contact every driver in all cases reported to us. Please be assured we will research every submission in order to task police activity, but be aware we will not initiate a prosecution other than in exceptional cases. To make an allegation of a driving offence with a view to prosecution, you will have to attend a police station and complete a reporting form.' require some resourcing or they are mere verbiage.  Further the Met continue to put off complaints that should lead to prosecution by inconveniencing the complainant with the need for a personal attendance at a police station and a notoriously lengthy form.  I used the Roadsafe site in July, wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on 21st September, and more than one month on have had no substantive response at all despite reminders.

In short it look like a good initiative but the Met will only make a serious effort to investigate in cases where a death (or at least, resources permitting, a serious life changing injury) has occurred.

I try to remain as dispassionate as possible, but I have done the bikeability course, I make myself visible and I take no risks around lorries; nonetheless all too often I am in close proximity to a lorry because he (and in my experience the few women lorry drivers are much better than the men) has forced that on me.  What is true for me is also true for thousands of London cyclists, and I have no reason to suppose was not also true of all of the 8 cyclists killed in London last year by lorries.

Going back to the TfL poster at the outset of this post, my guess would be that the bicycles were at the junction first (and the lorry is about to turn left without indicating; for added realism the front of the lorry should be stopped at the front of a never enforced advanced stop line).  To prevent the lorry pulling alongside, the cyclists would have had to have taken the centre of the lane, something which is specifically discouraged by the woeful cycle lanes across the capital.  These lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy routes or a minimum of 1.5 metres wide where the speed limit is 30 mph or less in accordance with the Department for Transport's own design standards (paragraph 7.4).  Where they are less than that and/or optional (dotted lines) they should be removed.  Having been forced into the position in the poster, the cyclist needs to ensure he leaves it before the lorry moves.  Most junctions in London are controlled by traffic lights; the cyclist in those circumstances needs cautiously to get ahead of the lorry before the light turns green.  Likely as not he will then encounter the Met's enforcement action in the form of a fixed penalty for jumping a red light.  A misdirection of resources?  I leave you to be the judge of that.

I agree with the family of Eilidh Cairns, one of the 9, that restrictions on the right of HGVs to use the road should be considered at least until they are able to demonstrate they can do so in safety.  With this unfair mismatch, it is not the cyclists who should be leaving the roads, it is unsafe lorries and unsafe drivers.  A recognition scheme with trained drivers and suitably equipped lorries should be mandatory and police resources should be redirected to following up all serious complaints against lorries before disaster strikes.

Finally anywhere in London, save those elevated motorway monuments to motorcentricity, twenty is plenty and far exceeds the speed a motor vehicle could hope to get around anytime between 6 am and 9 pm.  Lorries are equipped with tachographs, enforcement would be easy and there is a precedent for differential speed limits elsewhere.  Why not restrict lorries and buses to 20 mph on all non-motorway routes within the M25?  If that slows Porsches and 4 x 4s down too, is that a bad thing?

POSTSCRIPT:  Eilidh Cairns was from the North East and her family are constituents of Fiona Hall MEP who is calling for support in the European Parliament to mandate the fitting of sensors and cameras on lorries to remove blind spots.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Legal Update Autumn 2010

The Court of Appeal in Smith v Hammond [2010] EWCA Civ 725 has reversed a trial Judge’s finding that the driver of a DAF lorry, Mr Hammond, had been partly to blame for the severe injuries sustained by a 13 year old cyclist, Joshua Smith, on a newspaper round. The evidence of Mr Hammond, accepted by the trial Judge, was that he had been travelling at the 30 mph speed limit when the cyclist attempted to cross the road from one driveway to the opposite side straight in front of him.

The road was a residential street in Tean depicted here (outside number 77 which I believe to be in this general area):

Mr Hammond had seen Joshua at the side of the road looking in the opposite direction. The trial Judge had found that Mr Hammond ought to have sounded his horn to alert Joshua to his presence.

The Court of Appeal overturned that decision on the basis that the HGV drier could not reasonably have been expected to sound his horn until Joshua was on the move out into the road and by then it would have been too late anyway.

On the law, as it is, one can see how that decision is arrived at. Sounding a horn every time somebody might do something unwise, could lead to a cacophony of noise in residential areas.

I have though two observations. First, speed. It is in my view high time that the speed limit in residential areas where children on bicycles and on foot can be readily anticipated, is reduced to 20 mph. There has been talk of this for years but political foot-dragging because it may be perceived as a ‘war on the motorist’. In this case the HGV was travelling at around 30 mph. Although Mr Hammond says say he ‘eased off the accelerator’ there is no suggestion that this reduced the speed before the cyclist came into his path other than marginally. At 20 mph there would have been more time to sound the horn, to brake and to swerve and if a collision had taken place the consequences would have been far less devastating. I once tried to persuade the Court of Appeal that in certain circumstances travelling at 30mph in a 30mph zone was itself negligent. I got nowhere. This is not for the Judges; this is for Parliament to fix.

