My Mitigation Red so I came to a standing full stop with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
This junction makes no provision for cyclists. There is no cycle lane and no zone for cyclists to wait to be clearly visible to the surrounding traffic.
I was the first road user to arrive at the lights and I stood in line with the lights. The situation quickly changed around me, putting me in danger. Immediately after I stopped, a large vehicle loomed up on my right and came to a stop, pushing me into its shadow and blind spot. It was a Red Fire Engine, with its left indicator flashing.
As I was on its blind side I felt in imminent danger. Surrounding the junction, all vehicles came to a standstill, as pedestrians proceeded to cross all roads at this junction, mainly in a South - North direction. I looked up to my right to try to catch the driver's attention. I saw a passenger seated in the centre of the Fire Engine cab with his back to me. He was turned towards the centre of the road and completely blocked my view of the driver. I could not see the driver and had to presume he could not see me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a long queue of traffic that had built up.
There were no moving vehicles. However, I could sense the building pressure of the traffic behind me and to my right side, ready to accelerate forward as soon as the lights changed to green. I saw many police standing around the junction. However, mindful of the fact that, in London alone, between January and September 2011 (16 fatalities during 2011! ), over ten cyclists had been killed and many more seriously maimed due to large vehicles crushing them under similar circumstances, I felt compelled to take avoiding action and make myself visible to the driver of the large vehicle. Therefore, shortly before the lights changed, I decided to scoot forward into the junction, moving slowly to the left hand side central reservation, thus making myself visible to the driver. Before I reached there the lights had turned to green and I could hear the traffic accelerating forward and past me, with the large vehicle driving passing behind me. On the far side of the junction I was stopped.
I am a law abiding citizen and I obey the Highway Code, both as a motorist and as a cyclist. I typically cycle on public roads six days per week. I did stop at the traffic lights when the lights were Red. I did not drive against the Red signal. I did take avoiding action to move away from a very dangerous situation - see attached diagram.
[I later learned, in Court, that the person who stopped me was a Community Support Officer, not the Police Officer who arrived on the scene some minutes layer and who prepared the Witness statement to prosecute me. For the rest of this report I will refer to this Police Officer as Yellow - see The Court Case below.]
Stopped by a Community Support Officer
The person who stopped me on the far side was a Community Support Officer. I tried to explain the situation to him. I asked him if he'd seen me stop at the lights with the Fire Engine beside me. From his reaction, he had clearly seen me stop at the lights but was not prepared to listen to or accept any Mitigation. I was shocked to be quoted that I had violated a traffic act, and would incur a fine. He spoke into his mobile device to call Yellow (the Police Officer on duty). Yellow arrived on the scene a few minutes later. What had he been doing? He gave the impression he had been engaged with other matters, presumably booking other cyclists. (He later claimed in Court he'd been looking south and seen me drive straight through the junction without stopping at the Stop Line and that he couldn't recall seeing the Fire Engine!) He immediately proceeded to quote the Highway Code that had been violated, stating I would be fined £30 and would be doubled to £60 (which disagreed with terms shown on the Fixed Penalty notice handed out!) if I did not pay within the 30 day period. I felt this was unfair of him because he was not interested in listening to my mitigating circumstances. The Community Support Officer chipped in they'd heard it all before when I again tried to explain the situation. Yellow gave the distinct impression that his interest was simply to make yet another booking, presumably to make his targets, rather than a regard to my personal safety and why I had acted as I did. He seemed more intent on quoting the Highway Code violation and stated that he did not wish to have to report to my next of kin how I had been run over by a lorry while breaking a Red light - this was the very situation I had taken action to avoid and I had stopped at the Red lights in compliance with the Highway Code. Under the prevailing circumstances, his comments seemed highly inappropriate.
