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!


  1. Respect is due. No cyclist should have to carry a camera, but sadly we have to deal with morons like this on a daily basis. And I can't believe some of these anti-cyclist cyclists... I can't help but wonder how they'd feel if they were in your shoes.

  2. Best of luck. I'm no lawyer, so I cannot argue the finer points of the law. However, common sense dictates a threat to kill should be taken seriously by the police, and the CPS.

    Perhaps we're looking at the two-tier justice system at work, where different set of laws seem to apply to motorists, compared to cyclists?

    Don't be put off by other's sour attitudes - for ALL our sakes I wish you every success.

  3. Please keep going with this despite all the forum comments and indifference shown by the police and authorities so far

  4. Thank you Martin. An excellent response to those (a clear minority) who are unsupportive.

    Keep at it.

  5. Thanks for taking time out to reply to my comment in your previous post, Martin, and for reading the New Yorker article.

    I’ve felt the need to write back in order to address a couple points you made in your recent post.

    First, I can’t speak for the dissenters, but I personally don’t think anyone -- certainly not myself -- are “accepting” threats toward others. No common-sense person does. But the reality is that it would be unrealistic for the police to act on every threat, abuse and insults hurled about every day in Britain. (You should be lucky that the Met at least acted on yours in a letter, albeit unfavourably.)

    And in the “Pauline conversion” section of your post, it appears you are equating threatening behaviour with the death of Marie Vesco which is unfair, to say the least.

    On top of this, because you haven’t got your way with the police, you view it as “indifference” on the their part.

    Now before I conclude and get ready for my week, let me to be clear on a couple points:

    - I do NOT support or condone the driver's behaviour or actions.
    - I FULLY understand your frustration.

    But as evidenced by your recent post I suppose what I’m suggesting is if you’re going to continue on your quest for justice (no facetiousness intended!) then at least stick to the facts without the need to illustrate your comments with speculation, hyperbole and the melodramatic use of Marie Vesco in order to gain sympathy and evolve your misdemeanor incident into a felony.

    Thanks for reading, good luck and safe journey.



  6. From my view some of those criticisms werent even proper criticism, they were an attempt at one-up-manship by people who should know better.

    I question the morality of some fellow cyclists (if they are indeed that) in that they wont stick together on some of the most basic and important of issues.

    One of the reasons I stopped posting as much on the Bikeradar site is that a certain mentality seemed to be taking over.

  7. Darryl, I don't know if we're reading the same blog entry. Where is the melodrama? The moral equivalence with the Vesco case? The pleading for sympathy? These views reveal far more about you and your jaundiced view of the motivation of others, than they do about Martin Porter.

  8. " in the “Pauline conversion” section of your post, it appears you are equating threatening behaviour with the death of Marie Vesco"

    Sorry, Darryl - he isn't doing that, however it may appear to you.

    Try reading that passage again.

  9. Matt, per your question, "Where is the melodrama? The moral equivalence with the Vesco case?"


  10. Darryl, I was actually asking three questions (clue: there were three question marks), but it's a relief that you responded with a one word answer as any further elaboration would open you up to further derision.

  11. Matt, his other two responses to questions are prolly "drink" and "girls" LOL ;-P

  12. Keep up the good work: you are making a Good Point, that should be discussed widely, if not tested in court. We should remember that everyone is a human being all the time: they are only cyclists or motorists while they are travelling by those modes of transport.

    EVERYONE in the UK would find travelling easier, including car drivers, if more people walked and cycled for short journeys.

    But some people in cars continue to get away with terrorising people riding bicycles, and road accidents are now the single largest cause of premature death for young people. Motorists in general need to calm down! Threatening to kill others should not be tolerated by society, whatever weapon is being waved.

  13. Marie Vesco section seemed reasonable to me, CL said he was probably guilty of apathy until the MV case showed up societies own apathy relating to road deaths.

    I'm not a bikeradar dweller but they are not alone, in the singletrackworld forum any road conflict thread normally results in atleast 50% of the allegedly cycling members siding with the driver. (mainly I think due to most being part time cyclists but full time drivers - that and few of them ever stray on to the road on 2 wheels)

  14. "He had the means at his disposal to carry out his threat (to my mind the analogy with a gun or knife is apposite)."

    Not only could he quite easily have killed you, he would have been able to do so in the knowledge that he'd probably get away with minimal punishment had he done so: perhaps a small fine at worst, at best sympathy for having that silly cyclist get in his way.

  15. Best of luck with your continuing efforts following up this incident. The accusations of antagonism are ridiculous, and completely lacking in empathy.

    Let's hope all road users can eventually learn to share again.

  16. have picked up the story now too, the comments are looking positive (as you might expect from a cycling news outlet's readers).

    On a personal note, thanks for using your professional knowledge to try to make the roads safer for the rest of us.


  18. I'd like to add my own thanks to those posted by others for what you are doing Martin. I've received my own unfair share of deaths threats from various drivers as I'm sure many others have as well. So it's refreshing to see someone who has the skills (that the rest of us don't have!) is using them to at least try and make a difference.

    Good Luck

  19. Darryl, it would be a sad country we lived in indeed if Martin was 'lucky that the Met [wrote at all]' (excuse my paraphrasing).

    It's quite difficult to see why you don't see this as behaviour which is completely unacceptable, whether on our roads, pavements, or whatever.

    Martin, I can only urge you to keep going: there's a basic principle at stake here, and I think you are utterly correct to pursue it.

  20. Like Downfader above I'm very aware of the chemistry on the particular BikeRadar forum Martin's comments appeared on. I don't think that the ''big guns'' there are interested in taking cycling forward, it's more about putting themselves forward.

    But taking primary at a pinch point seems to me to be exactly what a cyclist should be doing. The whole idea of pinch points is to calm traffic - not force cyclists off the road.

  21. I've just had the misfortune to read some of the comments on the BikeRadar site. The commuting section seems to be predominantly inhabited by a bunch of point-scoring, blow-hards. I'd not waste your time or effort posting there, Martin; leave them to their Punch and Judy legal "debates", ego-stroking, and vainglorious tales of overtaking other cyclists during their commutes.

  22. CPS seem happy to follow up on this threat to kill.

  23. Martin, you might be interested in this incident -

    The Procurator Fiscal has decided not to prosecute for a charge of dangerous driving.

    Like your case, the reason given is, again, lack of evidence.

  24. Hi, please keep on with this. Drivers teaching me a lesson, screaming opinion & threatening me, I've had it all but I'm powerless to stop it.

  25. You're not alone here...

    Another insufficient evidence.

  26. Your recent posts appear to be unable to accept comments so posting todays blog here !

    PLease advise if there is any more i can do to help you succeed !