There has been a lot of praise in recent months for the actions of the Traffic Division of West Midlands Police in dealing with driving that puts people on cycles at risk. The initiative, know as Operation Close Pass, is particularly notable for the fact that the decision to proceed with it is based on hard evidence – a rationale that is explained very well in this article on their blog – and the work has resulted in their receiving an award from the Road Danger Reduction Forum. Since they started the initiative back in September, a number of other police forces have taken up some of the ideas, including North Wales Police, and The Metropolitan Police in London, starting with Camden.
Unfortunately, these enlightened initiatives only go to highlight how dire the situation is within Greater Manchester Police. I have highlighted their shortcomings several times in the past in this blog, and have even made a formal complaint, which led precisely nowhere. If anything, the situation has got even worse recently, as illustrated by the following four cases.
1. Fast, extremely close pass by a truck – no further action.
The following incident happened on 12th October 2016 and I reported it to the police using the 101 telephone service the same day.
Here is a slow motion video of the incident in full 960p format. Pay particular attention to my front wheel at the bottom of the frame – you can see that I may well have been hit if I hadn’t looked back and then swerved as he went past:
As this incident occurred just across the border in Lancashire, I reported it initially to Lancashire Police in Blackburn. When I followed the case up with them, they told me that as my own address and that of the truck’s registered keeper are both in Bolton, they had passed it on to Greater Manchester Police, who would deal with it, and told me the Greater Manchester Police log number: 1136 on 13/10/16.
GMP passed the case on to the Bolton North local policing team at Astley Bridge, who sent a PCSO to retrieve the video from me on a DVD. I then heard nothing from them for some considerable time and made about 8 calls to the 101 service to attempt to chase the case up. During one of the those calls, someone in the control room looked at the log and told me that no action would be taken as several officers had viewed the footage and concluded that “no crime had been committed”. This reflects the attitude that I have experienced many times from Greater Manchester Police in the past, even up to Inspector level. It is revealing to contrast this with the views expressed in the West Midlands Police blog article I linked above:
“So drivers need to expect a zero tolerance approach for any offence involving a vulnerable road user, or an offence that could contribute to a collision involving a vulnerable road user. The only way to change driver behaviour and concentrate minds on looking out for vulnerable road users and change driving habits is through enforcement, and the resulting fear of being prosecuted.”
Eventually, after a lot of calls that had me transferred to answering services that refused to take a message from me (“this user does not have voicemail enabled”), I eventually got to talk to the officer who was dealing with the case. We spoke for quite a while, but I will just mention a couple of specific things that really stick in my mind.
First, the officer stated that they didn’t wish to pursue the matter because it was nothing to do with them, given that the incident happened in Lancashire. This is not the first time that I’ve found cases fall into the cracks between forces, but I won’t go into that, other than to say it is shocking that the police seem unable to coordinate across forces.
Second, he stated that the actions of the driver could be considered as driving without due care and attention at worse, and “we don’t follow those cases up unless there has been a collision”. Yes, you read that right: careless driving, in contravention of the Road Traffic Act, does not warrant police attention. I asked the officer whether that was force-wide policy and he blustered somewhat, finally just repeating that they just don’t deal with it.
The officer finally agreed that he would have a word with the driver, warn him that further similar behaviour would not be tolerated, and record the incident so that if the same driver were reported again it would be seen. I asked him how that would be achieved and whether he would issue a Section 59 warning under the Police Reform Act 2002. He’d never heard of it, so I had to explain that section of the law to him! He then said yes, that’s what they’ll do, but I have to say I am not convinced that they did anything of the sort.
2. Close pass by a mobile phone user – not even a call back.
This incident, which happened on 3rd November 2016, involved a driver that passed with his car encroaching on my lane when there was a perfectly good second lane for him to use.
It was too close, but not exactly a “brown trouser moment”, and I wouldn’t normally have paid it much attention. However, I caught up with the driver at the next red traffic light (of course) and when I went to ask him to give cyclists a bit more room, I could see he was messing about with a mobile phone – you can see this clearly on the video. Given the amount of recent media (and police) attention to this issue of mobile phone use whilst driving, I decided I would report it, particularly given the attitude of the driver when I spoke to him.
The 101 operator gave me a log number of 792 on 4/11/16 and told me someone would get back to me … I am still waiting for that call back. I chased it up a couple of times in the days that followed, but I have given up hope of hearing anything now.
3. A left hook
This is when a driver overtakes a cyclist and immediately turns left across the cyclist’s path. The highway code specifically instructs drivers not to do this in rule 182:
This driver seems to think that the Highway Code doesn’t apply to them:
The incident happened on 19th November 2016. When I put the video on YouTube, the people at GMP Traffic Division advised me to report it by ringing 101:
With this in mind, I reported the incident via 101 the same day and it was recorded under log number: 1190 on 19/11/16. When I didn’t hear back from the local police after 3 days, I called again to chase it up and was told by someone from the local policing team at Astley Bridge that a PCSO had been given the task of dealing with it, but he had been too busy to do anything yet and was now on holiday for a week. I explained that this would be a problem because the 2 week time limit for serving a Notice of Intended Prosecution would be almost gone by then. Needless to say, I got nowhere.
