Saturday, 18 December 2010

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.


  1. This posting of yours reminds me of a posting i did on my blog in february 2010.

    With your legal training and expertise it should be possible to set up a Nationally Known Web site where Cyclists can report incidents that a Coop of interested volunteers can review before publicising specific incidents thus Naming & Shaming the Employers who show a disregard to the vunerable in the community !

    Too many people have experienced harassment but do not have the tools to enable them to carry forward a successful prosecution of the offenders. Funding is needed and whilst there are some who are able to Donate their time there are others who should be recompensed by the Courts for the work done in processing the matter.

    When miscreants see that they can be successfully prosecuted and not only do they have to pay substantial fines for their actions but also that they have to reimburse their victims justifiable expenses, then perhaps it will dawn on these cowardly bullies that there are consequences for their anti social behaviours.

    Those volunteering to work with this website would initially review complaints and their time would have a nominal monetary value attached to any complaint and then it would be passed to experts such as yourself for a decision as to whether further expenses can be justified in carrying it forward towards a successful prosecution. Obviously this scrutiny would sift out suspect and frivilous cases and occasionally there will be victims of traffic incidents who will be disappointed that their case was not strong enough to persue to a satisfactory conclusion.

  2. I am pleased to say that I have had a very positive response from First to a complaint I made to Transport for London about a First bus driver. I am told the driver will be disciplined. See my complaint below.

    At approximately 5.15pm on 1 December, I was cycling from my place of work to Paddington Station. I had crossed Ludgate Circus and was riding up Fleet Street. In Fleet Street, and indeed at other locations in the City, there are large ‘islands’ in the middle of the road, causing the carriageway to narrow very significantly. I do not know what purpose these ‘pinch points’ serve, but they cause significant inconvenience to cyclists. As I approached this particular pinch point a double-decker bus (registration number XYZ) overtook me and pulled left across me in order to negotiate the pinch point, thus nearly knocking me off my bike. I had to break, stop and jump off the bike in order to avoid being crushed by the bus. The bus then almost immediately stopped at a bus stop. Thus demonstrating the pointlessness of the overtaking move. I approached the driver at his window and told him that he had nearly knocked me of my bike and that he was endangering my life. His response was to say that I had to realise that his vehicle was faster than me, and that he had a right to overtake. I pointed out that he only had a right to overtake if ‘it was safe to do so’. This was clearly not safe, so he should not have overtaken. He then went on to say that I should have more care of other road users and should have looked out for him. That there was room for both me and the bus at the pinch point and that I was not a competent cyclist. That I had been weaving in front of him.
    Realising that he was unrepentant and had no care for my safety, I asked him to identify himself so that I could report him to his employer. He refused to do so, saying ‘report me to the police if you like’. Having received this response I moved to the front of the bus and took a photograph of his registration number with my phone and took a photograph of the driver. At this point he got out of the bus and told me that I had no right to take his photograph. He then phoned the police and told me not to leave until they arrived. Actually I was quite happy to wait for the police. He then told all his passengers to disembark as the bus was not continuing it journey, because he had reported my photography to the police. He continued to remonstrate with me about the photo, at which point a witness approached me to say that he had seen the dangerous overtaking move and was happy to be a witness on my behalf. He gave me his name and phone number (Name and number removed). At this point the driver stated that he had his own independent witness, namely CCTV on board the bus. I do not know if this is true, but if this is the case I would suggest you review the footage.
    When the police arrived they spoke to both me and the driver. They gave me his identification details, and as I was now able to identify the individual they asked if I would be prepared to delete my photograph of him, which of course was prepared to do. They gave me an incident number and told me to make my complaint to the bus company in the first instance, which I am now doing.
    I have to say, that were it not for the driver calling the police, and the witness coming forward, I would have been unlikely to have taken the matter further. However, I spoke to the driver, and attempted to identify him, as I feel that he should appreciate that such a lack of consideration for other (more vulnerable) road users could have consequences for him, particularly as the consequences for me could easily have been death or serious injury. It is his resistance to being identified that has actually led to this complaint.