Wednesday 15 February 2017

Dear PCC... (copy of email to Police Commissioner)

Dear Mr. Ablewhite,

I've decided to send my concerns to you by email rather than await a phonecall something like a month hence - in my experience planning a call that far in advance tends towards going wrong, and I think perhaps doing this in some written form might be better. A surgery appointment to talk to you in person before that would involve investing more than two hours travel time each way - a five hour round journey for a fifteen minute meeting doesn't immediately seem to represent a good investment in time.

Last November I reported this incident to the Police.

Now one would think that there would be an online reporting system for incidents like this - fill in a form, leave a link to the evidence, job done. But there isn't, and as I've previously been told that there isn't even a regularly checked email address I phoned 101. After a protracted delay I got through to someone who suggested I might come in to Parkside at the weekend with a text link to the video footage. She seemed most put-out at the idea I should want to email evidence, and that maybe if someone has taken to driving like a maniac through the centre of Cambridge its perhaps something to be dealt with with a certain element of urgency - perhaps contacting the driver and having a word quickly (while he still remembers what he did) would prevent him doing so again while further charges are prepared? In fact, couldn't this act be life saving? 

She hung up. I complained, an officer with badge number 8333 looked at this and accepted that such a request to relate evidence via. email isn't unusual and this could be done. Getting to this point wasn't easy though, and involved significant telephone tag with officer 8333.

I had also tweeted a link to this footage, which was then taken up by a local political blogger who shared it, and two local city centre councillors phoned a local police officer who in turn contacted me to say he'd seen this and was looking in to it.

So the route to getting this reported was phoning, failing, phoning again, complaining, tweeting, getting re-tweeted, someone else phoned a named police office who then got back in touch with me to say he'd look in to it. 

Officer 1594 said he'd had a word with the driver and would submit a file for consideration of crimes for prosecution.

Months passed, I enquired as to what had happened (I know that the wheels of justice turn slowly) and was told that the incident had been handled with a verbal caution (hence not even formally) and that "It was noted from your footage that numerous cyclists numerous cyclists were travelling the wrong way in the one way system, towards the driver of the car and you and this factor was considered to complicate further action".

Obviously I looked closely at the footage after this - I could see I'd been passed within inches in a two-way (for cycling) section, I could see the motorist mount the pavement perilously close to several pedestrians, I could see some very dangerous close overtakes of cyclists, the driver going through sections of road labelled for cars, taxis and cyclists only, four other cyclists on film expressing concern as to the drivers behaviour including two who confronted him directly before I said anything to him, the aggressively revving his engine in response to one of them and I could see that the driver was on the phone at the wheel of the car, and there are no examples of cyclists on road going the wrong way on the one way system. None. Not a single one. But even if there had been, it is entirely unclear to me why this ought to have any bearing on any of the motorists actions - another oncoming cyclist doesn't make mounting the pavement ok. 

I complained, and again found myself in an absurd game of telephone tag lasting another day. Eventually officer 1547 phoned and, well, was unsympathetic. I mean, he was keen to tell me that they wouldn't prosecute and wouldn't explain why - but agreed to go and look at the footage after I explained at length, and got back to me later saying that yes, they'd refer this on hopefully for prosecution.

At the core of this ridiculous, convoluted pathway of events is the simple reality of a motorist behaving in a shocking way, scaring the life out of people who were doing nothing wrong, genuinely endangering people. It has to be simple and easy to report such things, especially with clear video evidence, and it is imperative that our police service enables rather than confounds attempts to do so. In short, reporting a crime and getting it taken seriously needs to not be a matter of willpower. And at no point should there be reticence to prosecute over claims of someone else doing a tangentially related thing wrong in video evidence - a demonstrably incorrect claim at that.

Can I suggest that throttling the numbers on reported crimes by making it hard to get reports taken seriously, and cutting back on prosecutions by simply misrepresenting evidence reported to the constabulary are both shameful ways to behave - it isn't much to ask that clear video evidence be viewed fairly and acted on. May I further ask that you look in to this not simply as an operational but also ethical consideration - why should it take fortuitous retweeting and dogged persistence to get a crime taken seriously?


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