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Road Justice

Dear Mr Johnson,

you may be aware that there was a hit & run in Stoke Newington on the evening of Wednesday 10th February, which resulted in serious injuries to the victim, Damien Doughty. He suffered what the doctor treating him described as a level four laceration to his liver. The most serious level is five. He is still in hospital, recuperating from his injuries, though thankfully his recovery seems to be progressing well.

According to Damien, the driver followed him after Damien had made unfavourable comments about her use of a mobile phone, which he says nearly caused her to collide with him. She then deliberately drove into him, causing the severe injuries to his person.

The case is being investigated by the Serious Collision Investigation Unit of the Metropolitan Police. Damien says that they are taking the incident very seriously, and are investigating diligently and carefully. I am sure that the police officers in charge of Damien’s case are doing everything they can to find the driver, and I have every confidence that they will determine the facts to the best of their ability.

I know that you will share in my feelings of shock and horror at the circumstances of Damien’s experience, assuming that his account is true. Without wishing to prejudge the case, I know that you will agree with me that no matter what Damien may or may not have said to the driver concerned, he, like every Londoner, or indeed any visitor to London, should be able to use the highways of the city without fear of being the subject of a potentially deadly, deliberate assault with a piece of heavy machinery.

I am sure that you will do everything to help the police to get to the bottom of this matter. Please do make sure that every effort is made to solve this case. I have worked in the same day courier industry for many years, first as a bicycle messenger, and subsequently as a controller (dispatcher) of couriers. I can assure you that incidents such as this, where drivers have used their vehicles as weapons after a few cross words, are depressingly frequent, and that many of my friends, colleagues and, indeed, myself have been the victims of this type of assault, though, fortunately, rarely with such terrible results.

I would also urge you, using your seat at the Cabinet table, to press for all such cases to be treated in the same way as would any assault with a deadly weapon would be, with commensurate penalties for those found guilty.

I would like to draw your attention to the death of Chicago bicycle messenger Thomas McBride, run over and killed by Carnell Fitzpatrick, who was driving a large car. A jury later determined that Carnell Fitzpatrick was guilty of murder, having considered the evidence that Fitzpatrick had chased McBride and deliberately run him over, again after a few cross words. Surely such incidents should be treated the same way in the UK?

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. I have every confidence that you will do everything in your power to help.

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Simon Maskrey QC speaks at CTC debate on sentencing photo by Selim KoryckiAt the CTC’s debate on sentencing in road cases, Simeon Maskrey Q.C.,  a Deputy High Court Judge and Recorder of the Crown Court, called for the burden of proof to be changed in road crime cases.   Where it has been established in court beyond reasonable doubt the driving at the time of the offence was dangerous or reckless, the defence should have to prove to the satisfaction of the judge or magistrate passing sentence that the driving wasn’t deliberately dangerous, unlike at the moment where the prosecution is forced to prove intent.

In conversation with me after the event, he also called for more innovatory options to be made available to judges & magistrates for sentencing in road crime cases. An example he gave was the option of banning someone until such time that they had undertaken a 2 week road danger course, which the offender would have to pay for themselves, in which they would have undertake study and training in road danger reduction.  I like the idea, even if the practicalities are a little fuzzy.  Maybe a component could be doing the CTUK trainers’ course, which lasts 4 days, and costs £400.

The debate was well-attended, with representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service & the Ministry of Justice present (at one point the CPS rep got up to try to directly refute Martin ‘Cycling Silk’ Porter’s accusation that the CPS routinely opt for charging drivers with careless driving instead of dangerous driving as the easier option).

The panel was impressive, including 2 senior legal academics, 2 Q.C.s and chaired by Kaya Burgess of The Times.   The debate was a little dry, with great focus on strictly legal issues which were slightly beyond the knowledge of this correspondent.  Cynthia Barlow M.B.E. of Roadpeace afterwards expressed some frustration that the voice of the victims of road crime was not adequately heard.

I was struck that the person on the panel with the most radical ideas was a senior member of the legal profession, Mr Maskrey. He came across as one very angry man, even if his proposals and propositions appeared to me to be soundly rooted in legal principle and not easily dismissed as merely the intemperate rantings of a pissed-off cyclist.  I think most people would agree with his statement, made early in on the debate, that if you have used a motor vehicle as a weapon, either with the intent to deliberately harm or else to intimidate another road user, you should not be allowed to retain the privilege of operating a motor vehicle on the public highway. (I have paraphrased his words, but this is essentially what he said.)

He also spoke of the importance of prosecuting for ‘minor’ driving offences, such as infringing into bike lanes, which, in his view, will inform the driving public that deterring such offences, whilst those offences may appear trivial, are part of society’s efforts to create a safe & welcoming environment for all road users.  He also stressed that, in his view, habitual dangerous behaviour by drivers, (overtaking on a blind corners was the example that he gave – but it could equally be applied speeding in residential areas) which may not always result in a collision whose outcome is catastrophic, should be treated by prosecuting and sentencing authorities as dangerous and criminal whether not the outcome is injury or death.

CTC has published their much more extensive synopsis of the debate, entitled “Sentencing Debate sparks call to email Justice Minister