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.



  2. It is difficult sometimes to not become jaded when it comes to cycling and the law. I remember a few months ago reading Crap Waltham Forest and seeing that the fines handed out to cyclists for jumping reds in London are very close to those handed out to motorists for murdering cyclists through their negligence.

    Because the vast majority of adults drive (or at least have a license to drive/see driving as something they aspire to) they are treated with sympathy. If you see someone as being like yourself, you naturally tend to empathise with them. The people who should be convicting these motorists don't want to because they see them as being "Ordinary people," like themselves. Cyclists get little sympathy because there are so few of us, we are not "normal."

    Maybe you could try and find a CPS employee who cycles and will be able to identify with our situation.

  3. I am so glad that we have people like you pursuing this kind of institutional bias against (overwhelmingly) completely harmless cyclists whilst not taking proper action against dangerous driving and a curious road ownership mindset from drivers. Do you know if it is worth taking down license plates of drivers on handheld mobiles and handing them to the police once a month? I can safely say I never complete a journey without seeing this and it is a hundred times more dangerous than a cyclist jumping a red. When drivers of enormous articulated trucks (or even of the local rubbish truck whilst machinery is in operation at the back) are on their phones it annoys me even more!!!

    My 14 year old daughter is desperate to cycle to school. At 3.5 miles away, it is an ideal distance for that but I just don't feel safe allowing her because of the lack of a proper cycle lane for the final mile and the way that people drive in London in the rush hour. Such a shame that I then add to the road traffic as there is no bus and it is just a bit far to walk with a heavy bag. I have lobbied the council for better provision but they replied firstly saying provision was within national guidelines as it was a 20mph zone, and then when I pointed out to them that it was NOT a 20mph zone and cars tended to drive at more like 35 or 40 mph given the chance and that there were speed cushions right next to central island refuges creating dangerous pinchpoints, they basically said that is was my decision about whether or not it was safe for her. I give up!

    Good luck with your case.