The Michael Mason case, law enforcement and the Traffic Justice Alliance

There has been (in our view, justified) outrage about the case of Michael Mason who was run down and killed in central London in February 2014 (reported here and specifically on the inquest here by Martin Porter QC ) largely because the driver was not charged and prosecuted for any driving offence.  Issues have been raised about traffic law enforcement which coincide with our conference in November 2014  and the formation of the Traffic Justice Alliance which hopes to address them. Below is our take on the issues, including the response of the Mayor of London to this case.

michael-mason-and-daughter-anna-tatton-brown

 Michael Mason and his daughter Anna Tatton-Brown (Ross Lydall)

For us this indicates, above all, a critical and serious failure on the part of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Other issues are raised, such as the discrimination against cyclists voiced in this case  (although, as commented on this post by chairrdrf, attitudes towards pedestrians are often as negative as those towards cyclists – and indeed an example is given in another comment to this effect here).

The central point is that there was no charge made by the MPS against the driver, despite the weight of evidence and the guidelines of the CPS , with the CPS not even consulted. This is why the Cyclists’ Defence Fund has decided to assist Mason’s family in the steps they may take to secure justice, with further protest from the London Cycling Campaign

The issue is addressed by one of the commenters on The Cycling Lawyer’s report

Anonymous 17 December 2014 at 19:59

Far be it from me to question a QC’s reporting ability but I can’t help but think there is something missing. As a police officer who served for 22 years this case should have been a walk through for a Due Care charge, and if, as I assume, the death was caused by the effects of the collision, then a charge of causing death by careless driving would have equally been a walk through. But the case was not taken through CPS and why not? CPS guidelines state that a decision on such a case must be taken by a senior representative but they weren’t even asked. As it is reported here, something stinks about this case. Still, as with all actions by the Met, the motto is “Never attribute to malice anything adequately explained by stupidity.” I do hope that someone commences a private prosecution, then at least the CPS might actually look at it. I don’t particularly want the driver punished, but she should be brought to account.

While it might seem obvious what is wrong here, it needs to be clearly stated. If an apparently obvious case of rule- and/or law-breaking driving results in someone (who has been behaving according to the rules) being killed, then a civilised society would expect somebody to be held accountable. This need not exclude methods to engineer vehicles or the highway to reduce the possibilities of such incidents, but as long as such possibilities exist – which they will, whatever forms of segregated or other cycle facility are introduced – then the relevant laws and rules should be applied.

Indeed, this is not simply of concern for cyclists, but for all road users at risk from careless or dangerous driving. The failure to take danger from drivers of motor vehicles seriously has always been an issue, but is even more obvious in an otherwise highly risk-averse culture. Nor is this something which should be seen as vindictive: trying to get a reasonable level of law enforcement with deterrent sentencing (which need not involve custodial sentencing except in extreme cases) is simply a requirement of living in a civilised society.

 

Questioning of the Mayor of London

Bear these issues in mind when we see how Mayor Johnson responds to questioning on this case by Jenny Jones MLA in this extract here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVANkYv0csk:

Jenny Jones’ questioning…

While Jenny Jones has been (and continues to be) a good supporter of Road Danger Reduction, there are some points missed here:

  • This – the Michael Mason case – should not be seen as just a matter for cyclists. It is about whether there is law enforcement where drivers threaten other road users by running into them from behind when they should be able to see them and stop accordingly.
  • This is not just about cyclists being deterred by danger, but about the immorality of endangering others, particularly if there is illegality involved – which it appears to be.
  • Even if common prejudice in favour of rule- and law-breaking driving is manifested in court – which it might well have been – there is still no reason not to proceed with the case.
  • Mason was correctly illuminated according to all accounts. (Baroness Jones was wrong about Mason wearing a helmet – not that this should be relevant).
  • Above all, the Police did not consult CPS and act in accordance with guidelines, as Martin Porter QC has tweeted and blogged. Jenny Jones has pointed out the need for law enforcement in London for some years with London’s Lawless Roads and it’s follow-up  as well as support in our recent conference This is a key example of how and why traffic enforcement is needed.

