Posted by: davidjmarlow | 08/10/2012

Many shades of grey, but Lincolnshire police seem content to be known as ‘the filth’…

…by their speeding enforcement locations shall ye know them…

With local voters able for the first time next month to elect Police and Crime Commissioners, we really need to think about the existing character of our police service, and how we’d want it to change.

It is extraordinarily difficult to know what to make of the Police. On one hand we have recently had the Hillsborough cover up, the Met’s dirty deals with Murdoch and News International, the Tomlinson revelations, and the gross misconduct dismissal of Cleveland’s Chief Constable. On the other hand, though, the tragic deaths of Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes in Manchester, and the all too evident distress and diligence of Dyfed Powys officers during this week’s April  Jones case have literally brought tears to the eyes.

Ultimately, though, for the majority of people, perhaps our overriding views of the Police will be shaped by the relatively minor direct contacts we have with them…….

 ….And so it was that I found myself in Grantham Magistrates court on Friday (5th October) accused of speeding last December.

Let me explain. On a clear early December evening, in perfect driving conditions, Lincolnshire Police decided to undertake speeding enforcement action about 300 metres along a flat, straight stretch of A-road, 85 metres before a highly visible national speed limit sign. The police positioned themselves in a service station forecourt (convenient for hot drinks and facilities), and I was the first driver stopped and issued with a Fixed Penalty Ticket (FPT) for allegedly driving at 55mph in a 40mph zone.

The officer booking me was polite and friendly – jokingly admitting I was ‘just the unlucky one’, when agreeing that I was travelling the average speed of the traffic on that stretch of road. He breathalysed me (‘because it was a December evening’ – my reading was zero), and asked me to dispose of the breathalyser because he had nowhere to dispose of it himself (which was odd given he was in a service station). I alleged the whole incident was a set up to breathalyse me, and he did not reply.

I initially assumed I would accept the ticket – which is, in effect, an ‘offer’ from the Police of a £60 fine and three points on the licence in return for not contesting the allegation. However, when I later examined the ticket, I found it had my address wrong, the time of the incident entered incorrectly, and, most significantly, cited a location over five miles from where I had been stopped. Given these multiple errors I began to wonder whether the Police might also have mistaken the speed at which I was travelling – I certainly didn’t think it had been 55mph.

I rejected the ticket and resolved to contest the allegations. Over the ensuing months I received a summons and a copy of the officer’s witness statement. This totally misrepresented the 10-15 minute conversation I had with the officer (in a 12 word summary – NONE of which I had said), alleged a laser reading at a nonsensical distance (0.194.6 miles), got the vehicle excise check wrong, claimed a two minute time period between first seeing me driving fast and stopping me, and, although the summons now got the A-road correct, quoted a different (from the FPT) and still incorrect location.

I sought disclosure from the CPS of certain details of the allegations (e.g. the checks that demonstrated the laser equipment was working properly, the traffic regulation order, and the rules governing police in execution of their duties in this operation). CPS refused most of my requests claiming they were not relevant OR that I could inspect the detail in court.

I investigated further – by now convinced that, regardless of the precise speed I had been doing, this was not primarily a speeding enforcement operation at all – but a ‘fishing expedition’ to breathalyse drivers in the run up to Xmas. I looked at Lincolnshire Police’s speeding enforcement policy (PD5). This is a well-crafted document which makes it clear that speeding enforcement needs to be conducted with clear regard for proportionality, targeting, consistency, and transparency – focusing on locations and drivers where risks (of accidents) are highest, seeking to explain clearly and educate transgressors.

I, therefore, looked at the location where the operation had been conducted. The police and Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership (LRSP) maintain a spreadsheet of the 600 road traffic accident (RTA) ‘hotspots’ in the county, graded by number and severity of accidents over a five year period. The A153 Ancaster was #556 on the list. On closer, inspection, though, this 556th most dangerous place was over ½ mile from the service station, through a set of lights and round a bend – in short, it bore no relationship to my speeding enforcement location which is not in the top 600 at all.

I then looked at the requirements of hand-held laser operations in speeding offences. Apparently, the officer has to view a vehicle, consider it is going too fast, then point the laser and lock it onto the car. The laser in question technically needs 0.288 seconds to lock onto a vehicle before it gets an accurate reading, and the officer had claimed on his witness statement that it locked on for 3 seconds. I visited the site and took distance readings. The line of sight from the service station to when I came into view was 325 metres. The officer reported the laser locked on at 0.194.6miles (in court confirmed as 0.194m, or 314 metres). So, to comply with procedures, HAD I BEEN travelling at 55mph, the officer had to see me (or rather my headlights coming towards him in the dark), consider I might be speeding, point the gun, pull the trigger, and get a lock within 0.2 seconds. It was physically impossible and made no sense.

I submitted a detailed defence statement and presented it in court. It was nerve-wracking, and because I didn’t know the procedures and protocol, I missed the opportunity to cross-examine the Police Officer who appeared as witness for the prosecution. I argued strongly that the courts should not approve speeding enforcement prosecutions where Police have, seemingly, entrapped safe responsible drivers in convenient locations, in blatant violation of their own policies, and executed the operation with a lack of professionalism and competence (in terms of location, timings, distance, multiple other errors, and inappropriate ‘I’m just the unlucky one’ commentary).

In delivering his verdict, the Magistrate expressed sympathy for my position and admiration for my defence. Decoding his summing up, he clearly believed this was an entrapment, and that this sort of behaviour would give rise to a perception that Lincolnshire Police’s speeding enforcement was being executed frivolously and with little regard for building the trust and confidence of the community.

The magistrate said he regretted finding me guilty, and then said he had to withdraw the term ‘regret’, because he was only administering the law. I couldn’t say precisely what speed I had been doing, and a trained police officer had presented evidence that a laser gun had given me a precise speed over the limit.

I have learnt a huge amount from this episode. I have first-hand experience of Lincolnshire Police, CPS, and Magistrate’s Court, and how they operate. I have to say my impression of Lincolnshire Police and CPS is that they have almost abject contempt of ‘ordinary’ members of the public; and that speeding enforcement has nothing to do with road safety, and everything to do with formulaic box-ticking.

This ‘learning’ has cost me a significant amount of time, a £90 fine and three points on my licence. More significant in my view, it has cost me my previous respect for, support and admiration of Lincolnshire Police doing sometimes difficult jobs in often difficult conditions.

I suspect Lincolnshire Police will not have made any such cost-benefit calculation. They will have regarded my prosecution as a ‘success’. Sadly, though, until they recognise and learn from the real cost of their conduct and performance, what could and should be ‘Lincolnshire’s finest’ run the risk of all too often being written off as ‘the filth’…

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Responses

  1. […] to evade driving license penalty points for a speeding offence. Readers of this blog will recall my experience of the police and CPSs total lack of integrity when it comes to the way they entrap and prosecute […]


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