Historic Crushing by a Motor Vehicle
For most of my life I have carried the physical & emotional scars caused when I was crushed by a motor vehicle. I know from first hand experience how the odds are stacked in favour of the motorist and against the pedestrian or cyclist. When I was 10 years of age I was severely scrunched after been hit and badly injured by a car - I was unconscious by the time I fell to the road. Luckily the ambulance arrived quickly and I was rushed to the Children's Hospital. My parents and family sat vigil as I lay in a deep coma for 10 days, before my eyes flickered back to life and I began a sore, painful recovery, with many years of convalescence. I had to be readmitted to hospital for ongoing physiotherapy and operations, interrupting and delaying my schooling. The last operation was when I was nearly 20 years old, during my first year at the University of London, Queen Mary's College. I was admitted to Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone, London, and missed my end of year exams. Consequently, I had to repeat my first year and eventually graduated at 24, two years behind my peers. The accident that crushed me at 10 years of age took a heavy toll on my well being and I still carry the physical and emotional scars to this day. My decision to move away from the blind spot of the Fire Engine on Wednesday 28 September 2011 was not taken lightly. I could see the very real danger of being crushed and injured yet again. I was not behaving like a hooligan on a bike "driving" through the Red lights!
Yellow's Witness Statement
The Police "Statement of Facts" states
"On 26/09/2011 at 11:21, the defendant propelled a pedal cycle on Cambridge Circus at Charring Cross Road junction with Shaftesbury Avenue, and failed to comply with a traffic sign, namely a red traffic light signal, lawfully placed on or near a road situated at the side of the carriageway in that he drove against the signal".
Yellow made the following witness statement which was central to his case in prosecuting me for "driving" through red traffic lights on my bicycle (I have removed my [name], [address] and [birth] and Yellow's [police number]):
" On Wednesday the 28th of September 2011 at 1121 hours, I was on Traffic Patrol duty on foot patrol facing South of Charing Cross Road when I saw the secondary Automatic Traffic Signals situated at the junction with Cambridge Circus WC2 Change from an Amber to a Red light. At this time I saw a male on a white bicycle on Charing Cross Road at slow speed. The bicycle was about ONE (1) METRE South of the Stop Line. The male on the bicycle continued at the same speed across the Stop Line, entered the junction and crossed over it to the North side of the junction while cycling still against the Red light. I stopped the male on his bicycle and spoke to the cyclist who gave their name as [name] address [address] and a date of birth [birth]. I pointed out the offence and issued a fixed penalty notice. Traffic was heavy in daylight with a dry road surface. The junction in question is a very busy junction with several pedestrian crossing points and vehicle traffic travelling in FOUR (4) different directions. My view of the road was clear and unobstructed. Both Primary and Secondary ATS working correctly, in phase together, correctly placed and clearly visible. Road markings were a correct type and clearly visible.
Signature ……………………… [police number] "
This Witness statement is highly misleading. Either Yellow did not observe the whole situation as he stated or else he selectively disregarded evidence before him, and shows a determination to secure a Prosecution at all costs. Did Yellow simply remember and react to the situation by deleting, distorting and generalising based on his own metaprograms, values, beliefs, attitudes, memories and decisions and the Court simply sided with him - what chance did I have? The key misleading points are:
- He states that he first saw me "about ONE (1) METRE South of the Stop Line." This is a very precise statement, which he stated in court he had observed from the far side of the junction. The question is: "What had he observed, if anything?" When he came on the scene several minutes after I had been stopped, he was simply briefed by the Community Support Officer of a "Code Violation". He said under oath in court that he wrote up his report about one to two hours after he had issued me with the fixed penalty notice. How could he have been so precise about this measurement? In Court, the Prosecutor and Magistrates simply accepted what Yellow imagined he saw and heard.