So today, a week later, I received a call from an officer in another part of Bolton, letting me know that he had been tasked with going to have a word with the registered keeper of the vehicle, but that they couldn’t do any more because there was no description of the driver. I replied that there was indeed something they could do by serving a Notice of Intended Prosecution on the registered keeper, who would then be required to provide the name of the driver, and that if they then failed to provide that, they would themselves be committing an offence. He replied “oh, you know more than I do then”! (This is all explained on, for example, this web page.) The officer explained that he was not personally in a position to serve such a document as he was a PCSO, not a warranted officer. He also stated that in any case such an offence has to be witnessed by a police officer before a prosecution could be brought, to which I replied that West Midlands Police have recently prosecuted over a hundred drivers on the basis of third party video evidence:
We finished by agreeing that he would email his colleagues at Astley Bridge so that thy could retrieve the video evidence from me, and two PCSOs arrived this afternoon to pick up my DVD. Unfortunately, they have just phoned to tell me that the DVD won’t read on their computer, so I have to drop a new copy at the police station, which they will pick up on Friday – too late.
4. Extremely close pass on a 5 year old – well … can’t be arsed.
I have to admit that I do get rather annoyed by close passes and tailgating, though I tend to put up with a lot before I bother to report them to the police. However, it makes me really bloody angry when someone can see perfectly well that there is a small child on the back of my bike and still puts us in danger. Such behaviour is the mark of an utter shit, as I said in the title of this video:
This incident happened on 26th November 2016, three days ago, but I was not able to report it until the following day. I called 101, and the operator put me through to the control room. The operator there asked for my name, date of birth, address, the date and time of the incident, what happened, the location, and details of the vehicle. She then thanked me and said she would “report it for intelligence”. I said wait a moment; what’s going to happen?; will I get a call back? She just repeated that it would be reported for intelligence (I still don’t understand what that means). I explained to her that passing that close to a vulnerable road user is dangerous, and needs to be dealt with, especially when a 5 year old child is involved. She then tried to fob me off with the same excuse that nothing could be done as there was no description of the driver, so I had to give her the lecture about Notice of Intended Prosecution, etc.
I then asked her to give me the log number, and she said “there isn’t one”. I was speechless for a few moments there, before telling her that I had made a report via the 101 service about someone recklessly endangering my 5 year old granddaughter with a car and I expected to get a log number so that I could follow it up. She finally agreed and – now this bit is very revealing – proceeded to ask me again for most of the details that I had already given her. So, it would seem that she had not even written down the information that she had asked me for earlier.
For the record, then, the police log number for this one is 1126 on 27/11/16. I’m sure I will need it as three days have now passed and I still haven’t heard anything. I guess it’s time to spend another 10p on yet another 101 call.
Update (30th November 2016):
I chased this report up with the police via the 101 service this morning. The operator told me that my report had just been recorded for intelligence, so I explained why I was not happy with that, and that I expected at least that someone would view the video evidence before making a decision. The operator then told me that there was nothing on the log to say that I had video evidence. Now, I know that I did tell the operator this on Sunday, but on reflection I suspect that was before the argument about creating an incident log, so she probably didn’t note the fact. So, today’s operator put me through to Bolton Central Local Resolution Team where I spoke to an officer.
On looking at the log, the officer started off by saying “now please don’t shoot the messenger”; I knew what was coming, so told him, along with the fact the the presence of video evidence hadn’t been recorded in the log. He agreed that this should have been followed up and arranged for me to visit Astley Bridge police station (as that is most convenient for me) to give a statement and show/hand over the video.
So I went to the police station this afternoon and spoke to a very understanding police officer who said that she rides a bicycle herself and is also very frustrated with the situation on the roads for cyclists. We had quite a long discussion, much of it sharing our woes and experiences, but the bottom line is understandable but disappointing. I’ll summarise here.
On viewing the footage, the officer agreed wholeheartedly that this is a clear case of driving without due care and attention. However they just do not have the resources to carry out investigations for the increasing numbers of (non-injury) road incidents that are reported. I suggested that the reason for the increase could be because of a lack of enforcement and she did not disagree with this, but repeated that they do not have the resources, which I believe to be true. She proposed that they would find the registered keeper and have a word with them, as well as recording the incident for intelligence. I suggested that there was a middle option available – to serve a warning under Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 – and she agreed that they would try to do that.
It is refreshing to see such an honest response from an officer who understands that these are not trivial matters. I believe, though, that this is the best that can be achieved with this case. The problems are not within the control of the people in the local policing units; they are problems of priorities, which are set much higher up the force.
Addendum (29th Nov 2016)
This article kicked off something of a Twitter discussion in which GMP Traffic participated. I feel I should stress that Traffic have always been very understanding on this issue, but it has been virtually impossible to get through to them past the Divisions. It is notable that the West Midlands initiative is run by their traffic division rather than the local police divisions, so I am hoping that we (in my case through Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign) will be able to build a dialogue directly with Traffic, who seem to be amenable to that.
Note, if you are interested in these matters, then I recommend joining GMCC if you are not already a member as it provides a forum for us to present a united front.