…and Mayor Johnson’s response

  1. Johnson claims that we don’t know the precise circumstances of the Mason case – but we do know about the MPS behaviour in contradiction of CPS guidance.
  2. There are a number of issues about his claims about cycling being safer (by which he presumably means there are lower KSIs per journey):
  3. He uses the freak case of 1989 when there was an unusually high number of cyclist deaths as an indicator – basing an approach on a statistical “glitch” year.
  4. The KSI rate has come down because of what statisticians call “secular” trends – there are downwards movements anyway.
  5. People like myself and John Adams also talk about underlying trends to take less risk, particularly when there is an economic downturn, which there has been.
  6. There is much improved medical care, which turns deaths into the category classified as “Serious Injuries” (SIs)
  7. There has been a “Safety in Numbers” effect with increased numbers of cyclists making motorists more aware of cyclists and tending to watch out more.
  8. The death rate has gone down because of the particularly high role of HGVs in cyclists deaths. HGV drivers, as a small professional community, have made themselves more aware of the presence of cyclists and their need to behave more carefully. There have been some associated changes due to work by TfL, but the main effect has been from a “Safety in Numbers” effect on the small professional community of HGV drivers.
  9. Of course, claiming that cycling is “getting safer” anyway requires a proper way of measuring danger, as discussed on this site at length and particularly here

And: So what?

Even if we are witnessing reduced chances of cyclists being hurt and killed – and unlike some others, we believe it can be useful to point out the low chances of being seriously hurt or killed when cycling on London’s roads – what does this mean in the context of the Mason case?

In an assessment of TfL’s first Cycle Safety Action Plan, I have argued that reductions in cyclist casualty rates have little to do with TfL’s initiatives:

  1. There has been precious little change in terms of highway engineering which benefits cyclists
  2. Education through advertising and “Exchanging Places” type schemes is the least likely intervention to affect casualty rates – even most traditional “road safety” professionals will admit that.
  3. I doubt “Operation Safeway” can be said to have had benefits, and it was certainly discriminatory  ,with excessive concentration on cyclist misdemeanours.

But, anyway, none of this addresses what the purpose of initiatives by TfL and the MPS should be. It needs to be repeated that these initiatives should be based on road danger reduction or, as the MPS are now saying, “harm reduction” principles. Looking at traditional measures of “road safety” is inadequate at best. Even showing that an initiative has reduced cyclist casualty rates per journey made by bicycle is of limited use. Road users need to know that threats to their safety are seen as problems whether or not people have actually been hurt or killed by them: the current Near Miss project refers to behaviours that don’t result in injury but nevertheless intimidate.

One can go further. Ultimately the issue is an ethical one: it is about the morality of allowing some road users to endanger others. The Mason case shows that a key way of addressing this – through traffic law enforcement – is not happening.

Discriminatory policing?

The November 1st 2014 Road Danger Reduction and Enforcement conference has, I believe, been a key event in focusing attention on the need for high quality traffic law enforcement. The conference was called by organisers RDRF, RoadPeace, CTC and LCC because whatever highway infrastructure is in place, road users in general and cyclists and pedestrians in particular will still be at risk from inappropriately driven motor vehicles. Hosted by LB Southwark, the conference was notable in being booked out despite being held on a Saturday, with Councillors from seven Councils in London as well as transport and road safety professionals and campaigners. Before the Michael Mason case there has been a clear demand for enforcement as part of a programme of stigmatising and deterring behaviour which endangers others.

Audience

RDR and Enforcement conference, November 2014: The start of something?

In my presentation I raised the issue of whether the MPS – and other police forces in the UK – are biased in ways which do not allow for a non-discriminatory focus on harm reduction. Looking at policing in this way is not an attack on the police – quite the contrary. It is arguing, as Equal Opportunities culture (taken up the police as well local authorities) has propounded throughout its development, that discrimination occurs through failing to question background assumptions. It argues that discrimination happens when everyday beliefs are the basis for actions, whether intentionally or not.

