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

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.

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.