- He states he "saw a male on a white bicycle on Charing Cross Road at slow speed" He does not indicate what the speed was, only adding that this slow speed was maintained right through the lights to the North side of the junction while cycling still against the Red light. This is highly misleading because the traffic lights had turned green before I reached the junction mid-point central reservation on the left hand side. How can he be so precise about the one metre distance and not have any idea of the "slow" speed I was travelling at? If he had really observed me, he would have seen that I had waited at the lights for some time and only scooted, away from the Fire Engine and the dangerous situation that had built up around me - he would have seen that I initially moved at about walking pace (2-3 mph) and increased my speed (about 6mph) by the time I reached the central reservation because by then the lights had changed to green, and traffic was overtaking me. If he had really observed my movement why did he not report the facts instead of giving such a misleading "Witness" statement? And, if, as his witness statement clearly states, I drove against the red lights right through the Junction, why did he not stop and book the heavy traffic that had over taken me? In Court, the Prosecutor and Magistrates simply accepted what Yellow imagined he saw and heard.
- It's curious that Yellow states he "saw a male on a white bicycle". My Bicycle is predominantly coloured black and Yellow saw it when I stood right in front of him! Is this black and white issue another example of Yellow's inability to observe things or his ability to imagine things to suit his own ends?
On Monday 16 April 2012, the case was prosecuted in Richmond Magistrates' Court, London, which was presided over by a tribunal consisting of three Magistrates on the Bench, which I'll refer to as Green, Red and Amber. Green is a female. Red and Amber are males. From my perspective, Green sat on the left hand side. The Prosecutor, who I'll refer to as Purple, was in the front row, with me on his right hand side. The Witness, who I'll refer to as Yellow, sat in the back of the Court Room, alongside the Court Police Officer. Yellow was the Police Duty Officer on Wednesday 28 September 2011, who arrived on the scene several minutes after I had been stopped. The Court Clerk, who I'll refer to as Blue, sat immediately in front of the bench. The Court Usher was also in attendance. The diagram shows this arrangement.
Yellow was sworn in at the Witness Stand. He reaffirmed his Witness Statement.
Yellow stated that he saw me approach the lights and drive through them at slow speed. When asked in Court what speed I was cycling at he could not say, yet he was precise in stating he saw me approach the lights from 1m before the Stop Line.
Yellow stated that he did not see me stop at the lights and could not remember seeing the Fire Engine. This is a highly suspect statement, suggesting he may well be quoting a third party; yet, he signed the statement as his own, which was used to prosecute his case against me. It is surprising that Green, Red and Amber and Purple accepted this statement without rigorously questioning Yellow.
Yellow claimed that he had seen me stop in the Junction, which he stated is a second offence that he could have booked me for. Red overruled this misleading statement.
Before I went to the Witness Stand I showed the Court that I had a prepared a statement and a detailed list of London cyclists fatalities and serious accidents in recent years. Red asked to see the statistics, which I handed to him via Blue. Red pointed out that this was third party evidence and said I could not use it as my own. He asked me if I understood the meaning of third party evidence. I affirmed this and wondered why he had not considered the same of Yellow's Witness statement? I explicitly requested permission to read out my prepared statement. Red checked if this was acceptable to Purple, who said he had no objection, but in turn he checked with Yellow. My statement was handed to Yellow, who was still in the Witness Stand. He read my statement and said he had no objection to me reading it out to the Court.
Before I went to the Witness Box, Red asked me for a copy of my statement which I handed to Blue, who in turn handed it to Red. I drove (actually I walked slowly, with my limp sustained in my childhood accident) to the Witness Box and took the Oath. At this point, Purple asked for a copy of my statement. Red handed his copy via Blue to Purple. I picked up my statement, which Yellow had left behind him on the Witness Stand, and proceeded to read it to the court. At this point, before I even finished my second sentence, Blue interrupted me to say Red would read it. Blue took my copy and handed it to Red, leaving me without my prepared Statement. I felt that this was grossly unfair because I had explicitly asked for and was granted permission by Red, Green and Amber and Purple and Yellow to read my statement in Court. This made me feel very vulnerable and exposed in Court. I looked over towards Yellow, who looked on smugly, and I thought he had behaved vindictively. Interesting, while reading my statement, Red leaned towards Green so she could better see my Statement. This left Amber without a clear view of my Statement. This raised the question in my mind "On what basis is Amber going to make his Judgement"? I felt it could not be entirely objective! After all, Red, Green and Amber and Purple and Yellow had all agreed individually to my specific request for me to speak and read out my prepared Statement to the Court. Evidently, Red, Green and Amber did not want to hear my Voice giving my Statement of Mediation!