Second observation is that in most of Europe the cyclist would have succeeded in his claim against the HGV driver despite the driver being held not to be at fault. This is, in my view, justifiable here on the premise that HGVs are large dangerous vehicles which should only be permitted onto the roads o terms that they pay for the damage occasioned by their presence. However I hold a minority view on this and although widespread in the European Union and apparently recommended by the soon to be abolished quango, Cycling England; the motoring public here would not stand for it and it is manifestly not something the Judges can alter.

Mr Hammond had his own claim against the cyclist for causing him a post traumatic stress disorder. The trial Judge had rejected this claim saying that Joshua could not reasonably have foreseen that his actions would have led to injury to Mr Hammond. The Court of Appeal reversed this also, saying it was sufficient if he should have foreseen injury to another road user, such as another cyclist. This aspect was dealt with briefly and could have merited greater analysis. Mr Hammond was surely outside the zone of the risk of physical injury; had a driver coming the other way seen what occurred and suffered PTSD he would not be able to recover. The only valid distinction is that Mr Hammond would foreseeably consider himself an instrument of the accident. The Court of Appeal was pleased to note that Joshua’s employer the Co-Op had agreed to pay the damages to Mr Hammond (rather than the bill falling on Joshua personally).

Other news this quarter relates to the adequacy of investigation into fatal cases. A seminar on this topic was organised by RoadPeace last month Improving the Post Crash Response. Unfortunately prior commitments kept me away from this. I would have liked to have been there because I take the view that improvements are required. This is highlighted by the case of London cyclist, Eilidh Cairns. I have written about her inquest already in an earlier legal update. This week the driver of the HGV that crushed Eilidh was fined £200 for driving an HGV with defective vision. His vision was only ever tested some time after the accident at the insistence of Eilidh’s family, who could not understand how he had not seen her prior to the fatal collision in Notting Hill in February 2009.

As a lawyer I find it easier to understand, than others may, that the Court had to sentence on the basis of the charge made and could not assume that the collision was caused by the defective vision (for had it been, the charge should have been a far more serious one). Nonetheless driving an HGV around crowded streets in London with defective vision may be thought to be a serious matter.  The driver seems on any objective view to have got off lightly, following a very late plea of guilty, with a £200 fine, £150 costs and a £15 surcharge. He got the three penalty points but no disqualification. It is a striking feature of our society that outside the world of motoring, the Health and Safety requirements which relate to, for instance, visual checks for all those required to work at display screen equipment seem to matter more than eye tests for those who drive in the vicinity of vulnerable road users. Far too often (daily in my case!), HGVs pass far too close to cyclists (examples are here, here and here). Our society accepts far too readily this hazardous proximity focussing on the actual collision without challenging drivers as to what they were doing so close to a cyclist as to permit a collision to occur.

It is not wise to cycle when drunk (and illegal, if so drunk as to not have proper control of the bike). However even if a cyclist is drunk, it should not be sufficient to conclude an investigation into his death by saying it was probably he who deviated from his course. This is what apparently happened following the death of Piotr Kobiela.  As in any safety context there is good reason for a comfortable margin of safety. We cyclists need a car width not in order pointlessly to inconvenience others but because anything less is dangerous, intimidating and does not make any allowance for potholes, mechanicals and wobbles.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Two Cheers for Surrey Police

The prize for providing the first substantive response from my letters of a couple of weeks ago goes to Surrey Police.  I used their DriveSmart website initiative back in July to report this overtake on the A30 Egham by-pass.

A letter from the Chief Constable's office confirmed that my report had been received and apologised for the fact that I was not sent a form and asked to come into a police station to report the offence formally.  I have encountered this before, when trying to report bad driving to the Metroploitan Police, and it does seem to me that a requirement to attend a police station and fill in a complex form is designed to deter too many reports.  The letter went on to say that the time limit for bringing a prosecution had now passed but an attempt would nonetheless be made to contact the driver.
In fact the time limit for bringing a prosecution for careless driving is six months BUT, and here is the rub, if there is no accident and the motorist is not informed at the time of the possibility of prosecution, a 'Notice of Intended Prosecution' must be served on the registered keeper of the vehicle within 14 days of the offence.  Accordingly where there is no accident and the offender is not stopped by the police at the time, they must act pretty swiftly to contemplate prosecution based on the report of a member of the public.  This requirement also makes private prosecutions difficult for anybody who does not have access to the dtabase of vehicle registration numbers.
I have at the same time had a constructive e mail dialogue with an officer in Woking who has asked for, and now seen my video footage and will, if he can, give some advice to the driver.
Surrey Police are as a result of all this reviewing their system for the reporting of bad driving and in particular are looking into online reports that dispense with the need for a visit in person to a police station to fill in a form.  They aim to learn from the experience of Sussex Police who apparently have such a system (and who hopefully have learned something in the past from the Marie Vesco case).
There does appear to be some good intention at a policy setting level.  It would be good to see some more efficient implementation of policy.  Obviously suitable charges following an accident are very important (which is why the lack of action following some of the fatal cases I have written about are such a disgrace).  However intercepting poor driving before there is an accident also has the potential to save a lot of grief.
I would like to see drivers routinely pulled up on careless (or 'inconsiderate', the threshold for the offence is not high) driving before they cause an accident.
No substantive response yet from the Met Police, AXA Insurance, Tellings Golden Miller or Europlant Group.  I aim to keep you posted.