Thursday 4 August 2011

(Yet) Another Assault on a Cyclist and musings on The Establishment

Another cyclist using the roads in a lawful manner, and negotiating a roundabout in precisely the way that is recommended and taught on training courses, is subjected to a violent assault.  The consequences could well have been even more severe if the cyclist did not have the presence of mind to adopt a submissive apologetic attitude (something I am totally incapable of doing in similar circumstances).

Only a small minority of cyclists are equipped with helmet cameras, yet this type of assault is recorded on a regular basis.  What we see on youtube is the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg.
I understand that this assault occurred in Essex so it is now the turn of the Essex Police to reveal their attitude.  I hope they do not share the approach of my own home force, Thames Valley Police, who would not even countenance the possibility of a prosecution unless the thug was either daft enough to deny it or had done it before.
I cannot resist musing upon why a leniency is extended to those who attack cyclists that would never be extended to a comedian who attacks a media moghal with a harmless plate of shaving foam or, still less, somebody committing an offence in the course of a demonstration.  Many years ago I worked, as a very junior barrister, with a senior wily old QC for a client who sought to take on the Government and (quite wrongly) lost.  The QC explained to me quietly that the decision could be explained by The Establishment closing rank.  At the time I thought he was being preposterous; and I sure some who read this will think the same of me.  However as I now approach becoming a wily old QC myself I see the wisdom of his words.  When I put on a wig and a silk gown, I am a member of The Establishment and enjoy the respect, privileges and (I have no doubt) full protection of the law should I require it.  In contrast when I get on my bicycle, I step outside The Establishment.  Despite the fact that the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mayor of London are all more or less cyclists, The Establishment still expects travel by limo, taxi or jet.  Threaten the Duchess of Cornwall (say) through the plate glass of a limo window and you can expect trouble.  Had she been threatened by a motorist for taking a line through a roundabout on a bicycle of which he disapproved then The Establishment reaction would be confused ('Royalty on a bicycle, don't be absurd!').
The last Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for all his purported enthusiasm to promote cycling, declined to cycle himself, claiming to fear the targeting and abuse he might get from other roadusers.  As Mayor he could expect to, and did, get the full protection of The Establishment, but he could not be sure he would get it on a bicycle.  Whether the current Mayor gets abused and threatened on his bicycle and whether if he does he would wish to make that public, I do not know.
I have now for several years been pressing for a sea-change in the attitude to cycling and to cyclists.  The Establishment is certainly encouraging cycling (particularly for outsiders) but I want The Establishment to embrace cycling to such an extent that I step down from its protection no less when mounting a bicycle than were I ever to step into a limo or be required to account for my actions before a Parliamentary Select Committee.  With the advent of the internet I am prepared to speak less softly than the wily old QC.  Do I risk being thrown out altogether?  Possibly, but it is worth it, and if Mr Murdoch's place within The Establishment is still secure, there must be hope yet for me.


  1. In the Netherlands, the Royal Family ride bicycles for transport and do not fear the general public. Cycling there is happily part of every-day life for everyone, including The Establishment (look at their motoring liability laws!).

    The problem is that The Establishment in the UK see cycling as a sport, or something that children do in parks, and not as a mode of transport.

    Cycling had a very left-wing socialist connotations in the early days of the Clarion cycling clubs: in the last few decades The Establishment has been consistently right-wing. Perhaps The Establishment fears cyclists for historical reasons?

    Or, another theory, perhaps it's the power of the motoring industry, who effectively fund large sections of the press. Since the press don't want to annoy "the motorists" we end up with nonsense like the "war on the motorist", and our weak-and-feeble politicians just follow along, in fear of having their private lives exposed.

    I just hope that the revolution, when it comes, will be a gentle and non-violent one.

  2. In the Netherlands, the Royal Family ride bicycles for transport and are followed by their bodyguards also on bicycle. Wouldn't it be great if those in power here were to follow suit...

  3. First mistake by the cyclist: don't pull over to have a discussion with a raging neanderthal; ride past at 25mph and ditch him. Second mistake: when he cocks his fist like that, bring the front of your helmet down on the bridge of his nose so hard that he never gets the opportunity to do anything other than land on his backside and see stars.

  4. @Fonant - browse to 'The Sun's report of this incident and look at the comments posted by Sun readers. The attitude isn't confined to their sponsors!
    This is one of the reasons that getting a significant shift in modal share is important - it's only when lots more people use bikes will we see a shift in social attitude.

  5. I think that is precisely Fonant's point - a newspaper's readers will be conditioned by what they read in their newspaper. If the Sun, the Mail and many others in the national press scene are effectively in the pockets of their advertisers, prominent among them being the motor trade, it is to be expected that their readers will take their cue from this and will react the same way.

    It is very much to be hoped that Martin is wrong about Murdoch and his ilk - that they are NOT acceptable members of the establishment any more.

    The point about a modal shift is nevertheless relevant. I wonder whether - I hope that - we could be approaching a paradigm shift. For the last half-century it has been accepted that the motor car is the aspiration of everyone, including the young, but I hear that numbers of young adults taking their driving test have fallen by about 20% recently - probably because if you can drive, you can't afford it, partly because of declining availability of work and squeezed finances, but I suspect largely because car insurance for the young has become entirely unaffordable. All these young adults will find their mobility affected, and will have to rely more on public transport or cycling if they are to gain their independence from their parents. When they find how poorly they are served, perhaps, with luck, they will react as furiously as they have done over tuition fees.

  6. Yes. If only everyone in your profession had some similar experience, perhaps they would better be able to empathise with those they represent.

  7. On my way to court i was punched to the ground by a another cyclist in front of numerous pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.nobody stopped. He had flagrantly run a red across my path and didn't like the fact that I didn't give way to him whilst I was on green. He pursued me 1/4 mile out of his way and pushed my glasses through the bridge of my nose with 3 hefty blows. I never took my hands off my bike. The police station was in sight. It took 45 minutes for them to arrive. They asked if I wanted to press charges then pressured me not to. When I insisted because I thought my assailant would do it again they arrested me for ( alleged ) assault on my assailant despite there not being a Mark on him and a shopkeeper witness who had seen me hit and given me a cloth to staunch the blood to whom they refused to speak. They were unable to explain to the desk sergeant how they formed the grounds for arrest. I was finger printed DNA tested and detained for 8 hours in a cell. I was interviewed gave a clear written account of my assault and was released on bail. I was offered a caution and told that no further action would be taken when I refused. My assailant was a nasty tearaway yob who was clearly known to the police. During his phonecall he made psychotic threats to his girlfriend. As he was led to his cell he claimed the officer taking him assaulted him. I heard and saw this. I dealt with my assailant and the police in a quiet sensible sounding way. I have prosecuted, given evidence for the crown in a trial and on more than one occasion come to the aid of the police. I will never do any of these things again nor will I ever disbelieve a story I am told about the ignorant jobsworth tick box culture now prevalent in the metropolitan police. I now understand that 2 arrests in one incident is better than one conviction. I can confirm that a suit, waistcoat and tie does not make you part of the establishment if you are on a bike.

  8. I am shocked to read the above. It fits with what appears to be an institutionalised hatred of cyclists (at least amongst some officers). The 'back off or we will turn against you' threat is one I have experienced too, though in my case less extreme. I believe we need to publicise these experiences as most people have no idea this kind of thing is going on.
    As a further aside a friend of mine was recently assaulted when out cycling and badly injured. His assailant was,as in your case, another cyclist. It really is time that roadrage was acknowledged to be a serious problem especially where the victim is a vulnerable road user.