During the proceedings, Purple cross-examined me in detail on my Statement. However, he did not question Yellow to the same extent on his Witness statement. I found this to be unfair because the two statements conflicted on many key points. Purple asked me why I had not taken an alternative course of action to avoid going through the Red lights. He asked why I had not gone onto the pavement. In reply I said there were many pedestrians walking on the pavement in this busy area and so I would have caused an obstruction and been a danger to them, however, my main preoccupation was to quickly move away from the dangerous situation that had rapidly built around me, and as my onward journey would take me north, I instinctively moved towards the mid-junction central reservation on the left hand side. I wondered if Purple himself would be quite so level headed in such a situation had he previously been crushed by a motor vehicle.
Red commented that the Fire Engine driver would have been returning to his base around the corner and so would have most likely been relaxed. Purple followed up that since the Fire Engine came from behind me on my right hand side, the driver would most likely have seen me. It was evident to me that Red, Purple and Yellow had combined to cast doubt on the integrity of my Mitigation. The simple facts are that I did stop at the Stop Line and I looked up to try and catch the driver's attention but could not do so because his passenger completely blocked my view. Was I to surmise that even though I could not see the driver that he was somehow looking at me? Was it not more likely that he was distracted in relaxed conversation with his passenger? Perhaps they were suggesting that Fire Engines just don't hit cyclists. The fact is that a Fine Engine hitting and killing a cyclist is not unknown!
Red, Green and Amber left the Court Room by the back door. When they returned a short while later, Red announced that by my very own admission I had crossed the Stop Line when lights were Red and so had broken the law. He handed me a £365 charge to be paid on that day!
I paid the £365 and will not waste any more of my time, effort and expense trying to prove my innocence against such a well-oiled Police - Judicial system. I sought justice and thought common sense and fairness would prevail. What I experienced was a Police system that is quite vindictive and willing to pursue a prosecution at all costs, even selectively recalling the facts and misleading the Court with their Witness Statement, a Court that did not tolerate listening to my voice in reading out my Mitigation.
Before this rough justice, I had a high regard for the UK Police and Justice System. I appreciate no system can be perfect. However, my previous high regard for this System has been somewhat shattered and left me wondering how endemic corruption may be within the UK Police, a subject much in the press, which until now I had ignored. If they prosecute you for breaking traffic lights, no matter how good a citizen you have tried to be in the past, no matter how you may have endeavoured to uphold the law, specifically the Highway Code, as soon as they perceive you have put a foot wrong, the Police will act as a pack and hunt you down, using their might and force to vigorously pursue the case, even using trickery, to get a conviction, and they really do not care for your Mitigation. In the light of what has transpired over the past seven months, the UK Police and Justice System should ask not for your Mitigation, if you choose to challenge them, but rather verifiable "Proof of Innocence".
Interestingly, after the Magistrate's Court Case, I walked to the rail station. I boarded the train and immediately afterwards Yellow stepped into the same carriage and sat opposite me. We saw each other but did not communicate. I wondered if he had deliberately followed me and was trying to provoke me. After a few stations, he moved to the next carriage.
After my ordeal in dealing with this Case, I can now see many ways in which I could have better presented my evidence and cast focused doubt on the shaky Witness Statement and better helped Red, Green and Amber in their deliberations. Unfortunately I did not have the benefit of a legal team to advise me. As a fellow cyclist, I am happy to share this with you, should the need arise - email me at email@example.com.
My advice is to always uphold the law, and obey the Highway Code when cycling. However, my advice is also always to keep in mind Cyclists Beware - "Rough Justice".