Justice: City of London style

In February 2011, I was stopped by a police officer in the City of London for cycling through a red traffic light. It was the reason that I started this blog. I stated to that officer at the time, and I maintain, that I did not commit this offence and so since then I have been embroiled in the process of appealing it in court.

The Court

After one adjournment from an original court day in May, I received last month a Summons to City of London Magistrates Court for this morning at 10am.

I sat in the court room for 4 hours. During this time, I watched three cases. All of them were people who already had between 6 and 9 points on their driving licenses, and who had subsequently committed a variety of motoring offences. They were:

  1. A man with 9 points on his license, including various speeding convictions, who was caught driving at 48mph through a red traffic light in a 30mph zone.
  2. A man with 9 points on his license, including speeding and driving while using a handheld mobile phone in May 2011, who was caught driving at 30mph in a 20mph zone.
  3. A man with 6 points on his license for driving without insurance who was facing charges after having been caught driving while using a handheld mobile phone, at which point it transpired that he was not insured.

All three pled guilty. In normal course, they would all lose their licenses. However, they all claimed that it would cause “exceptional hardship” if they were to do so.

The magistrate told driver one that he did not accept the exceptional hardship claim, however due to his early guilty plea he would only face a driving ban of six months. Driver two was given three points (bringing him to a total of 12), but his exceptional hardship claim was accepted – he was given no driving ban.

Sadly, I was not around to see the verdict for driver three, as while the magistrate was deciding (4 hours after my arrival at the court), I was told that my case would be adjourned again and I would have to come back in November.

This is half the story.

The Street

After leaving the court, I cycled down Queen Victoria Street towards Blackfriars Bridge:

At this narrow point, I decided to “take the lane”, as I’ve been overtaken by buses here before and it’s a little close for comfort.

A black cab driver behind me became very angry, aggressively revving and trying to squeeze past. At the end of this section (about 15 seconds after the beginning of it), he leaned out his window as he overtook me and said, “Who do you think you are? I’ll slit your fucking throat.”

There was a police car stopped at the next set of traffic lights. I knocked on their window, reported what the taxi driver had said, and one of the two officers within asked both me and the driver to pull over.

The Police

One officer spoke to me and one to the driver. The one who spoke to me (CP 241) was very friendly, said she understood my concerns but also that it’s understandable that taxi drivers get frustrated being on the road all day.

Her colleague, PC Jeffreys (CP 267), spoke to the taxi driver then came over and said that I had been cycling in the middle of the road and this was why the taxi driver had become so aggressive. He said that the taxi driver had admitted that he had sworn at me, but not the threat to kill.

PC Jeffreys then told me that I should not have been cycling in the middle of the road and that both parties were in his view in the wrong. He said that in future if I felt intimidated by a taxi driver behind me, the correct action would be to pull over to the side of the road, dismount my bicycle and wait until I no longer felt at risk.

I could not understand why on earth we were talking about where I had been cycling, when it was clearly not illegal, whereas I had just been the victim of a verbal assault and threat. I said so.

I then tried to take a photograph of the taxi driver using my mobile phone, so there would be no possibility of the man denying that he was driving should I wish to take the issue forward with either to police or the Public Carriage Office. PC Jeffreys physically prevented me from doing this by grabbing my arm and pushing me back to the kerb.

Futility

Honestly at this point, I lost the will to continue. I’d just taken holiday from work to sit in a court room watching drivers who clearly should have been disqualified for a long time managing to avoid it, then to be told that these cases were more important than mine so come back in November, then immediately upon leaving been aggressively bullied by a taxi driver, and then been told by the police that it was my fault.

On the plus side, the London Assembly agreed today to review a 20mph limit on Blackfriars Bridge. Great, right? Speeding is incredibly harmful. (Source: Amy Aeron-Thomas’s Street Talk). (Update: having read this while less frazzled, they’ve actally agreed to “ask the Mayor to instruct TfL” to do a review. So it may not even happen.)

I’d like to pretend to care about the London Assembly vote, but I just can’t. We already have a report saying 20mph on London’s bridges would be safer. Even if the review says it is unambiguously advantageous to move to a 20mph limit (it won’t), and if somehow the London Assembly manages to on this basis pressurise the Mayor into actually implementing such a limit (doubtful), it will make basically no difference.

Unlike Tower Bridge, the road layout at Blackfriars lends itself to driving much faster than 20mph, which people will do. Enforcement of the limit will be rare, and as I saw today, consequences in those cases where it is enforced minimal. We need to stop devoting our energy to tinkering around the edges like this and start campaigning for proper infrastructure – yes segregated cycle lanes, but this as part of a package of properly designed streets, not huge urban motorways.

25 Responses to “Justice: City of London style”

  1. livinginabox Says:

    I am so angry after reading this. I am lost for words.

  2. Don Says:

    Assuming there is no more to the account than you have already mentioned, the Police Officer has assaulted you. I would consider making a complaint of assault and possibly false imprisonment (since his actions effectively amount to arresting you) against this PC Jeffreys.

  3. Futilitarian Says:

    @Don,

    Nice idea, but I can’t prove anything here. I don’t think I fancy another few months of pending court dates, sitting around court rooms only to have my hearing adjourned, and of course constant concern about the growing costs that I will be liable for if I do lose.

  4. Jon Says:

    That’s an incredibly exasperating story and one which should have further publicity. You should publish the reg number and licence number if you have them. Sorry you had to endure that. At least you can be positive that you have the moral high ground and know you did nothing wrong.