This issue was raised at various times during the conference. Two important comments were made by Sgt Simon Castle (MPS), a long serving traffic police officer and currently working for the Cycle Task Force. On the question of whether there is excessive concern on cyclist misdemeanours compared to those of drivers, he commented that he had no problem dealing with cyclist law-breaking if motorist law-breaking was targeted as well he had no problem dealing with cyclist law breaking if motorist law breaking was as well.

But that’s what so many of us see as the central problem: we do not think that the numerous forms of rule and law breaking driver behaviour (whether as careless or dangerous driving or other offences) are addressed in a way which reflects their potential to threaten others.

The other comment was in response to my suggestion that a form of equal opportunities procedures should be used to deal with preconceptions of unacceptable road user behaviour. Sgt Castle’s comment indicated that police officers do indeed reflect the prejudices of the population as whole: “The police are the people and the people are the police”.  But if commonly held prejudices are indeed held by those charged with enforcing the law, that should be seen as the problem – and one we need to address as a priority. It should not be seen as an acceptable fact of life.

 The Traffic Justice Alliance

Those attending the conference demonstrated a massive desire to see the MPS developing a Traffic Law Enforcement Strategy and action plan based on a harm reduction (or road danger reduction) approach. Key asks were for:

  • Prioritising traffic policing on offences likely to harm others
  • Driving offences to be included in crime statistics
  • Collision and prosecution data to be linked
  • Stop talking about “road safety” and start talking about “road danger reduction”

 

In order to push this Road Danger Reduction and Traffic Law Enforcement agenda along, a Traffic Justice Alliance has been formed in London: so far organisations RoadPeace, Road Danger Reduction Forum, LCC and 20s Plenty, and Cllr Caroline Russell (LB Islington) and Brenda Puech (Disabilities consultant) are represented on its Committee. We’ll be publishing the formal Key Performance Indicators we would like TfL and MPS to employ; our involvement with local communities in matters such as achieving compliance in 20 mph areas; and reviews of what we see as the issues with regard to levels of law enforcement and traffic offences in London.

Watch this space…

 

Postscript: To help the family of Michael Mason you can make an online donation to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund to support its work on cycling and the law – such as challenging unduly lenient law-enforcement of dangerous drivers, unjust prosecutions of cyclists, and highway and planning decisions which disregard cyclists’ needs. Or see information on other ways to donate to CDF here

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Michael Mason case, law enforcement and the Traffic Justice Alliance

    1. rdrf Post author

      Thanks for comment Simon. Worth letting as many people as possible know about the CDF.

      Also, I don’t think it is just “pursuing the driver” as pressuring the police to act in a way whereby drivers in general realise they have to watch out and avoid human beings in front of them.

      Reply
  1. juliusbeezer

    There is a very deep problem with road safety and British law. As I understand it, to be found guilty of a crime requires “mens rea”: ~”a guilty mind,” but using a motor vehicle safely requires much more than merely having no particular intention to hurt someone: it requires you to actively imagine and anticipate the behaviour of other users, take account of your environment, and so on. Most “accidents” are caused not by evil intent, but by failures of imagination, which the law finds it difficult to sanction, because there is no malice; just stupidity.
    This means that there should be more emphasis on tighter licence issuance and withdrawal than criminal punishment. (“We’re not saying you’re a bad person, just incompetent”)

    Reply
  2. rdrf Post author

    Interesting point Julius. (I would say that because I basically agree). What we are talking about with most collisions would be prosecuted under “careless” rather than “dangerous” driving. Careless driving is also known as “driving without due care and attention” – the implication is that, while you did not act with a high degree of rule or law breaking or were wilfully bad in your driving behaviour, you were failing to drive with the level of care which is due. That’s why you don’t get custodial sentences for careless driving.

    In my view that is correct. The appropriate punishment is licence withdrawal rather than a custodial sentence.

    The problem is that there must be literally millions of cases of careless driving occurring daily – and yet only a minuscule proportion result in a charge being made, because almost always no collision occurs, and the vast majority of collisions are motor on motor crashes where nobody is reported injured and the police do not have to be involved.

    So I would suggest that for a deterrent effect to exist, something like driver liability where pedestrians or cyclists are involved would have to be brought in – but that’s a subject for another post.

    Reply

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