  5. Tommi Says:

    Sounds like Boris’s “encouraging cycling” plan is full speed in (in)action as usual. Having police almost explicitly treat you as second class road user when you’re on bicycle is very encouraging indeed. You might want to bring the issue to the attention of London Assembly, they seem to be having some limited success with making hard questions. Maybe one day they’ll notice how institutionalised the whole problem is and actually do something about it.

    IMO it would also be good to have the taxi driver on record – I’d like to think repeated “charges made, no witness” is eventually going to lead to different outcome than “no charges ever” – but I can understand how wearing it could become. Maybe to roadsafelondon? You could mention PC Jeffreys as witness who saw the driver.

  6. livinginabox Says:

    A strong case for using helmet cams in cycle-hostile cities. Then there’s a chance of getting the creep on camera, with his threats and his licence plate. Would make the Police’s account pretty irrelevant.

  7. Kim Says:

    But surely you realise that the driving licence is a sacred right and that traffic laws only apply to cyclist (because they don’t have driving licences)? This is a central tenant of policy for all parties (except the greens, but they don’t count), as dictated by the tabloid press.

    It really is time for change…

  8. betsy Says:

    Frustrating story. But you’re missing one thing. The motion also asked the mayor to look again at those right turns. And it’s almost impossible to make right turns that are safe for cyclists within this multi-lane semi-gyratory design. If they want to re-think these turns, they will have to look again at the entire design…

  9. SteveL Says:

    +1 for helmet cams. Then it stops being a their word/your word thing, it becomes something you can hand off to the police and the taxi authorities. They won’t do anything about, probably, but their failure to act can become more embarrassing to them than before

  10. Futilitarian Says:

    @Besty you’re right it does ask the Mayor to look at right turns, and it is worth pointing that out wherever useful. But it’s going to take a lot of pressure to make him pay attention to this.

    @liviningabox and @SteveL

    I don’t wear a helmet!

  11. Laura Says:

    I’m writing an article on ‘taking the lane’ and would love to talk to you about your experiences. As an avid and assertive cyclist this is an issue close to my heart. Please do get in touch (Deadline is tomorrow)

    Thanks,
    Laura

  12. zero Says:

    We need to stop pussyfooting around and initiate plans to get rid of private cars from our city centres. The driving licence should be a professional qualification, as hard to get and as easy to lose as a flying licence. ‘Assertive’ riding is not enough: I’m going for ‘aggressive’.

  13. Robin Says:

    I would suggest making a complaint doing this:

    http://www.ipcc.gov.uk/en/Pages/forms.aspx

    At worst the complaint won’t be upheld. However the officer will then think twice about how he deals with this kind of thing in the future and hopefully learn the law. And at best, the officer would be disciplined for assault and not dealing with the offence properly.

    If people don’t make complaints, then the officers involved don’t learn…

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  20. Paul Says:

    My first thought about walking a bike through a red light is Crank v Brooks [1980] RTR 441.

    http://www.bikehub.co.uk/featured-articles/cycling-and-the-law/

    In his judgment in the Court of Appeal in Crank v Brooks, Waller LJ said: “In my judgment a person who is walking across a pedestrian crossing pushing a bicycle, having started on the pavement on one side on her feet and not on the bicycle, and going across pushing the bicycle with both feet on the ground so to speak is clearly a ‘foot passenger’. If for example she had been using it as a scooter by having one foot on the pedal and pushing herself along, she would not have been a ‘foot passenger’. But the fact that she had the bicycle in her hand and was walking does not create any difference from a case where she is walking without a bicycle in her hand.”

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  22. Is it a cyclist’s right to ‘take the lane’? | Laura Laker | The Garden of Princess Aileen 心灵的驿站 Says:

    [...] cycle blogger Sam wrote recently how a taxi driver threatened him when he “took the lane” in a narrow street. Sam was [...]

  23. Chris Says:

    My experience of cycling in Central London goes back to the early eighties and believe me, it was worse then. Perhaps because I am older than some of you, I don’t buy in to “assertive” cycling. My usual position on the road is out from the gutter, certainly, but to the left. I watch parked cars ahead very carefully for opening doors and do not swerve out of my line without a glance over my shoulder. In fact, constant awareness of what is behind is key to safety, in my view and being safe is more important than being assertive.

  24. Eric D Says:

    “being safe is more important than being assertive”
    sometimes you have to be assertive to be safe.
    Motorists are not always good at judging when it is safe to overtake.
    http://vinebox.co/u/waEARAcQw5L/wdxMkZQuL95

  25. William Says:

    I think this demonstrates perfectly, the fallacy of assuming the police are capable of understanding all laws. You had every right to use the full width of the lane. The police had no authority to deny you your lawful right to film a public place. They had no lawful right to restrain you. The driver had already admitted trying to over-take a cyclist riding primary. The driver already admitted using threatening words and behaviour. The way I see it – based entirely on the information presented here – I am of the opinion the blame lies with both the driver and the police officers in question. This is also the reason so many cyclists carry cycle-cams, it’s for everyone’s protection and in cases like this, cam footage could have been crucial evidence. I am saving for one myself, having been threated, assaulted, driven at and generally treated like something that should be wiped off the face of the planet.. just for trying to obey the Highway Code and share the road. The level of ignorance, hatred and general abuse one gets just for being on two wheels is of an appalling scale. It’s time these drivers/potential murderers had the book thrown at them. No leniency.

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